This week features the return of our Paddington correspondent, my esteemed colleague Isabel Hernandez who has turned her attention to the other Paddington.
“It’s nice having a bear about the house.”
Well you know, I cannot dispute that. As bizarre as that line seems out of context I actually think it has a point, for I do indeed have a rather earnest-looking, anthropomorphic bear gracing my bookshelves often making me laugh when nothing else will. He lives in the pages of a certain set of stories I keep on there as well as physically imposing himself in a small space next to the books wearing a red hat, blue duffel coat and red wellington boots with a label attached that says, “Please look after this bear. Thank you.”
Many will know who Paddington Bear is, where he came from and why he was named after a London station. I also think of him as a West London bear, even if he did originate from Darkest Peru, not Africa, as Michael Bond had originally written, until it was pointed out that there are no indigenous bears living in Africa, so he set about diligently doing his research by paying a visit to Westminster Public Library followed by a trip to London Zoo until he eventually settled on Peru.
It may seem strange that a bear should be so iconic (not unlike Winnie-the-Pooh) but Paddington just happens to be so in a very down to earth way. In re-reading the stories recently and hunting for the 50 statues dotted around parts of London before they were auctioned off, I was prompted into reading Michael Bond’s autobiography, Bears & Forebears. A Life So Far, which not only is a guide to how he came to breathe life into all of his creations (for there are others aside from Paddington), but also gives a wonderful insight into his own life and the influences and inspiration that later (I think) contributed to his best known character.
Meet Paddington. Here he is as originally drawn by British illustrator Peggy Fortnum, a lady who (according to Michael Bond) using pen and ink ‘understands Paddington perfectly and with a few seemingly deft strokes….manages to convey a living breathing creature.’
A Bear Called Paddington was first published in 1958 by Collins. There were eight stories in that first book of the series. Several more were written in subsequent years and are still being written to the present day. Paddington, you see, moves with the times. As it turns out Paddington was conceived on a typewriter one spring morning in a one-roomed garden flat near the Portobello Road, “…it was a bit like living in a caravan,” said Michael Bond, “The kitchen had to be tucked away in a cupboard at night and during the day the bed was used to provide extra seating for visitors. But the market was just around the corner, and Holland Park, with its peacocks and its shady walks, was only a short distance away.”
Not difficult to see why this was a haven….
Much has been made of the location of 32 Windsor Gardens where the Browns live. Many have made the literary pilgrimage visiting a location by the same name in West London – only a stone’s throw away from where I used to live in the Paddington area. Karen Jankel (Michael Bond’s daughter) has since explained how the fictitious address came into being, which is not in any way related to the real address with the same name. Michael Bond himself reveals in his autobiography that number 32 Windsor Gardens was “in my mind’s eye Lansdowne Crescent – a quiet street of rather grand houses off Ladbroke Grove and close to Arundel Gardens where we lived.” Imagine my surprise at the revelation! I too was under the same misapprehension as everyone else.
Lansdowne Crescent, named after the Lansdowne area of Cheltenham, was built about 1842-1846. The houses are typical Victorian builds and here we have a 1970s photograph showing some typical cars of the day.
We all have our own ideas about what fictional places look like when we are reading a story so I decided to look and see if we had anything interesting that might live up to my imagination. Above is a rather picturesque image of a house that exists along Lansdowne Crescent taken in 1979 although you would be forgiven for thinking this might be more of a 1950s film studio print. The dramatic lighting here must have been caught in the early morning. There are milk bottles still waiting to be taken in and (no doubt) breakfasts to be served. I could imagine the Browns living here under Mrs Bird’s scrutiny. I rather think Paddington might have been taken with the foliage growing around the house too.
But, I’m a little ahead of myself. Geographically we need to start at the beginning and that is Paddington Station seen in the photograph below (courtesy of my colleagues at the Westminster City Archives).
This location has been the terminus for the Great Western Railway from as early as 1838, but the larger part of the mainline station, designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, dates from around 1854 with the underground Metropolitan Railway being the first in the world following in 1863. Paddington Station warrants a blog all to itself and summarising its history here would be an injustice. (Something for another day perhaps…)
Why was Paddington Bear named thus, aside from the obvious?
“We called him Paddington because for some years Paddington Station had been my first port of call whenever I travelled to London, and it was also just down the road from where we were living at the time. Besides, it had a nice, West Country ring to it; safe and solid”
We also know that Paddington wears a label round his neck with the words:
“Please look after this bear. Thank you”
“It was the memory of seeing newsreels showing trainloads of evacuees leaving London during the war, each child with a label round its neck and all its important possessions in a tiny suitcase, that prompted me to do the same for Paddington.”
(Image first published in The Daily Telegraph)
And so a bear was named and rescued by the Browns, “an immigrant in a strange country with no money and nowhere to go”.
