Rocking horse making
The making of rocking horses, including hand-carving the wooden bodies, painting, applying hair etc.
|Historic area of significance|
|Area currently practised|
|Origin in the UK|
The rocking horse has been a popular children’s toy for centuries, developing from the hobby horse. “In the 1300’s, with the Age of Chivalry, wheeled horses were made for children to re-enact jousting games and by the mid nineteenth century many pull-along horses were made in England, Europe and America […] The earliest one known to still exist is said to have belonged to King Charles I and dates from C1610.” Since then, rocking horses have developed into more sophisticated designs. The rocking horse, as known today, popularised itself in the eighteenth century amongst the wealthy, with the intention of preparing children to ride real horses. Safety-stand rockers overtook the bow rocker design in popularity in the twentieth century, the safety-stand rockers taking up less space. F H Ayres was a London manufacturer well-known for his rocking horses during the Victorian era.
Issues affecting the viability of the craft
The craft of rocking horse making is doing very well:
Numbers of makers: The number of rocking horse makers is increasing. There are about 20 companies producing rocking horses and maybe a hundred individuals making and selling at craft shows. The Guild of Rocking Horse Makers has over 2,000 members (membership is conditional on having made one rocking horse).
Market issues: There is an expanding overseas market, especially where tradition is appreciated – US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand etc. The new horse business is seasonal (e.g. Christmas market) but restoration is less so. This can be made more stable by selling plans and accessories throughout the year – one firm sells 1,000 plans per year. A few makers sell through stores such as John Lewis and Harrods, but most need to sell direct to keep a profit margin.
Training and skills: There are no specific courses, but skills are transferable from other crafts such as wood carving, metal work and leather working. Specific skills are taught in the workshop. Some in-house training is available for service retirees who may go in to business themselves.
Health and safety: Rocking horses are classed as toys so must meet toy safety requirements. This can add to time and cost sourcing chrome-free leather, etc, but this is not a major issue.
Materials: Tulip wood (an American poplar) for body work, and ash for stands are imported from North America, but changes in exchange rates are offset by benefits to the export market.
- Guild of Rocking Horse Makers – the Guild has about 2,000 members, and membership is conditional on having made one rocking horse.
Craftspeople currently known
The following rocking horse maker appears on The Makers Directory:
- The Rocking Horse Shop, York
Other rocking horse makers:
- Stevenson Brothers, Kent – run an apprenticeship scheme and have had 6 apprentices go through as of January 2019
- Rocking Horse Works, Shropshire
The Rocking Horse Shop in York runs courses in rocking horse making.