Alresford Crafts: Dolls and soft toys for Collectors and Children.

scan186For around 25 years Alresford Crafts was a major business venture in the town, making dolls and soft toys. Perhaps more than any other, this business promoted the name of Alresford to consumers across the world, until 1992! John and Margaret Jones started trading from the two lower floors of the Town Mill, a building at the bottom of Mill Hill, Alresford, which dates from 1189. Water flowing out of the pond, and under the bridge at the lower end of Broad Street, used to fall down a vertical shaft inside the mill building and there rotate a turbine, which could drive the hoist and other machinery: then the water flowed under the mill floor and downstream.  Following an accident with a tree-trunk ramming down this shaft and smashing the turbine housing, causing a flood in the basement, the mill was modernized in 1972, when the stepped waterfalls were introduced, keeping the river outside the building: the basement became more habitable!

DSC01962a softtoysWhen John and Margaret moved into the mill, in 1964, their first business was that of a mail order gifts company, mainly involved in Christmas gifts. In order to expand they began co-operating with a lady from Salisbury, who used a network of home workers around there: eventually they took the business over from this lady, in about 1972, when more home workers were recruited around Alresford. In the first five years or so, Alresford Crafts just made soft toys, designed by Margaret Jones, and the business grew and became known for quality hand-made toys: the work was brought in-house as a method of ensuring this quality. Mrs Jones says the Brighton Toy Fair made an enormous difference, with lots of orders, but it alerted a lot of the competition, like Steiff (teddy bears), to their new materials.

Verena Harper worked there during 1976, as a checker and finisher, and particularly remembers the machinist girls making the toy otters had problems, because their tails seemed to twist round. Verena will be pleased to see the otters in the Alresford Museum collection seem OK. However, Mrs Jones was also interested in making dolls, and was convinced that a quality manufacturer in England could produce porcelain dolls for collectors worldwide.

DSC01991 alr crafts dollsSo in 1977 Alresford Crafts started planning a workshop where doll’s heads, hands and feet could be produced. Initially these were made of bone china, but then production switched to using porcelain. They were proud of producing their dolls wholly in England, and did not call their dolls ‘China dolls’. In fact the company adopted a logo that just used the word ‘Alresford’ – and so had to add a subheading of “…say it Alls-ford” to help with the problem of pronunciation, maybe particularly for the Chinese and Japanese people, when trying to order the dolls! The staff who made the soft toys found the transition to doll making, with their soft bodies, and the doll’s clothes, fairly easy. The first baby dolls were produced in 1978, and in 1979 boy and girl dolls were added, with 11 different styles. Each year saw fresh designs of doll, and soon the business moved to larger premises in another mill, a corn storage mill in the Railway Station Yard in Alresford, known as Station Mill. Next to the old Police Station, this is likely to be converted into retirement flats shortly!

Production at the Station Mill

scan188The Station Mill is a four storey building, and was used for producing both the stuffed toys and the dolls. On the ground floor a carding machine combed and straightened the fibres of non-inflammable synthetic material used for stuffing the toys, and the bodies for these animals were cut out in fabric by machine. On the second floor the bodies were sewn together on machines. On the top floor under the rafters the bodies were stuffed and the remaining seams sewn by hand. The toys then descended via a long chute to the ground floor, and were taken to the Town Mill for inspection, packing and despatch – going to children and collectors all over the world. Even by 1980 Alresford Crafts quoted official Distributors in Australia, Japan, France, Germany, The Netherlands and the USA. The company won design awards for their products in the USA and Japan: at one stage they even had their own warehouse in the USA, with their own sales staff.

The first floor was devoted to making and dressing the dolls. Normally Margaret Jones designed the dresses and cut the material out. On one side of the workroom the “Dress-makers” made the under-garments, dresses and bonnets:  in addition home-based workers were again recruited, this time to sew the doll’s clothes. Before working full time at the Town Mill from 1986, Jenny Lawes was one of these home workers, and remembers being paid five pence each for sewing a pair of doll’s pants!

scan185Production and painting of the porcelain heads, lower arms and legs was transferred in 1982 from near the Town Mill to a new Ceramics Department, located in the single storey building next to the Station Mill, which was run by Colin Larkin. Eventually the whole business employed around 35 people, including the home-workers. Most of the dolls were fairly large, typically 60cms, or two feet, tall.

