A Bear's Guide to London

Dear Bear Friends:

Some of you might like to travel the world, someday, as I have--and I hope you'll find this little Bear's Guide To London to be helpful.

To begin with, the British are VERY staunch supporters of the Bear species.

Here in England, my Mistress is far from alone as a grown-up who believes in bears! Bears are everywhere in England, and they are loved and honored by young humans and old humans alike.

That is why England has been home to several famous bears. Of course, we are all familiar with Edward Bear, known to his friends as Winnie-the-Pooh, or Pooh for short. Did you know that dear Mr. Milne wrote the Pooh stories about an ACTUAL bear? The original Winnie lived just outside of London, with his Master, Christopher Robin, and Piglet and Rabbit and Kanga and little Roo, and all the other well-known inhabitants of the Hundred Acre Wood.

London contains a very special item of Pooh History: the original sketches for the Pooh stories! Yes, if one travels to the Victoria and Albert Museum, one may see the original drawings made by dear Mr. Shepard. You can see the finished drawings in any copy of "Winnie The Pooh" or "The House At Pooh Corner"--but the artist's actual drawings and sketches may be seen in London.

Another famous London bear is Paddington Bear. It was so exciting to see the actual train station that gave Paddington his name! My, it is busy and exciting there, full of noisy trains and hurrying people. Wasn't Paddington a Very Brave Bear? To be lost at Paddington Station would have quite finished me, I dare say!

There's another famous British bear who is less familiar to us Colonials (that's a joking way to mean Americans--it comes from our status as a former colony of the British Empire!). Rupert Bear is a rather tall, slender fellow who wears a yellow jersey (that's what English people call a sweater!), red plaid pants, and a little red scarf.

While we Americans don't hear much about Rupert, he is very familiar to British children. Rupert comes from the small city of Canterbury, to the south of London--and he has many exciting adventures and travels! Perhaps our paths will cross some day--that would be exciting! Meantime, you can look for one of Rupert's many adventure stories in your local library.

London is home to many, many bears who are not so famous as Pooh or Rupert or Paddington. In our travels, Mistress and I found two shops devoted ENTIRELY to bears! One, called The Great English Bear Company, has a shop on Oxford Street.

I was astonished to see SO MANY bears! Not only are there bears ready to be adopted, but bear books and bear cards and bear furniture are sold there.

There are even ready-knitted sweaters in sizes to fit just about all of us!

After enduring some of the cold, damp English weather, I saw the advantage of a knitted sweater, even if it would mash down my fur.

Just outside the South Kensington station of the Underground, Mistress and I found another interesting bear shop. Oh, but it was tiny! The shop itself was about the size of an American bathroom, but it was lined with shelf after shelf of beautiful bears. THESE were not your common, garden variety toy bears (as I am, myself), but elegant and expensive collector bears, made of fine cashmeres and wools.

In the face of so many elegant bears, I felt quite ashamed of my rather matted, worn fur. However, these exquisite bears were friendly fellows, and soon, I had a good time chatting with them. They joshed me, good-naturedly, about my American accent--but I could see that they also envied me. After all, my Mistress IS most unusually fond of me. I hope all my new English bear friends are adopted by a fine family soon!

I have saved the best for last. My bear friends, I was privileged to meet some of the oldest bears in existence! Near the British Museum lies a small, wonderful museum, called the London Toy Museum. It is a spendid place! The Toy Museum is contained in a very, very old house--one part of the house is almost seven hundred years old! The ceilings are low, the rooms are small, and to see all the toys, one must climb up steep and narrow staircases.

But the rooms devoted to dolls and bears are worth the climb! As most of you know, the teddy bear was first produced in Germany by the Steiff company--are any of you Steiff bears, with the signature button in your ear? If you are, you are inheritors of a proud and ancient tradition!

Even though the first bears were made in Germany, it was British and American children who made teddy bears popular--and we Americans gave them their name!

In the early years of the 20th century, a political cartoonist illustrated a famous incident involving President Theodore Roosevelt. The President had refused to kill a bear (thank GOODNESS!) while on a wilderness trip. The cartoonist began to draw a little bear cub in many of his cartoons. Soon, Americans began referring to stuffed bears as Teddy Bears, to honor our brave and honorable President, and the Bear Craze began.

Well. I MUST tell you. I was privileged and honored to be able to visit some of these very, very old bears at the London Toy Museum. There were bears from 1905 and 1906--ancient, venerable, kindly bears who smiled at me but did not speak. I was awed and humble just to be in the presence of such old bears!

My favorite bear, though, was a bear who had been adopted just before World War I. He had been owned by several young children, brothers and sisters.

These talented children made the most amazing wardrobe for their Teddy Bear!

He had an elegant evening suit, a soldier's uniform, a sailor suit, and even a checked wool outfit for picnics in the country! Like the oldest bears, he too was silent, but he nodded gravely when I complimented him on his outstanding wardrobe.

I felt quite solemn when we left the London Toy Museum. I had no idea we Teddy Bears were such an old, honorable species! For nearly one hundred years, we have been companions and friends to children, sharing their joy and comforting them when sad or lonely or frightened. I turned to Mistress, and with a tear in my eye, gave her an extra-special tight hug.

"Oh, Perry," she said, "never you mind. Who can imagine a world without teddy bears?"

Who, indeed?


Perry Bear Ewer