I have long been a fan of Paddington Bear and last December I could not resist going to see the new film “Paddington” from the producers of Harry Potter, and what a delight it was – both funny and sad and a bit scary at times! The film based on the stories of Michael Bond’s little refugee bear was enchanting and made me dig out my old somewhat faded copies of the book I still have from my childhood.
You can tell their age by the cover price of three shillings and sixpence!
To coincide with the film, a London Paddington Trail was launched with over 50 Paddington Bear sculptures decorated by artists, celebrities and local groups. Sponsored by businesses and organisations they are being auctioned off in the New Year with proceeds going to the NSPCC.
So, on a very cold morning I made my way to London to go on a bear hunt!
First stop had to be Paddington Station, after all this was where the story began!
I have often seen the bronze statue which used to be sited on the main station concourse but which had in recent years moved indoors near to the sushi bar. It was always crowded with tourists having their photo taken with the little bear sitting by his suitcase. Today I found it had been moved yet again, this time near to Platform One…where Paddington first meets the Brown family.
Platform Eight also housed the first of my trail bears of the day aptly decorated by Michael Bond himself and a true replica of the Paddington from my childhood imagination!
Even a bench in the station had entered into the spirit of things!
Off to Paddington Basin in search of more sculptures…
“Futuristic Robot Bear” in Merchant Square designed by Jonathan Ross
Over Thomas Heatherwick’s “Rolling Bridge”
which was fortunately “unrolled” today to follow the trail…
Blue plush “Bearing Up” by Taylor Wimpey on St Marys Footbridge
and “Brick Bear” by Robin Partington and Partners, which attracted great interest from an overseas tourist who was most interested in Paddington!
A very dignified “Mayor of Paddington” by Costain stood on Canalside Plaza
I passed by the London Book Barge “Word on Water” the city’s only floating bookshop.
Run by an Oxford English graduate, who has been trading in the Basin for four years, the bookshop sources its stock from unwanted piles of books donated to charity shops which were destined to be pulped.
This quirky enterprise housed on a Dutch barge is much loved by the local community, writers and tourists alike but is currently under threat of losing its mooring pitch as developers press to open even more canalside coffee shops and eateries.
Another sculpture called “Texting Paddington” stood in Sheldon Square, designed by the Westminster Academy with Paddington sporting a very dapper patriotic duffle coat decorated with snippets of text from the books.
On towards Little Venice, an area that I have always meant to visit but have somehow never got around to.
A pool was created here in the 1810s at the meeting point of the Regent’s Canal and the Paddington arm of the Grand Union canal, and was originally known as Paddington Broadwater. The small island is known as “Browning’s Island”, after the poet Robert Browning, who lived nearby which is today lined with willows and forms a roundabout for canal boats.
In her 1934 detective novel Death of a Ghost, Margery Allingham gave the name “Little Venice” to a house overlooking the canal. This name caught on with estate agents after the Second World War and is still in use today. Famous residents have included Katherine Mansfield, playwright Christopher Fry, novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard and the singer Bjork, and of course Michael Bond the creator of Paddington!
Crossing the canal to an area which was formerly the site of derelict artists studios that were demolished and replaced with a small park. It was named Rembrandt Gardens in 1975 to commemorate the 700th anniversary of the founding of the city of Amsterdam, the “Venice of the North” and it was here where I had a close encounter with the Lulu Guinness designed Paddington!
“Love Paddington” complete with her “lips” trademark!
I met up with a mother and daughter visiting from Merseyside who informed me that they were staying in London to find as many sculptures as they could in their week. True Paddington fans! We remarked on the lack of children that we had met whilst following the sculpture trail…perhaps the film will help bring the adventures of the little bear to new fans and enchant a new generation?
With all the sculptures in the area ticked off my list and with the shortening day length I headed off to Oxford Street to brave the crowds Christmas shopping, to see the festive lights and of course to find some more bears!
First stop Selfridges, where in the Toy Department on Christmas Eve over 50 years ago Michael Bond, a BBC cameraman, saw and bought his wife a small bear which they named Paddington after the station they lived close by…the rest as they say “is history!”
Today Selfridges Wonder Room was home to the “Paddington Curiosity Shop” selling all kinds of ursine merchandise! Meanwhile the window was host to a dazzling array of golden marmalade, Paddington’s favourite sandwich filling, a gold London cab and “Goldiebear” by Kate Moss!
Upstairs in the Toy Department…“Camobear!”
Onwards down Oxford Street, now very busy with shoppers it was quite tricky spotting a 5 foot sculpture bear!
In fact I nearly missed this one, hard to believe! “Sparkles” by Frankie Bridge in South Molton Street.
The Christmas lights were quite spectacular as I made my way towards Regent Street.
Passing by the cavorting penguins in the windows of John Lewis.
and on to Hamleys the famous toy shop, where “snow” was festively falling courtesy of Santa’s elves in the doorway, to find “Bearer of Gifts” designed by Hamleys themselves.
Around the corner to Carnaby Street to find the very fashionable Parka Paddington designed by Liam Gallagher…who else!
After a reviving cup of coffee (a pity that Pret a Manger don’t sell marmalade sandwiches!) I made my way on to Piccadilly Circus and past the famous illumintated sign which features in the Paddington film.
There have been advertising signs here since the early 1900’s originally all around the Circus, the first illuminated one being for Perrier in 1908.They are now only in the north western corner on a site is usually referred to as “Monico” after the Café Monico, which used to stand there.
It took an age to take a photo without people with their arms around Paddington here as this is probably the most popular tourist spot in the whole of London!
Only a couple more sculptures to find for the day, so a detour through Leicester Square and past an appropriately named street,
and through Trafalgar Square down Whitehall to Downing Street. Just outside the security barriers that now cut off this street there he was…“Paddington is Great” by Stephen Fry.
It amused me to watch harried looking office workers rushing home suddenly stopping, smiling and turning back to take a photo on their mobile phones.
Well the last of the bear trail for me was just around the corner from Whitehall in Great George Street…“Good News Bear” from The Telegraph.
What a great day’s bear hunting and according to the promoters of the trail as I had found 19 bears I was entitled to call myself a “London Pioneer for following in Paddington’s paw prints!”…
I also discovered new places along the way and also revisited old haunts… Oh and I got a small souvenir of the day from Selfridge’s… of course!