ULTIMATE EASYCARE BREED
THEY DON’T have silicon chips, batteries or a keyboard. They’re simple toys that have been around for centuries. “But a child sits on a rocking horse and you can see their imagination take flight,” says Marc Stevenson.
The heyday of the rocking horse may have been the late Victorian era, but with the trend nowadays back to traditional toys, so they”ve become a “today” item, says Marc, who runs the family firm, Stevenson Bros, with his twin Tony.
The Kent-based business, which makes about 400 rocking horses a year and restores another 150, has become known around the world since it was launched in 1982.
But it will be six of their rocking sheep which will be on offer at Smithfield from Dec 2 to Dec 5, with the proceeds going to the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution.
Made of pine and sporting Romney Marsh fleeces, the sheep will be penned on the RABI stand, hoping to draw bids from passers-by. “It”ll be good to help a farming charity,” says Marc, who once saw one of his products make £17,000 at an auction for the NSPCC.
The sheep – two black, two white, and two Jacobs – would make a great gift for a toddler, reckons Marc. “Plus people can always use them as a footstool after the kids have grown up.”
It is horses, however, for which the firm is best known; top shops such as Harrods and Fortnum & Mason sell them. Prices vary, with the traditional dapple grey – the favourite of the Victorian nursery – averaging about £2000.
They’re enjoyed by people of all ages, and not just kids. “A lot of customers are women who didn”t have one as a child and buy it as a present for themselves. They say: I didn’t get one when I was three; now I”m 53, I”m going to have one.
“There”s a bit of child in everyone. You sit on it and have your first G&T of the evening and rock away your problems.”
Each one takes between six and 10 weeks to make depending on the size, using hardwoods such as walnut, maple, mahogany and cherry; along with real leather and horse hair. “Traditionally, that’s how it’s always been done,” says Marc.
They’ll often be asked to make a copy of a real horse, so choose a timber that is as near as possible in colour to the horse. They also make some quirkier creatures, such as rocking zebras (inspired by the brothers childhood in East Africa); they’ve even done a tulip-wood rocking Jersey cow complete with milk churns and a gate.
The business, which has an annual turnover of 1m, has now made 6000 horses. It’s a far cry from 1982, when the brothers launched the firm in a shed on their sister’s farm near Ashford.
“You’re making something that will be around forever,” says Marc, pointing out that the oldest one in their collection dates back to 1780. “Kids write and tell us about the adventures that they have had on their horses.”
Not only can each horse be personalised, but they”re all numbered and dated with a brass plate – so they have become collectable and as a result some see them as a good investment. As Marc says: “We all lose money on horses occasionally – but the wooden ones are a good bet. They always come in.”