Children give Eden firm their “most playable toys in Britain” vote

Date: Friday 14th December 2007

SANTA may have to stock up at a Cumbrian toymakers’ after a panel of young judges voted its products the most playable toys in Britain.

Croglin Toys, of Lazonby, bagged the coveted prize during a three-week-long exhibition in London where children were asked to write a letter to Santa telling him which toys they liked the best.

The prestigious display featured the handcrafted work of members of the British Toymakers’ Guild, such as luxury teddy bears, dolls, train sets and paper-craft cut-outs. The Croglin Toys stand boasted lovingly-made wooden whirligigs, tractors and trailers, spinning tops and an impressive Noah’s Ark complete with many different animals.

The firm was set up 28 years ago by Ian Butler, partly as a “little fight against the world of plastic”, according to son Joe, who also works in the family business.

Joe said he was “very surprised” but delighted to win the Most Playable Toys Award. “There was some outstanding work in the London gallery, some very stiff competition. It’s about the cream of toymakers in the country and there was a huge range of very high quality products,” he said. “Dad’s always designed the toys to not just look good but for children to enjoy. They’re very hands-on, developed to be strong and take the knocks and bangs of play.

“People get quite attached to their wooden toys and if something breaks after five or 10 years of playing with it, they ask us to repair it rather than buy a replacement.

“There’s also an heirloom quality to them; they can be passed to brothers and sisters and even to sons and daughters. One customer bought some toys from us that went through both her sons and now they’re going on to the grandchildren.”

Croglin Toys started out in the Butler family’s front room at home. It moved to Newbiggin and back to Croglin before settling in its current base, the Old School, at Lazonby, 13 years ago.

It began with Ian experimenting with wood after a joinery course and designing whirligigs which are like hanging, spinning yo-yos. Friends started requesting his products and Ian moved from selling his goods at craft fairs to setting up his own shop.

Now Croglin Toys has a core of loyal customers from all over the world, including from South America, Africa, Asia and Australia.

Even today, whirligigs are still a best-selling toy. Joe said: “People are always taken with them because they just work by gravity and seem so simple and yet look fascinating. You don’t see them in many other places these days.”

The 26-year-old got involved in his father’s business five years ago, using the workshop machines and choice pieces of wood to make natural chopping boards.

He said: “I really enjoy working with wood as each piece is individual, and I can work to bring out its natural character and features, the same as dad with his toys.”

The father-and-son team recently bought a new laser cutter and engraver which gives greater accuracy and scope for more adventurous creations. It takes the craft into the realms of engineering and they have been able to make more modern wooden designs for adults, too.

This sideline, called Branching Out, produces unusual, interactive structures and sculptures for the home and office. Their parts can be moved about to make many different shapes and models and are popular with architects and students.