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‘The Wombles’, Boxing Day, and the environment: toys by a Lisburn artist

Wombles - photo

Selection of stuffed toy Wombles, by Anna Cheyne, c. 1970s (ILC&LM Collection)

Do you remember ‘The Wombles’? Wouldn’t these toys have been a delight to find under the tree on Christmas morning? These Wombles were handmade by Lisburn artist, Anna Cheyne (1926-2002), and sold by her at a fundraiser in the 1970s. Cheyne was best known for her sculptures, but these toys required a number of skills that she did not normally use when completing her artwork, including cutting, sewing, filling, and assembling. Going clockwise from the top left, the characters are Madame Cholet, Orinoco, Bunge, Great Uncle Bulgaria, and Tomsk. They were gifted to the Irish Linen Centre & Lisburn Museum in 2020.

‘The Wombles’ were created by the English author, Elisabeth Beresford (1926-2010), and initially featured in a series of children’s books from 1968 before rising in popularity with the launch of a television show which first aired in February 1973.

Their creator’s inspiration for the name ‘Womble’ came during a stroll with her children on Boxing Day at Wimbledon Common, London. As they walked through this green space, Beresford’s daughter kept calling it ‘Wombledon Common’. The furry creatures’ name and the location of their ‘underground, overground’ home were decided.

We are living in an age when the ‘climate crisis’ is frequently the topic of public debate, and COP28, the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference, has recently concluded in Dubai. Since their inception, ‘The Wombles’ were advocates for cleaning up the environment and their main activity was recycling human rubbish to make something useful for their burrow. Can you remember the song?

‘Making good use of the things that we find,

Things that the everyday folks leave behind.’

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