Posted: 25th March 2020 | Back to news feed
In this issue we talk to bench saddler Chris Taylor about his passion for the industry and his work at Saddler’s Den in Southport. Chris was President of the Society of Master Saddlers in 2018 and 2019 and has been on the executive committee for many years.
Chris started his business in 1996 providing all the services you would expect to find at a saddlery workshop, from making bespoke items to a full repair and saddle fitting service.
He had worked in the saddlery trade for many years prior to the opening of Saddler’s Den, and is a Master Saddler, a member of the Society of Master Saddlers, and a published author, with his first book, ‘Leatherwork: a Practical Guide’ published in 2010.
Although the core business is saddlery, Chris and his team will turn their hand to anything. Outside of saddlery they have customers ranging from interior designers to fashion suppliers.
Said Chris: “Many of the items made for the fashion suppliers go to Japan. Saddler’s Den also run training courses in basic and advanced saddlery, bag making, saddle flocking and repair, and we also tailor courses to meet people’s needs.”
From an early age Chris was always fascinated by how things worked, always getting into trouble for taking things apart and then not being able to put them back together again. On joining the Scouts he developed an interest in macramé and leatherwork.
Chris didn’t have a particularly equestrian background until he acquired his own horse in his 30’s. He always did leatherwork as a hobby and once he got his own horse, Chris wanted to know more about equestrian items.
Said Chris: “I am basically self-taught, buying items at auctions, taking them apart and then rebuilding them. I have always looked at items and thought ‘I can do that’ which has given me an extensive knowledge base and to date there is very little we cannot make. That’s not to say I know everything, the trade moves on and we are constantly learning.”
The most unusual item Chris was ever commissioned to make was whilst working on the Kevin McCloud - Hut by the Beach series where they were tasked with getting a raft to float using only sheep skins as buoyancy.
“I love the wide variety of items we constantly encounter but if I had to pick a subject as my favourite it would be restoration and archaeological reconstructions as I have a keen interest in history. In 2007 I spent a month in China with Cambridge University Archaeological department studying and reconstructing a 2800 year old saddle,” said Chris.
Passing his skills on to the next generation of saddlers is extremely important to Chris who thoroughly enjoys teaching to ensure the trade survives.
Chris explains what he feels are the highs and lows of being in the saddlery trade: “For many bench saddlers it’s not a job but a way of life, which fires a passion to produce quality well-made items. No two days are the same and I can honestly say that since being in the trade I have never woken with the feeling of ‘Oh no I have to go to work’, I look forward to the challenges the day brings.
“Unfortunately with the glut of imported items the skills of the bench saddler can sometimes be overlooked although the Society of Master Saddlers has been actively pushing these skills in recent years.”
Chris has seen many changes in the industry over the years and feels that research has obviously contributed greatly to the comfort of the horse when it comes to making and designing items.