Famous toys from Alresford

Today the Alresford Crafts soft toys and dolls are well known, and often sold on internet auction sites, as collector’s items. The Alresford Museum has acquired a collection of these soft toys, including the hedgehog, kangaroo (with a baby), Teddy bear, Polar bear, dinosaur and squirrel. One of the Alresford Crafts Teddy bears, known as a Honey Bear, was said to be unique in that it was designed to have a flat bottom, which made it easy to bend its legs and make it sit down properly, without having to lean against anything.

The Hand Of Fear pt4 102Another famous Alresford Crafts stuffed toy was the owl, which was produced in various styles and colour combinations. One of these, Oliver, the dark brown owl with large eyes, made a guest appearance on the BBC’s “Dr Who” programme, in Episode four of ‘The Hand of Fear’ as Sarah-Jane’s owl, when she leaves the Tardis: as yet we have not managed to find this particular version for our collection, but if you see one, let us know!

ET sceengrabs aaThe same owl appeared in the film ‘ET’, amongst the cuddly toys in Elliot’s wardrobe, which is where ET hides. Many thousands of this style of owl were produced.

Jenny Lawes also remembers Alresford Crafts producing the first versions of Pudsey, the BBC’s “Children-in-Need” bear, with the eye patch: these Alresford prototypes, built to a BBC design, had the bandage over the other eye (his left eye!). There was other work for the BBC, one presenter on children’s TV had a lamb puppet from Alresford Crafts, and the company was featured in a “Made in Britain” film, and in a Pebble Mill report. The mill also hosted visits from Angela Rippon, and even Kate Adie, but not when the latter was a war correspondent!

Alresford Crafts Dolls

scan187Maybe not so well known, except to doll collectors, are the Alresford Crafts dolls, and the first example found by the Museum was a clown, produced in 1981. Notable dolls made by Alresford Crafts included the Royal Baby dolls, celebrating the births of Prince William and Prince Henry. Such was the success of the first (the Prince William doll, a limited edition of 2500 in 1982) that the Prince Henry doll was also created to commemorate the birth of HRH Prince Henry of Wales (Harry). Cast in fine porcelain, and impressed on the neck ‘1984 Royal Baby RB2 Alresford’, (RB2 was a code for Royal Baby 2) the doll had blue glass eyes, painted features and a cloth body, and was dressed in a long cream satin robe with an overlay of lace, a matching bonnet and a pillow. Not quite what he looks like today, and there is not much evidence of red hair, in this model. Each doll was issued with a limited edition certificate, two catalogues and a swing tag. This baby doll measured 40.5cm (16″), and the robe was 71cm (28″) long.

prince henry alr craftsThe Alresford Museum has recently been lucky enough to obtain 25 Alresford Crafts dolls, collected over the period 1980-1983 by Mrs J.K.Gloyn of Taunton, and still in perfect condition in the original packaging. Included in these are the Prince William doll, and several other baby dolls, plus two boy dolls, called Patrick and Benjamin! The girl dolls are too numerous to mention, but all bear the initials of the people working there, who signed the back of the labels to show who made the clothes. The ceramic heads were marked and stamped with the initials of the workers who moulded, painted and completed the ceramics. The production staff were also involved in designing the outfits, and naming the dolls!

Later ventures

In 1982, in response to collectors’ requests for a fully pose-able jointed doll, Alresford Crafts introduced Mellissa (CD74) with a ball and socket jointed body made from a composite material – the head was still porcelain. Most of the other full sized dolls had a stuffed cloth body, upper arm and thigh: the exceptions were some of the baby dolls, particularly CD1/CD2 from 1979/80. The new style Mellissa doll was announced, at a price of £70, 40% higher than the average full sized doll, but were either never sold or quickly withdrawn, as Alresford Crafts were not happy with the quality/reliability.

