J.K. Farnell

The family business of J.K.Farnell was established in 1840 in Notting Hill, London by John Kirby Farnell, making small textile items such as tea cosies, pin cushions and pen wipers. Agnus Farnell, John's daughter began to make soft toys in 1970 with the backing of her Father and Henry her brother. After John's death in 1987 Agnus and Henry moved the firm to Acton where they leased an 18th century house "The Elms" and set up a 'soft toy' business, initially using rabbit skins to make the toys. The firm is said to have produced its first Teddy Bear in 1908. In 1921 J.F.K. Farnell became a private limited company. In the same year Agnus set up the Alpha works next to the existing Farnell factory and began to produce Teddy Bears working with the designer Sybil Kemp.

In 1925 the Alpha trademark which was used on all Farnell Bears since the 1920's was officially registered as the firms trademark. In 1926 T.B. Wright joined the firm as a sales representative. The Alpha bears which were made of Yorkshire mohair soon became famous and Farnell quickly established itself as one of Britain's most popular bear makers. Farnell bears were sold in most major stores, including Harrods in London where the original Alpha bear (similar to this one) was brought for Christopher Robin Milne and went on to become Winnie the Pooh. In 1927 the firm extended it's range to produce Anima wheeled toys, which included a bear and the factory space was extended to cope with the new production lines. In 25 January 1928 Agnus Farnell died. The Farnell company however continued to expand and in the same year opened its new showroom in London at 19 New Union Street, East London. In 1929 the company joined forces with Louis Force & Co Inc to distribute its toys in America and Canada. A showroom was opened at 215-19 forth Avenue, New York. By the end of the 1920's the Farnell company had also established showrooms in Paris. Production of Silkalite artificial-silk plush bears started.

In 1931 G.E.Beer became director of the company, staying with them until 1935. In the same year the company introduced its cheap Unicorn soft toys. The bear shown on the left is part of Farnell's Unicorn range. In 1932 J.K.Farnell joined forces with William Bailey (Birmingham) Ltd a toy manufacturing firm managed by Percy V Goodwin. One sales team was used to market both firms goods.

The firm had its premises totally destroyed by fire in 1934. Despite this setback J.K.Farnell was operating again within a year from a new 2.137 square metres factory, large enough for the firm to employ 300 workers. Many new designs were introduced at this time including Che-Kee (Lambs wool), Alpac (alpaca) and Jay Day dolls, and old ranges including Alpha and Teddy series of bears were revived and produced again.

In 1940 the Farnell company suffered extensive bomb damage of their premises and once again the factory had to be totally rebuilt. In 1944 Henry Kirby Farnell died. During the 1950's the firm had it's trademark redesigned and opened new showrooms at Condor House, 13-14 St Paul's Churchyard, East London. In 1959 a production unit with 100 employees was established at 39 George St, Hastings, Sussex, this later became the the Olympia Works. The new unit produced 95% of Teddy bears made by Farnell for export, the Acton factory is now used to produce toys mainly for the British market. Farnell's head office is relocated in the same year to Hastings.

The Farnell company registered the Mother Goose trade mark for washable nylon toys in 1960, and in 1964 all production of Farnell toys is moved to Hastings. A subsidiary company Acton Toycraft Ltd took over the lease of the Alpha Works. which it renamed the Twyford Works. The Farnell company continued to produce Teddy Bears until the late 1968 when it was taken over by a finance company.

One of the most famous Farnell bears is Toffee, who was featured in a BBC children's program and was sold complete with story booklet, woolly hat and scarf. He was made in two colours white or gold and was 12" (30cm) tall. The one shown here no longer has his clothes. In good condition and complete with hat