The strangeness of a place and the sudden upheaval of one’s life can be a daunting and frightening experience and yet perhaps there can be found, when we look closely, almost a haven or familiarity in the new friends we make and the new places we explore, depending on where we end up.
Which brings us to Portobello Road, a familiar haunt of Paddington’s, seen here in 1951; it has always been a bustling and diverse community selling everything from antiques, bric-a-brac, fruit and vegetables to fashion, household goods and street food. Indeed this year both Portobello and Golborne Markets celebrate a 150 year anniversary.
In the books, Mr Gruber (a family friend) is a central character in Paddington’s life. An immigrant himself he has an understanding of the young bear’s unfamiliarity with his new home:
“Mr Gruber was born in Hungary and his antique shop in the Portobello Road is an oasis of peace and quiet in Paddington’s life: a retreat where every day he can share his elevenses, discuss the world in general over cocoa and buns, and seek sound advice from his friend whenever the need arises.”
Perhaps his antique shop resembles this one?
Everybody sells something a little different and people are always on the lookout for something unique.
(Photograph by Kenny McCready 1964)
This gentleman appears to be about to pay for something but we have no idea what.
The market also has many fruit and vegetable stalls –that was its main function before the antiques moved in. Back in the 1950s shopping in markets was where the average shopper would buy things. The concept of supermarkets was not yet realised to a great extent. Everything was pennies and shillings, pounds and ounces and people knew each other by name. That may still be the case to a degree but times have definitely changed. Paddington certainly seems to enjoy doing his daily shopping in the market – not sure what he would think of a large Tesco store.
[Mrs I.M Cain’s fruit stall in 1958.]
[Mrs Rudd’s salad stall in 1958.]
This unnamed gentleman also has a fruit stall with what appears to be a fish stall next to him (1958). I rather like his sign, shaped like individual oranges saying JAFFAS on the top of the stall – the oranges and not the cakes I suspect – seems to be the most popular orange variety sold in Portobello.
Here’s another unnamed gentleman also selling Jaffa oranges. I wonder if they are any good for marmalade…
I almost wish these photographs were in colour. The colours on that stall would have been very vibrant.
A Lyons Tea van with a fresh delivery. Paddington does like his buns after all.
In the background is 191, Portobello Road, home of the Electric Cinema, first opened in 1910. In the London Post Office directory of 1958 it is listed as The Imperial Playhouse having been renamed in 1932 during one of Notting Hill’s less salubrious periods in history. It went back to its original name in the late 1960s and despite its precarious existence it remains an iconic survivor. Few original cinemas remain in London now, not least those of the West End which are succumbing to the indignities of redevelopment. How much has changed since Paddington Bear’s original debut! And yet, modern technology has brought him to life on the big screen premiering him in Leicester Square for the first time. Our bear from Darkest Peru has come a long way, and even though he has very much become something of a universal bear despite his being quintessentially an English bear, I personally think of him as a West London bear and I almost half expect to see him traipse down the Portobello Road with his trolley in search of some tasty buns for his elevenses with Mr Gruber any day now.
The quotes I have used are taken from Michael Bond’s 1996 autobiography: Bears and Forebears. A life so far which I borrowed from the library’s biography collection. (Out of print but still available through Amazon and other sources)
The post itself is not about any one specific place; it’s more of a geographical jaunt following some of the places we know Paddington Bear has frequented and still does by all accounts: a fictional character set in real surroundings given one or two imaginative alterations here and there.
Michael Bond has expressed that he has no intention of retiring as a writer and I do believe we’ll be seeing a lot more of Paddington, which I, for one, am very pleased about. You see when I feel a little put out upon occasions, for example; during my commute in and out of London, I too have a particular stare that usually indicates my displeasure at someone’s rudeness or lack of consideration. Whether this is a universal thing we learn as we age I do not know. This is why when Paddington directs his formidable stare at anyone he deems discourteous I cannot help but crack a smile – it’s incredibly funny when it’s done by a bear:
“Paddington had a very persistent stare when he cared to use it. It was a very powerful stare. One which his Aunt Lucy had taught him and which he kept for special occasions.”
And here I conclude my rather whimsical homage to Paddington Bear.
Postscript to the postscript (by Dave)
My thanks to Isabel, and apologies because I still haven’t worked out how to add an author on WordPress. This post kills two birds with one stone for me. Not only do we get Paddington but also the Portobello Market which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year. You can expect more on the market in the months to come.
I know lots of readers don’t live in London but forgive me a bit of advertising. For Holocaust Memorial Day this year we have an event on January 27th at Kensington Library featuring historian Roger Moorhouse. Follow the link for more details. Roger gave an excellent talk at our London History Festival in November based on his book “The Devils’ Alliance: Hitler’s pact with Stalin 1939-41″ so despite the sombre subject I can highly recommend this talk especially in the light of recent events.