DSC01967Later in the 1980s, a range of hand puppets and rag dolls were added to the Alresford Crafts doll collection, ie fully dressed dolls with soft bodies, heads and hands/feet. Apparently there was also some production of the black rag dolls previously described as ‘Gollywogs’, which was criticised from some quarters: the major market for these dolls was apparently to be found in export, to Nigeria.



Plus the factory produced other dolls under the trade name of ‘Margaret Jones Designer Dolls’: one of these was Fiona, a favourite of Jenny Lawes, who helped design and produce her outfit.

The recession of the 1980s, and the rapid growth of lower cost Chinese competition, made the volume of business turn down. The lead they had achieved with the softer filling in their soft toys was eroded by copycat products.

The Alresford Crafts business closed in 1992, with a major sale of the remaining stock, attended by most of the ladies of Alresford. Verena Harper remembers that much of the left-over stock of stuffed toys, mainly rats, guinea pigs and small owls, were given to the Alresford Christmas Tree Committee, to be used as presents for the children attending the Carol singing and Father Christmas evening on Broad Street that year.


Oliver the Owl

Oliver the Owl

A specimen of Ollie the owl, just over a foot high, has returned to Alresford from his temporary home up North – in Winsford, Cheshire. Ollie will be making a guest appearance in the Alresford Library display cabinet between now and Christmas, with lots more of the Alresford Crafts soft toys and dolls from our growing collection. So don’t forget to say hello as you collect your library books – unless of course he goes off with Dr Who and Sarah-Jane for another adventure in the meantime.

Now it is important to find some examples of the Alresford Crafts rag dolls for the Museum: and if possible even one of the “Gollywogs”! (Possibly we will be inundated with those emails from Nigeria, suggesting that this can be provided, for a relatively large up-front payment! The answer is ‘No’)


News as at January 2016: The Alresford Museum has received another collection of over 100 original stuffed toys and glove puppets made by Alresford Crafts: look out for the story and photos soon!


54 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by william de groot on December 18, 2014 at 12:36 pm

    We bought a small owl, I think about 6 inches high, when living in Winchester in the 1970’s. Our son cherished it until it was lost when he was 20, and he has been distraught!! Any ideas as to how we can find a replacement, or get one made by any previous employees perhaps still living locally? I would be extremely grateful for your help/advice.-Thank you.


    • Your email does not work! The best route, and the one we have used to source dolls, and Ollie the owl, for the Museum, has been to search them out on Ebay. There were thousands made, and most of the kids who had them have grown out of them now, so there are a lot for sale!


  2. I ‘rescued’ a honey bear just over three years ago from a charity shop in Bristol. Horace has since been photographed in many places, and got to sit on all the Gromits in the Bristol Gromit trail. He has his own Facebook page and has fans from all over the world many who have their own Alresford bears. I started collecting them for a while, and managed to get Horace an owl friend for a very reasonable price as for some unknown reason the seller put him onto eBay as a penguin!

    And also Horace now has his own website,! Here he has a blog, but he’s not very good at updating it!
    Plus he has published a book as well….


  3. Posted by Gail parker on June 7, 2015 at 5:48 am

    I have three of the dolls – all in their original packaging.
    I also have a large polar bear and a smaller one.


  4. Posted by Jane Kischel on August 8, 2015 at 9:46 pm

    Hi everybody. We have a beaver, made in the Town Mill, brown and app. 40 cm long. Does anybody know more about him?? We inherited him a couple of years ago. Thanks a lot, if anybody can tell us something! He is not for sale – we love him!!!


  5. Posted by CJ on August 15, 2015 at 6:20 am

    I grew up surrounded by hundreds of stuffed toys as my mum was a home worker. They were everywhere!! I remember massive bags of white stuffing, bags of eyes and a huge sewing machine at our house. I have Ollie the Owl, a badger, an elephant, a brown tall owl and both Prince William and Harry dolls. Think I have guinea pigs somewhere too. Alresford craft toys were so lovely.


