We're still operating as normal!
The English Saddlery Trade dates back many centuries and arguably has produced some of the finest leatherwork and craftsman in the world. At the peak of the trade, horses were the primary means of transport and the British Empire produced a bottomless pit of demand for quality leatherwork to go out all over the world. As cars replaced horses and sewing machines were used to overcome the lack of skilled labour lost in the First and Second World Wars, so the industry declined in both size and quality of output and so in may ways does it continue to today. Large parts of the work traditionally carried out by hand and eye by the craftsman have been replaced by giant presses and sewing machines as many of the companies still remaining try to compete with imports or buy in finished work from abroad and sell it as their own.
In many ways therefore our business is an anachronism whose raw materials, methods of production and corporate culture have more in common with the 19th Century than the 21st. That may sound curious to some perhaps, who are more used to the obvious improvements that technology brings to their everyday lives. We don't reject technology out of a desire to recreate the past or because we don't see its benefits, indeed we are enthusiastic adopters of the internet as you can see. Rather we work in a craft that largely solved its technical problems a century or more ago - modern technology has been used to reduce cost rather than improve quality. As craftspeople we prefer to work to the standards of quality of the craft in its heyday than try to cut costs and corners to compete with those for whom the bottom line is the sole driver and foreign production lines is the way forward.
The first and biggest problem in trying to maintain standards is the availability of components and materials of good enough quality. We are very lucky in that many of the patterns of buckles developed down the centuries are still available. We buy our buckles from the last buckle foundry in the UK and a very similar company in Paris, who were both founded in the mid 19th Century. The buckles you see on our website today are largely either patterns directly from the 19th century, or direct descendants of them. As a consequence they manage to achieve that magic combination of form and function that is so rare. elegant, beautiful curves and lines that are also robust enough to leave to your children and be comfortable in the hand and in use. As you would expect only the best metals are used, solid brass, solid nickel (we are all but the last source of belts with solid nickel buckles in the UK) solid stainless steel and last but not least solid hallmarked Sterling Silver.
In addition to our buckles and fittings we are entirely reliant on a source of quality leather in order to make the prouducts we do. We buy bridle leather only from two English firms. The first you may have heard of - J & E Sedgwick, a firm founded in 1900 who are known worldwide for the excellence of the leather they produce. We use their bridle leather for much of our work, from belts to watch straps, and it is today largely as it would have been 100 years ago. Many of the colours we offer would have been just as familiar to a Victorian or Edwardian audience as a contemporary one. London Tan, for example, is a centuries old colour, as is Australian Nut and Dark Havanna. An even more traditional firm is J & FJ Bakers from Colyton in Devon who supply us with Oak Bark tanned bridle leather. The business has been in the family since 1862 and is on a site used as a tannery since Roman times. Their traditional methods produce amazing leather with great character, strength and depth of colour. We as a business and as an industry are lucky here in the UK to have access to such great leather.
Craftsmanship is the core of our business and is what turns the raw materials into products worth of their constituent parts. In common with the heritage of our raw materials many of our tools and techniques are identical to those used in the 18th and 19th century. We have a few images below showing 19th century tools illustrated in The Equine Album alongside those that we use every day.