A Yorkshire company which has been putting farmers
in trousers for 80 years has just been awarded a
royal warrant. The Halifax-based firm of Caldene is
now the official supplier of riding breeches to
Her Majesty, the Queen. Tom Montgomery reports
CLOTHING royal legs in stylish riding gear is a far cry from 1922 when George Uttley and his two brothers-in-law started the company with £15 each in an old army hut.
The surrounding area was well-known for its hard-wearing cloths, notably corduroy and cavalry twill. The fledgling business concentrated on making breeches for farmers and agricultural workers.
Incredibly they were made-to-measure – by mail order!
Customers had to write in requesting cloth patterns, style booklets and a self-measurement form. Farmers who were more familiar with measuring the height of a haystack than their inside leg received this soothing assurance: "Our cutter can form a mental picture of your figure!"
The mind boggles, but apparently it worked. Customers from the East Anglian fens to the Welsh hills, assured by the firms proud boast that every pair of breeches was specially made "by a draughtsman master cutter", forwarded their vital statistics.
The cuts of the pants was obviously much admired because customers wrote in urging the firm to send patterns to their friends. A warm glow must have penetrated many a thrifty heart at the service provided for children. Their garments were made with "general inlays" on the seams "so they can be made to grow with the young wearer".
* Land Army
During the war, Caldene turned to producing breeches for the Land Army girls and pantaloons for dispatch riders. With the end of the hostilities the market changed and so did the business. It ceased being solely mail order and started making ready-to-wear breeches and jodhpurs for shops and stores. They are now totally equestrian.
In the 1960s the firm introduced one-way stretch jodhpurs made in a cloth designed for skiing and added riding jackets and hunting coats in pink, green, black and navy for the range a decade later. Among the "specials" that have been produced are suits for gamekeepers. A fairly recent product is a ladys riding habit approved for members of the Side Saddle Association.
Today, modern fashion has caught up with country pursuits. Caldenes catalogue for this year contains new designer leisure riding wear made from denim. There are city pinstripe jodhpurs, colourful rugby-striped event shirts and country-style baseball caps.
The firm, headed by managing director Carl Uttley and his sister, sales director Jill Butters, grandchildren of the founder, now has a workforce of 32 and a purpose-built factory at Mytholmroyd, near Halifax.
* More fashionable
"Equestrian wear, once strictly traditional, is becoming more fashionable year by year," said Jill. "With 2m horseriders in this country, 90% of them girls and women, it was inevitable. We have our own in-house designer and try and keep ahead of trends because there is a lot of competition, particularly from overseas."
Her Majesty need have no fear about her breeches coming apart at the seams! Caldene uses at least 10 different types of sewing machine for its multi-stretch garments. All seams which come under strain have two rows of interlocked stitches for maximum elasticity.
As yet Caldene have never been asked to make a pair of riding breeches actually for the Queen but they have provided them for her household. The firm had a reputation for quality before the royal warrant.
Now, since it was granted, it sits a bit taller in the saddle.