  6. I have one of the Owls, a big one. It has dots on the tummy and mixed colour fur.
    It’s about as big as a pillow!


  7. Posted by katherine mcmillan on December 2, 2015 at 10:36 pm

    I have two of your gorgeous Oliver Owls. The smaller one which I call Plop and the larger one who is of course Mummy Plop. Given to me and cherished. They have both emigrated to New Zealand where they are loved by my children. They are not as spruce as the ones in your photos!


  8. Posted by Erika on January 20, 2016 at 12:06 pm

    I believe there’s a larger version of Ollie Owl in the opening credits of Bagpuss. My husband’s Owl is 37 years old this year and our son uses him as a pillow.


  9. I believe an Alresford Schoolgirl doll from 1980 has just been donated to our Archives. It is marked C A8 England (in a triangle), and etched and written around it is AD 1 80 DW Is there anyone who might be able to confirm this for me, or is it possible to email the markings to someone? Grateful for your help.


  10. Posted by Ruth on April 14, 2016 at 9:09 pm

    I remember visiting the mill when my mum worked there in 1968 to 1970 ish. I remember the mill packing gift boxes.


  11. Posted by Jo McMahon on May 13, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    I have 3 bears of various sizes from the early 1980s, honey bears I think. All are much loved and still cherished! I also have an Alresford owl that I won in a raffle at Coventry Cathedral that is about a metre high. All lovely toys.


  12. Posted by Deb on May 24, 2016 at 2:40 am

    Well, this is interesting. I found a lovely old bear yesterday in an Op shop down in Port Adelaide (Australia). I assumed he was hand-made at home by someone, but today I spied the remnants of a tag on his leg, the only word left visible being Alresford, which I’d never heard of before. I’ve been checking Google images and haven’t found one exactly like him yet, but he is jointed, and very soft and sweet. He’s outside just now, enjoying some late Autumn sunshine after having his lower paws and muzzle gently washed. Other than a bit of wear there though, he looks almost new. I’m so pleased with the little fellow!


  13. Posted by Valerie on June 15, 2016 at 9:49 pm

    I have two bears by this company. The Bobby Bear and the Palace Guard bear. Both stand about 2 1/2 -3 feet tall. Still have tags and boxes.


  14. Posted by Wendy Liptrot on August 14, 2016 at 4:22 pm

    I have an Alresford doll lso 🙂 . She as a long white embroidered dress on and a white bonnet . still in exellent condition. I would love to know more about her


  15. Posted by SANDRA Murphy on September 8, 2016 at 1:43 pm

    Hello, I have just hand-washed my fluffy white soft toy, a beautiful green eyed cat! I took him with me everywhere as a child and one time to a fancy dress walk as Dick Whittington with his faithful cat: I have the picture for proof – lol. My 3 year old granddaughter loves him so he’s washed and ready to go hopefully for a further 37!!! Years 😊 Thanks so much.


  16. We have #14 Prince William doll from alresford still in box with certificate of authenticity and was trying go get more information.


  17. I have #14 Prince William doll in original box trying to find out more information


  18. Posted by Dorothy Clee on January 14, 2017 at 11:48 pm

    In 1979 I visited England with my mother. I purchased an Alresford Baby girl doll called Catherine, which I still have, here in Australia. I do not have the original packaging but still have the doll in beautiful condition.


  19. Posted by Lisa Costict on January 30, 2017 at 4:59 pm

    I found just this past Saturday at an estate sale here in Germantown, TN, United States a boy and girl Alresford doll. They are both in great condition and large- the boy doll is at least 24 inches long. They have their original clothing along with shoes as well. I was very happy to find them and plan on keeping them for as long as I can. Great site and has taught me a lot about the dolls.


  20. Posted by Sharon McRae on April 25, 2017 at 11:15 am

    Hi I have one of your Squirrels that was a present my Aunty bought me when I was born 42yrs ago I was wondering it’s worth as I can’t find any pictures anywhere of it. It’s still in beautiful condition tags attached. Many thanks. Sharon.


  21. Posted by Sandra masters on June 5, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    I have a China headed doll the ceramic head has on it England ad79 with initals dw has ceramic feet and hands with a padded body .dressed in white christening gown with petticoat and this collectable please ?


