BETHERSDEN, England (Reuters) - In a workshop in southeast England a restorer carefully removes the saddle of an old rocking horse, preparing it for repair. Upstairs, hammer in hand, a finisher drives nails into a saddle blanket on a newly carved, stained and polished wooden model.
The rocking horses are among dozens being worked on or on display at Stevenson Brothers, a British business dedicated to the handcraft of the traditional toy it has sold to royal households in Europe and the Middle East.Twins Marc and Tony Stevenson have been making the bespoke replicas for 37 years, including models for Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, a longtime horse and racing enthusiast.
“We’re very lucky that all our work is appreciated by royal families all over the world,” co-owner Marc Stevenson said.
“We’ve got horses out in the Middle East, in the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain and Qatar... and some of the European royal families as well, and we were lucky enough to have a few in our own royal family here (in Britain).”
These include several presented to the British monarch: a replica of her favorite colored horse “Tinkerbell”, a dapple gray for her 2002 Golden Jubilee and a black oak horse for her 2012 Diamond Jubilee.
Based in the village of Bethersden in Kent, the firm makes about 170-180 rocking horses a year, with prices starting at 1,000 pounds ($1,314) for a miniature model. Stevenson said limited edition pieces like the Diamond Jubilee horse cost 10,000 pounds plus value added tax.
Among its catalog of works are reproductions of designs by 19th century rocking horse maker F.H. Ayres, and models made with oak, tulip wood and chestnut creations. The company uses predominantly English hard woods and English leather.
“It was never going to be a low price item,” Stevenson said citing materials used, which also include real horse hair.
“We make them in Britain in this workshop, it’s British craftsmanship that we’re paying for.”
The horses take three months to make and requests have included life-size models as well as a rocking tiger. Together with Fernandes Exquisite Creations, Stevenson Brothers also made a zebra encrusted with more than 80,000 Svarovski crystals, a model worth 129,000 pounds.
“There is no age limit on the rocking horse, people buy them for babies that aren’t even born yet and they buy them for 80, 90-year-old women and gentlemen as well,” Stevenson said.
“There’s something about horses that is innate in us... They were our mode of transport, they were our method of farming. Rocking horses were made to teach children to ride.”
With Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle expecting their first child this spring, could the royal offspring one day ride such a rocking horse?
“We’d like to think the royal children will be given a rocking horse of course,” Stevenson said. “Who knows, it might just happen that we get a commission for the latest baby.”
Reporting by Jayson Mansaray; Writing by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; Editing by Gareth Jones