The History of Hoo...

The last time this page was updated was on Monday, 19 July 2004

Hoo Bears are real mohair teddy bears, 
designed and hand-crafted for collectors by Helen Oliver in Crowle, Worcestershire, England.

All Hoo Bears are carefully and exclusively designed and made individually by Helen to her own extremely high standards of quality. The following extract is a revised and updated version of an article that first appeared in the May/June 1995 edition of Teddy Bear Times:

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Guz-bri, I shan’t tell you again - put that catapult down!!”  ...confiscating the little bear’s catapult, Helen wondered whether bear making had been such a good idea after all!” Guz-bri

“I’ve always loved teddies,” says Helen, “I’ve still got Edward, who was given to me on my first birthday, but I’d never considered collecting them before, let alone making them!”  It was in 1992 when Helen asked her husband, Steve, for a collector’s teddy bear as a Christmas present. They visited Stratford Teddy Bear Museum where she picked up a magazine and was astonished at the hundreds of bear shops, makers and fairs listed inside it - “I had never imagined the bear world to be so large!” says Helen. Steve presented her with Josh, a Crafty Bear by Shirley Latimer.

“Shirley told me that if Josh was Helen’s first collector’s bear, then I should be prepared for an expensive new year,” says Steve, “and she was right!”  Helen immediately became a collector, and started visiting bear fairs and shops in earnest. At a Cheltenham fair in 1993 she purchased her first bear kit. “I was very proud of Clancy,” she explains, “his eyes and nose were a little lopsided - but he didn’t seem too concerned about it!  I’ve always enjoyed sewing, making my own curtains and soft furnishings, but I had never considered making a bear before.” She then bought a piece of mohair and a pattern, and again was pleased with the result but felt the bear would look better with larger feet and a fatter tummy, and so set about designing her own pattern. “The result was a total disaster - unrecognisable as a teddy bear, but after several alterations and two more attempts, I was happy with ‘my bear,’” says Helen. More patterns followed and gradually a small collection of bears of various shapes and sizes started to build up.

The Hoo Hug started to develop a number of real characters. There was Sam in his tartan scarf, a big bagpipes fan who delighted in annoying others with his humming of ‘Scotland the Brave’ at 4 am in the morning. Who said bears were cheap to feed? Timothy proved the exception to the rule due to his fondness for a whole 3 jars of honey a day. And, of course, the eternally sleepy Humphrey - with his pillow tucked under his arm, forever falling asleep in the strangest of places!

Helen decided, with encouragement from Steve, who was becoming concerned at the rapidly increasing number of bears around the house, to have a go at selling a few. Hoo Bears wasHoo Bears logo born. The name, which was Helen’s idea, is derived from a stream, the Hoo Brook, which runs in a small valley near to their previous home in Kidderminster, Worcestershire. She explains, “doodling one day, I drew two eyes in the O’s of Hoo, added a teddy nose and mouth, and the logo was complete.”

The Hoo Hug looked forward with apprehension to their first big adventure - a fair at Buxton Pavilion Gardens, Buxton, England in May of 1994. The bears were all bundled into bags and boxes (except for Clifford, who flatly refused to be bundled anywhere). The fair turned out to be very successful. “Near the end of the day, Ann Stephens of Christie Bears came over for a chat and to ask how we’d got on,” says Helen. “She told me of the opening of her new shop in Birmingham and of the ‘Rent-a-Shelf’ scheme whereby artists could display their bears in her shop by paying a rental fee for shelf space.”

So, in August 1994, several anxious little bears travelled over to the Christie Bears shop. “But they needn’t have worried,” says Helen, “because two of them found new homes on the very first day! That really spurred me on, since then I haven’t looked back. Ann was always very supportive, and was instrumental in getting me going - I shall always be grateful to her." 

"The only problem I have now seems to be finding enough time to make my bears!”  Amazingly, Helen has managed to keep up a part-time job in the finance department of a local authority since she started, so all the bears have to be made in the other half of her time, in the evenings and at weekends. Needless to say, she doesn’t have much spare time, “I’ve been seen stuffing and sewing arms and legs on the train during my journey to work in the morning, and I've had some very strange looks! And on mornings when Steve drives me to the office, he's most annoyed by the haze of polyester stuffing that wafts around the inside of the car!

Helen and Steve's spare bedroom soon became the ‘Bear Room’, “for some reason I seem to spend most of my time in there!” There are pellets all over the carpet, shelves piled high with various type of mohair, eyes, joints, various limbs and bits of fluff lying all over the place, and in the Helen with the Hugmiddle, somewhere amongst the bags of stuffing, is her sewing machine. “I tend to make either one-of-a-kind bears or very small limited editions,” she explains, “since I enjoy experimenting with different fabrics and always have new ideas I am eager to try out. I usually have several bears ‘on the go’ at the same time and then I can pick up whichever bit I feel like doing at the time. Steve inserts the joints into the bears (naturally they’re put under ‘ted-aesthetic’ before he starts!) He also does all the administrative things, like designing and printing my brochure and dealing with all the correspondence.

My favourite part, and the most important part, I feel, is the face - the position of the nose or eyes can change the whole expression of the bear.” Helen’s least favourite part is the sewing on of a bear’s ears, “so I very often have a shelf full of earless bears, waiting for their completion and dignity!” she says. “Although many refuse to wear clothes, I do manage to dress a few of them. My Mum helps out with the knitting since I’m not very good at it, and she has become a dab-hand at altering patterns to fit the ample proportions of my bears.” 

“As each bear is finished he or she is led into the box room where they meet the rest of the Hoo Hug - later you can hear them chatting together... often into the small hours.”

“Amongst my favourites over the years, were Clifford and Alvin. They were brothers not unlike Gilbert, and real scamps, typically into everything and often found where they shouldn’t be! They also proved to be amongst my most popular designs.”

Helen started doing mail-order back in 1994, and the first version of the Hoo Bears website went live in the Spring of 1996 - in fact it was only the second British bear website to appear on the internet. Now in 2004, she has more than 1700 bears under her belt spread all around the world, with over 600 different names and she's fair exhausted!

2001, 2004  Hoo Bears. All Rights Reserved.
This page last updated: 19 Jul 2004