  22. Posted by Emma chalmers on August 6, 2017 at 6:57 pm

    I have a doll who wears a white double layer gown with bonnet. With the attached markings on her head- ACI 78 England JC (TI engraved), I would love to know more about her/him including rough value when bought etc, I don’t have a box very a box or any paperwork either


  23. Posted by stephaniecgrady on September 30, 2017 at 4:10 pm

    I have a doll marked “ES 80” and “DW ”
    Light brown hair
    Blue eyes
    Blue dress
    White pantaloons
    White shoes
    I bought the doll in 1980 for $125 ??
    Curious about the value.


  24. Posted by Claire McGovern on October 9, 2017 at 5:26 pm

    Oh dear how l wish Alresford Crafts was still trading! My 43 year old son has his lovely ‘Horace’ teddy bear, that l bought him in 1973, as his first Christmas present. I wanted to buy the very same bear for my first grandchild too.
    So sad to find out it is no longer possible.
    Claire McGovern


  25. Posted by Andy York on December 26, 2017 at 6:11 pm

    I have a Oliver Owl, about 8 or 9 inches tall – looks the same as the Sarah Jane version and (I think) looks better than the 12 inch version here. Had it from new since Christmas 1975 (maybe before) so over 40 years old but still in amazing condition for his age.

    I also had a gollywog but not sure if it was yours as I no longer own it.


  26. Posted by Pamela Stevenson on January 4, 2018 at 6:14 pm

    My sister gave me Ollie the Owl over 40 years ago – sadly she has died and Ollie is blind (lost his eyes). My granddaughter loves owls so can you tell me where I can repair him or buy another owl??
    Pamela Stevenson


  27. Posted by Julie Hambleton on January 19, 2018 at 3:30 pm

    I have my “Rodney Ramsbottom”, a lovely ram made at Alresford which I bought in a small shop in Staines in about 1977. He is very old and fragile now and kept in a cupboard. I love him!


  28. Posted by Helen redman on February 24, 2018 at 12:15 pm

    I have a baby bone China doll I bought in the 70s in Western Australia. She has two faces – awake and asleep. She came with a full set of clothes in a basket. I have everything except the basket. There are no markings on her body but her dress has a label saying Alresford crafts. She is very precious to me. I wonder was she made by Alresford even though she has no markings.


    • Posted by Yvette on February 16, 2019 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Helen, yes I believe your doll with two faces is an alresford doll. I entered the Prince William baby doll competition all those years ago and won, I got the letter telling me that the baby doll would be despatched. Soon after I received the doll in the post, it has two faces – sleeping and awake (when you turn the head around) it’s in a basket and is dressed in white lace etc with a few different outfits. I’m not sure if they sent out the wrong doll because when I looked it up in their listings the dolls name is Pamela. Nevertheless it is a beautiful item, still boxed and mint condition and I have put the letter I got in the box to keep it all safe, clean and pristine. I have searched the internet for similar but in all these years I have never found anything, until I saw your comment here. Maybe there is only these 2 left, now wouldn’t that be wonderful. Thanks for posting your comment, I would still be in limbo over the doll otherwise.


  29. Posted by Harriet mummery on August 25, 2018 at 8:06 pm

    My parents gave Alresford bears to each of their 12 grandchildren from 1980 onwards. Our three still have theirs. We are expecting our first grandchild any day and have bought a bear from the same shop but were sad to see that there are no more Alresfords. They are lovely bears.


  30. Posted by Emma Nixon on September 24, 2018 at 8:46 am

    Can anyone help me source one of the snowy owls? This was my childhood toy and I have only just found out he was made by Alresford Crafts. I have been looking for him for 25 years now and would be over the moon to find one


  31. Posted by Jacky Egan on September 30, 2018 at 7:36 pm

    Does anyone else have the full set of the (Oliver) owls? I have 4 sizes.


