Visitors to a Windermere guest house might occasionally be joined in the dining room or sitting room by an unexpected character – a teddy bear.
The extra guest will be one of the collection of more than 300 bears owned by Mary and Philip Burton who run the guest house 1 Park Road.
The couple have been collecting teddy bears for more than 20 years and they include some antique specimens, and representatives of countries around the world from the couple’s travels, or gifts from family and friends.
Mary, an enthusiastic craftswoman and upholsterer, knits scarves for all the bears, and they all have names. The biggest, Claude, was found sitting outside a secondhand shop “in the rain, all by himself. We took pity on him,” Philip explains.
There’s Chimay, from Belgium, named after one of Philip’s favourite Trappist beers; he’s something of an expert on beers from around the world. There’s the obviously-named Two-Foot Nothing twins; Carly who was made by Mary at a workshop at Carlisle’s Lake District Bears; and Charlotte and Luther who were both bought at the exclusive Amsterdam department store, De Bijenkorf.
Chimay also has an occasional outing when he goes with Philip, a piano teacher who trained as a concert pianist, to play the organ at the local church. “He causes havoc as he insists on ringing his own Sanctus bell,” says Philip with a wink. “Mary refuses to take him to her choir rehearsal at Levens.”
The collection is kept in Mary and Philip’s own quarters: “It would be too eccentric to have them all out, all over the house,” says Philip. But they are brought out for special occasions, perhaps a koala to join Australian guests watching a rugby match, and a bear from Berlin was introduced to German guests in the dining room. Philip’s a great cricket fan, and Kodiki, a bear from India, is brought out to watch when India and their captain Virat Kohli are playing.
“Some guests are perplexed and look away, but others are happy to have ‘conversations’ with the bears. It’s a real ice-breaker and anything which makes people smile has to be good; it can have a beneficial effect on mental health, making up stories.”
Philip and Mary took over 1 Park Road ten years ago after both had worked in the health service. They have since built up a loyal clientele who enjoy the luxury combined with eclectic design and décor, and the rather special breakfasts, as well as the bears.
There have been accidents; the Burton’s dog damaged a few, which were sent to the north west repair specialists, Alice’s Bear Shop and Teddy Bear Hospital, in St Helens. “We had such a nice letter back from them when the bears had ‘recovered’. They told us one had to be forwarded to an antique specialist for repair.”
Meanwhile, a different bear is chosen every morning for a special job. As the guest house website states: “What is the mysterious bell you hear at the start and at the end of breakfast? Who rings it? It’s not Mary or Philip and we don’t employ other staff so who or what is it?”