Posts Tagged ‘alresford crafts’

Cynthia’s new life in Australia

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Cynthia, the Alresford doll

Cynthia is one of the Alresford Dolls, and she was made by Alresford Crafts in 1980. Once completed in the Town Mill in Alresford she was shipped off to by sea-freight on a cheap passage to Australia, and presumably sold through one of various shop or exhibition outlets over there.

Thirty five years later, in a story reminiscent of the TV “Heir Hunters” programme, the latest owner of the doll was Wilma Dunne. Wilma, now retired, had spent her working life helping a plastic surgeon work with children born with cleft lips and palates in the Philippines. On her retirement to Perth in Western Australia, Wilma was presented with the OAM, the Australian Medal of Honour, for her services to the people of the Philippines. It was because of this career and knowledge that she visited the Presbyterian Ladies’ College (PLC) in Peppermint Grove, a suburb of Perth, to talk to two Year 6 students there, Isobel and Lucy, about the challenges of working in a Third World country.

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Isobel Lucy Dunne, now in her PLC kilt and uniform

Making the link!

Sitting in the PLC library she suddenly realised that the girls filing back and forth in their school uniforms were dressed in exactly the same way as one of her three china dolls – these dolls had been bought from the estate of a deceased lady of Maylands, in Perth, maybe 30 years before. On returning home to look at the doll more closely, Wilma realised it had been carefully re-dressed in the green and black tartan kilt, the similar tie, and the green stockings of the PLC uniform: presumably the uniform remembered by the original owner of the doll, 30 years before, and maybe worn by her, years before that!

Wilma offered the doll to the Ladies’ College, and it was gratefully accepted by the College Archivist and Historian, Shannon Lovelady, who set about the quest of trying to identify more of the doll’s history and origins. Shannon saw some Alresford dolls advertised for sale on the Australian Ebay website, so soon contacted this Alresford Memories site to enquire about her PLC dressed doll (now rechristened as Isobel Lucy Dunne, to show her pedigree).


The doll with Isobel and Lucy, in their current school uniforms

The marks on the back of her head soon proved that the doll was indeed an Alresford Crafts doll, made in 1980, and from the catalogues of the time in the Alresford Museum the original identity was established as that of Cynthia, also known as CD22.

Now back at School

When Cynthia arrived in Australia she was dressed as a classic English schoolgirl, in a black gymslip and red tie on top of the white blouse. It seems that only the black shoes, the white blouse and the straw hat have been retained, plus her distinctive plaited fair hair. Now Isobel Lucy Dunne is happily back living in her original school environment again, but we still don’t know how many years before 1980 the memories she stirred in the lady from Maylands were created.

The story is being written into the PLC archives, and Shannon has been kind enough to send us some photos, as seen here.


The doll with some PLC schoolgirls in their latest uniform hats!


Alresford Crafts Doll’s head markings

DSC01991 alr crafts dollsAs with most manufacturers, Alresford Crafts wanted to be able to identify the manufacturing date and methods used on each doll sent out of the factory, in case they were ever returned with a fault or other problem. So following the traditional route, some code numbers and letters were placed on the back of the neck of the doll’s head, which was normally not visible, under the hair.

In their 1980 catalogue – they started making dolls in 1978 – these markings were explained, and as far as we know this system was not changed, but was modified a little. The doll’s heads were made in Alresford, in the moulding department of Alresford Crafts, which until 1982 was in a building near the Town Mill, which is on one of the streams emerging from Alresford Pond. During 1982 most of the production, and the ceramics department, was moved to the Station Mill site, near the Alresford Station, famous as the end of the Watercress steam railway line. The heads are made from porcelain, which is often referred to as “china”, as the material was first seen in Europe in cups and saucers, and bowls, exported from China.

acrafts 3Making the heads, arms and feet

The ceramic clay paste was formed into shape inside a mould, to create a relatively soft “green” moulding of either the head, hands or feet of the doll. These were then fettled (to remove the extra material from the feeder tubes that delivered the paste), and for the head, the eye sockets were cut through, and careful finishing produced smooth unblemished porcelain pieces, for the first firing, which took around 12 hours. This produced a “bisque” – a harder moulding – which was then decorated before firing again. Finely ground on-glaze enamels were then applied by hand, to achieve the final colour -after a further six hours in the kiln.


acrafts 7The typical marks on the back of the dolls head are seen in the diagram. All but one of these marks are moulded-in, at the first stage. At the base of the triangle “ENGLAND” is the country of manufacture: under ‘England’, the word “ALRESFORD” was usually added, outside the triangle, to identify the manufacturer. The “C A3” marks show the mould number, and the “80” refers to the year of manufacture, ie 1980 here. The initials (“AD” in this example) impressed in the head, are those of the girl who cast the head. The other initials (“DW” in this example) are painted on, and show the initials of the girl who then decorated the head.


scan185Staff in the moulding department

The only names we know are those of Denise White (DW), who was a decorator, and Colin Larkin (CL), who was the mould shop manager, seen in the picture on the left. The names of other ceramic workers would be of great interest, and will be added here, if anyone writes in.

The original moulds were formed from sculpted head models, which were created by skilled sculptors. One of these was Frank Garbutt, who lived in Stoke on Trent in the Potteries, and attended Glasgow School of Art in around 1934.



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Soft toy collection returns to Alresford

IMG_9698xsIn 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

IMG_9675xsWe 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.

IMG_9671More 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.

The Owls!

IMG_9694xsObviously 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.

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John and Verena Harper

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.

Museum Displays

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:

Lists of the Museum collections can be found on


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!