  32. Posted by Catherine Moran on February 17, 2019 at 7:18 pm

    Three years ago I found a smiling honey bear at the car boot. I bought him for 50p. I didn’t actually know what I had fallen upon back then. But realise now he is a collector’s item.. What confuses me is that the label says he was made in the Republic Of Ireland for Arlesford crafts but I can’t find another label like it/ Does anyone have any ideas why this would be? Confused Catherine


  33. Posted by Sophie on July 28, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    Hi i’m in Canada i have a doll sincèrement 1979 in the neck it’s writh FNCLAND JL A c3 dw 79 on is dress f4 name sylvia I watt tout know the price is in very good condition


  34. Posted by Dani Young on March 3, 2020 at 10:52 am

    I have a Katherine doll which my parents gave me in the late 70s, unfortunately her head got smashed during a rough and tumble session by my three sons. Can anyone recommend a doll repairer? I’m not really sure if it’s worth iti but I also can’t bear to throw her out.


  35. l have been given 3 margaret jones designer dolls size 24 inch can you tell me how much they are worth now?


  36. They are regularly sold on ebay, have a look: typically around GBP20-30 rgds nick


  37. I knew John Jones very well. Lovely gentleman. I, as a Printing Representative for a large printing Company in my home town of Bournemouth. As a Company we had the privilege of creating a lot of printed literature for Alresford Dolls, and some packaging over quite a few years. Since my wife died 18 years ago, I am sorry to say I now have no dolls available to pass onto you. (We used these for publicity photos). Good to read all the information on these wonderful little people. PS. I also had the privilege of working with another local ‘toy’ manufacturer producing most of their products was a lot of printed material, cartons, brochures etc. This was the leading manufacturer: Grafar ‘N’ Guage model railways. I sincerely hope I haven’t bored you too much. Good luck, for the future. Regards Tony Letts.


  38. Posted by mgcramer on May 1, 2021 at 3:01 am

    I am looking for an Elephant made by the Arlesford company. If anyone has any idea on how I might locate one I would be most appreciative.


  39. Posted by Miss Jackie Dollimore on May 13, 2021 at 6:29 pm

    I have a Beautiful ollie the owl .given to me in 1970 .He is in excellent condition and is 51 yrs old .I love him to bits and he has traveled the world as my father was in the R.A.F .
    Hes the large size owl with a soft front and big black and white eyes . Hes Beautiful 😍


  40. Posted by Miki on November 15, 2021 at 1:26 pm

    Hi, I have a cream-colored sitting dog (circa 1985) and haven’t seen anything about this color of dogs; does anyone have any information? Just curious and would appreciate any feedback, thank you!!


  41. Posted by Sally MacLean on November 24, 2021 at 2:04 pm

    My son owned one of your owls, I think about 10 inches high. He loved this owl, known as Percy Peck, and took him everywhere with him. He was so loved that both his beak and feet were sucked off! I replaced these with brown corduroy from an old pair of his trousers. Sadly he was lost in 1980 in the Haslemere area when my son was 4. If you ever come across an owl with corduroy beak and feet we would love to see him again.


  42. Posted by Louise-Anne on August 19, 2022 at 3:57 am

    Hi am in Australia with my beloved Alresford Crafts spotted seal. His label doesn’t say Canada in the USA license but NDA M.A. 236/P.A.281. There is a Dacron logo on the right of the label. I was wondering when he was made. Thank you!


  43. Posted by Jennifer Ledder on August 20, 2022 at 10:41 am

    My son is 50 next week. I am refurbishing what is left of his Alresford lamb (Saasy), his Christmas present when he was 15 months old. Adored from the day he was unwrapped he has travelled and lived in several countries, (British Army) and finally carefully boxed and stored in the airing cupboard 25 years ago. He has been patched, had stuffing added and an overall made to stop him collapsing and that was worn out too. He’s now restuffed, stitched and had one and a half new legs and three new felt hooves added. His nose melted in 1975 when he was drying out on the nursery fireguard after being washed, but his wooden bead eyes, although no longer black have never come loose. Thank you Alresford toys for seeing my boy comforted for many, many years. I hope his surprise will be the same when he unwraps him for the second time nearly half a century later.



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