Passing through Paddington Station this weekend, I made sure I visited this statue of a refugee. Although fictional, it is worth remembering that this bear came to Britain from Peru. He first appeared in print in 1958 when author Michael Bond based his character on his memories of children, with labels around their necks, being evacuated at the start of the Second World War. Paddington, too, had a suitcase and a label, ‘Please look after this bear. Thank you.’
I read the Paddington stories in the 1960s. The references to world travellers finding a home in London were lost on me at the time even though, all around me, there was the evidence of settlers from so many countries making a home in Britain. To me, these stories were of a person out of place, trying to fit in, trying to understand how things worked and how to behave; this is exactly the experience many immigrants have.
Another significant character in the books is Mr Gruber. He offers tea and sympathy to the young bear because, as a refugee from Hungary, he understands what Paddington is going through. Michael Bond worked at the BBC’s monitoring centre at Caversham Park where many eastern Europeans were employed just after the war.
In an age when any migrant is treated with suspicion, it is worth remembering times when Britain welcomed people who needed a home in a new country. Paddington is associated with all things British but in his early life he was a refugee. This is the reason I like to stop at his statue in the station.
Marcus Cornish created the bronze statue. It was based on the drawings by Peggy Fortnum that illustrated the original books.
Paddington is in my hinterland. What’s in yours?