RETRO: End of the line for Paddington Bear in Doncaster

Shirley Clarkson with Paddington Bear.
Shirley Clarkson with Paddington Bear.

Please look after this bear - a label pinned to children’s favourite Paddington Bear announced when he arrived in London from deepest, darkest Peru.

And for more than 25 years, that’s exactly what one Doncaster firm did, producing thousands of Paddington stuffed toys and becoming a huge favourite with children all over the globe.

The former site of the Bear Garden at Adwick.

The former site of the Bear Garden at Adwick.

However, the Paddington story entered a sad chapter 18 years ago this week when Gabrielle Designs, the Adwick-based firm which produced the cuddly bears, closed down after going into liquidation with the loss of more than 20 jobs.

It was on February 19, 1998 that the last page of a fascinating story begun by the mum of Doncaster-born television presenter Jeremy Clarkson was written.

For Shirley Clarkson made the first bears for her son and daughter Joanna for Christmas 1971, complete with little duffel coats, wellies - and of a course, a miniature suitcase for those all important marmalade sandwiches.

The bears were so widely admired that she decided to make and sell them, first from the family home in Burghwallis and then later, as business boomed, Gabrielle Designs was formed and premises found alongside the A1.

Shirley with pictures of her children, Jeremy and Joanna, who she made the first bears for.

Shirley with pictures of her children, Jeremy and Joanna, who she made the first bears for.

Inspired by the popular Michael Bond books, the family’s farmhouse kitchen was the production line for many years before the arrival of The Bear Garden, as it was dubbed.

When the then owner of the property, Alistair Owens put Home Farm up for sale in 2012 after buying it from the Clarksons in 1987, he said: “The house was best known for Paddington when we bought it and we certainly had one or two people knocking at the door asking to meet him when we first moved in.

“I know Eddie (Shirley’s husband) used to make marmalade sandwiches for any children that visited,” he said.

Speaking at the time of the closure, she said: “I designed the very first Paddington Bear for their Christmas present. It is very sad. Paddington was British from top to toe.”

TV host Jeremy Clarkson was the recipient of the very first Paddington Bear.

TV host Jeremy Clarkson was the recipient of the very first Paddington Bear.

She had sold the firm just a few years earlier and died in 2014, aged 79.