Skip to content

Abbey England are at heart of the world’s saddlery trade

November 24, 2012

As part of the monthly New Barn Rider meetings, a group of members was recently invited to the headquarters of Abbey England in Knutsford, and on the night around 40 of us  assembled at the warehouse.

Most of us were longterm horse owners and riders, and were confused to think there could be an unknown saddlery right in the middle of our local area.

We were made welcome by Richard Pickering and Richard Brown, company directors, and the mystery was duly solved. Abbey England are a trade company, supplying directly to saddlers all over the world, and most of us were unaware of the vital part they played in the supply of raw saddlery materials.

The warehouse – an Aladdin’s cave of saddlery materials

Abbey is a family business, with 44 employees, and supply most of the world’s saddlers. “If you’ve bought an English saddle anywhere in the world in the last 30 years,” explained Richard Pickering, with pride, “the chances are it was made with materials supplied by us.”

Richard Brown’s father Gerald, the founder of the company, still comes in every day “to keep an eye on us”, said Richard, smiling. He’s clearly very proud of his father, who was awarded a BETA lifetime achievement award in 2011 for services to the trade.

Four years ago, Abbey bought a foundry in Walsall which made metal furnishings such as buckles, stirrup bars and clips, using traditional moulds sometimes centuries old.

The company supply to anywhere in the world with an established equestrian trade, including the US, South Africa, Australia, Europe and the Middle East. They currently supply Pinewood Studios with materials, and are currently in discussion with filmmakers in Hollywood.

Seventy to eighty percent of the company’s output is for the equestrian trade, but the company also makes supplies for the general pet trade, the medical and aerospace industries and for marine and military use. They also have a Royal Warrant, and supply various equipment including some for the Household Cavalry. “Possibly our most high profile job was supplying new webbing for the carriages for the Royal Wedding,” says Richard Pickering. “But it’s all in a day’s work, really – we also make harnesses for elephants and llamas, so there’s a lot of variety.”

Our group moved through to the warehouse, each of us in turn remarking on the smell as we went in – that mix of leather and saddle soap that’s so evocative.

Rolls of leather and bridle samples – all shapes, sizes and colours

Richard Pickering gathered us round a long table, where samples of leather were spread out for inspection. “Our leather is all ethically sourced, and mostly comes from English and Irish cows, but is tanned in Germany,” he explained. Among the samples on the table were a goatskin, a doeskin, used for sidesaddles, a sheepskin destined for the clothing industry and a pigskin, used for the seat of the sidesaddle.  There was even a reindeer skin, used for interior decoration for log cabins.

Richard Brown (right) takes us through the different types of leather

“Pigskins and doeskins cost around £100 each.” he said, “When making a conventional astride saddle, the saddler can use the whole piece with little wastage, but with a sidesaddle most of the skin is discarded as the saddler wants to use only the best piece of the leather, the centre.”

Next up was an array of bridle leather.

“This is top quality leather,” explained Richard. “a piece around 60 x 150cm will cost around £140 plus VAT, and there’s a huge variety of colours. We have Australian Nut (dark brown), Newmarket (tan), Conker (a rich brown) and London Tan, as well as coloured leathers for the fashion industry.”

In answer to a question from the group, he explained, “London tan is so-called as it was the designated colour of coaches going to London – people who couldn’t read would know they’d got the right coach.”

Having dealt with the subject of what the saddle was made of, we moved onto what it was made on. Richard Pickering showed us a range of trees, both  rigid and spring tree. He pointed out how the trees for dressage saddles were cut to allow for the straighter flaps, and how the cantles on some of the saddles were engineering in a single piece rather than bolted on.

“Rigid trees are less common now, but they’re still around. They’re stronger, but allow less contact with the horse. Spring trees (the ‘springs’ are two strips that run down the length of the seat) allow more contact and flexibility. The plastic trees you can see are lighter, and normally used for racing saddles where weight is a consideration. ”

Solid, spring, plastic, wooden – a whole forest of saddle trees

Richard Brown then stepped in to explain how the saddle tree is covered in webbing to form the seat of the saddle, and how the almost-finished saddle is flocked. “As with anything else, flocking comes in different varieties. There’s a woollen/synthetic mix, which is cheap, and a pure, new wool which has been processed. The processing obviously cleans it, but it also means that the wool has a tendency to form clumps, which can be problematic. The best flocking is an untreated, long fibre wool, which doesn’t clump, but some customers don’t like it as it’s not cleaned. ”

Having exhausted the possibilities of the saddle – as well as tiring out our hosts – we moved down to explore the metal furnishings section, passing tantalising rolls of Tattersall check, Newmarket stripe and woollen fabrics, destined for horse rugs. I exclaimed over the rolls of old-fashioned canvas, which I remembered from my childhood, and Richard Pickering explained it’s still very popular in France, as it’s more robust than synthetic materials.

The metal parts are all cast by hand using traditional methods in the company foundry in Walsall, and we saw examples ranging from horse brasses, Newmarket chains and dog collars to a high-fashion belt buckle cast in the shape of a stirrup iron. There was also a dizzying array of bits, mainly stainless steel but also copper, brass, vulcanite and sweet iron.

Buckles….

…chains….

…and bits.

 

The two Richards rounded off the tour by presenting New Barn’s Pam Rigby with a stunning saddle, custom made for use by disabled riders. Made by Irish saddler Shane Mulryan from Abbey materials, the standard GP saddle is customised with removable pads and a handle to give extra support.All the New Barn Riders would like to thank Richard Brown, Richard Pickering and everyone else at Abbey England for giving up their evening and making us all so welcome.

Abbey England products are available from retail saddlers nationwide. For more information about the company, visit http://abbeyengland.com/.

Advertisements
One Comment leave one →
  1. February 11, 2013 5:31 pm

    Hello: I found your blog on Abby England to be very interesting. I was wondering if you would be interested in doing a feature on Tom Balding Bits and Spurs. They are 100% handcrafted in Sheridan Wyoming USA. I would love to answer any questions you might have or provide images for you if you are interested. You can see most of our products at http://www.tombalding.com . Because most are made custom to order we are also creating a product “creator” in which you can put together any combination you would like including finishes. We hope to have this up and running by mid March. Thank you! Desirae

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: