A Hampshire museum is set to re-unite a remarkable personal collection of more than 250 teddy bears, some more than a century old, which will be going on public display for the first time.
Under normal circumstances, visitors to Basingstoke’s Milestones Museum can already take a trip down memory lane, thanks to its recreated streets from Victorian times through the 1930s and 40s, featuring vintage vehicles, a 1940s sweet shop and an Edwardian pub.
Now, in a new exhibition for 2021, Milestones will host ‘Mr Simpson’s Teddy Bear Museum’ – a collection with a fascinating personal story, telling the history of teddy bears and their roles in people’s lives.
It all started with Mr William Simpson (1915-2013), from Dorset, a keen collector, and toy historian, who built up a collection of 269 teddy bears throughout his life.
Teddy bears became a lifelong passion for him, and to ensure the collection remained together he bequeathed his bears to Hampshire County Museums Service – which later became the Hampshire Cultural Trust – along with a legacy for their care and display.
Honouring Mr Simpson’s bequest, the bears, many of which have undergone essential repairs and cleaning, will all be reunited in Mr Simpson’s Teddy Bear Museum, opening later this year at Milestones Museum.
From Mr Simpson’s first bear, Rupert, bought in 1917 and given to him as a present on his second Christmas, he collected more than 200 more, and each was given a name and a personality, often dressed in homemade clothes or accessories to match. Every bear also has a card handwritten by him explaining the teddy bear’s background.
The exhibition will also feature new family friendly-activities designed to complement the collection and to help reveal the history and development of teddy bears from 1908 to the early 2000s.
Milestones Museum is a fitting home for the new exhibition. Run by the Hampshire Cultural Trust, it is Hampshire’s museum of living history, featuring more than 20,000 objects that were either made or used in Hampshire, and brings to life the county’s social, industrial and transport history.
Life-sized cobbled streets are lined with buildings, shops and vehicles recreated and restored as they would have been in times past. There are authentic milliner, saddler and ironmonger shops, and a garage filled with vintage vehicles from top Hampshire manufacturers, including the Thornycroft Steam Wagon Company Ltd and Tasker’s of Andover.
Visitors can buy an old penny and a ration coupon at reception and spend it in the 1940s sweet shop, or pop into Milestones’ very own working pub, the Baverstock Arms, named after Alton-born James Baverstock, who was one of the first people to use science to help improve the quality of ale. Interpreters in period costume add to the atmosphere, telling a story, playing a record in the gramophone shop or even serving a pint in the pub.
For details about the museum, and when it will re-open, see www.milestonesmuseum.org.uk
Information about the William Simpson Teddy Bear Collection can be found at https://collections.hampshireculture.org.uk/topic/william-simpson-teddy-bear-collection.
For general tourist information about Hampshire, and for the latest updates on what’s open, see www.visit-hampshire.co.uk