In our first story about the soft toys made at Alresford Crafts (1), Verena Harper was mentioned as one of the first employees at the Town Mill, back in 1976. Verena (née Pegg) worked as a checker and finisher on the production line for these popular children’s toy animals. Over the subsequent 40 years, and particularly since retiring to Dorset, Verena has become an avid collector, attending numerous car boot and general jumble sales. Always the previously loved Alresford Crafts soft toys catch her attention, so slowly Verena built up an enormous and varied collection of these animals, helped by friends and relatives who added more of them as birthday gifts!
Now Verena has decided that it is time her little friends were returned to their home town, and so a grand total of over 120 soft toys have come back to be looked after by the Alresford Museum, to be displayed as often as possible – for today’s children, and older ex-children (who are now avid Alresford Crafts toy and doll collectors), to see and appreciate.
Unique soft toys
We think some of these animals are unique, but maybe you can tell us something different? The collection includes some unusual models, not seen in any of the Alresford Crafts catalogues of the time. One from the Southern hemisphere is a striking looking Penguin: these days no doubt some children will be able to identify what sort of Penguin this represents, and if it is accurate! In addition there is a life-like dark brown hen.
More unusual is a glove puppet in a bright pink fur, distinctly looking like an Alresford Pig – maybe it even belonged to one of the children of the original Alresford Pigs, also founded over 40 years ago? The Pig has been introduced to another pink friend, this time an Alresford Crafts pink bunny rabbit, in dungarees, which was returned to us separately from America a few weeks ago. The two are now the best of friends, although one has a distinct American accent.
Obviously Verena liked the Owls made by Alresford Crafts, because there are more than 15 of them in her collection! We can honestly say that the Alresford Museum now houses more Owls than are likely to ever have lived in the Alresford district! We start with one enormous silver Owl, fashioned in the style of our models of Ollie the owl, who is one of the stars of various “Dr Who” episodes, and also the film “E.T.” Then there is a family of Snowy Owls, a Daddy and two babies: a pair of large Brown Owls with their three babies, one with a black eye-patch like Paddington Bear. Most striking are the family of five young Tawny Owls, looked after by the big Mother Tawny Owl.
Every design of soft toy?
Many other animals are represented in the collection, from a kangaroo, to an ant-eater; a dinosaur as well as white and even blue lambs, plus an otter – we didn’t ask Verena to check his tail, apparently these toys used to be difficult to sew together without twisting the tail away from horizontal. Many of the smaller toys were made from left-over scraps of cloth, which were turned into simpler stuffed toys, like rats, mice, guinea pigs or Lemmings: Alresford Crafts often donated these to the Alresford Christmas Tree Committee, to be given away on the night that Father Christmas arrived – a famous event in the Alresford calendar – when everyone under a certain age has a present.
The whole collection, delivered from Verena in Dorset crammed into a small car, can be seen – or at least most of them – in the picture below.
Verena is now writing more about her early life around Alresford and Bishop’s Sutton, and her time at Alresford Crafts, where she had many friends – like Sue Palmer and Christine Terry. Her comments about the labels on the toys are interesting: apparently the original labels, used at first, were black, but then the gold coloured label with red and black writing was adopted. Where these have a V cut out, these items would have been seconds, not felt good enough for sale, and would have been used as donations to charities, for example to the Christmas Tree Committee in Alresford, for use as presents under the tree.
The Alresford Museum has a rotating display of artefacts in the Library in Broad Street, and more in the Framing Shop in the Old Fire Station. Several Alresford Crafts dolls and toys are permanently on display in the children’s section of the Library, upstairs. Further displays will be on show in the Alresford Library, and at various other Museum events throughout the coming year.
(1) See the original story: https://alresfordmemories.wordpress.com/2014/11/15/alresford-crafts-dolls-and-soft-toys-for-collectors-and-children/
Lists of the Museum collections can be found on www.museum.alresford.org.