Rocking-horse craze rides high among rich Arabs

But a surprising number of wealthy Arab buyers, including King Hussein of Jordan, are in the vanguard of a new shopping craze that has its roots in a very traditional vision of English childhood. This year hundreds of beautifully crafted rocking horses will be hand-made in a modest white wood-fronted building deep in the Kent countryside and sold around the world for between £1,500 and £10,000.

Central to their popularity is the maker's offer to replicate a customer's favourite horse, copying everything from the colour of the forelock to the design of the bridle. And in supporting the toy horse industry, the mixture of wealthy foreign buyers, owners of country houses and horse-loving middle classes are keeping alive a classic emblem of an old-fashioned childhood, amid the omnipresence of bleeping computer games and DVDs.

About 400 rocking horses rolled out of Stevenson Brothers' workshop in the village of Bethersden, near Ashford, last year. And the manufacturers expect the numbers to grow over the coming months.

Some are bought as furniture, others as presents for adults. Marc Stevenson, 49, the co-owner of Stevenson Brothers, said: "They are equine sculptures but they are usable pieces of sculpture. When you look in the toy store for things you would give house-room to, a lot of it comes from China and has no inherent value. [Our] customers want something that isn't made of silicon chips and batteries."

Rocking horses had their hey-day in Victorian and Edwardian Britain, when they were a way of introducing the children of the nobility and squirearchy to riding. Mr Stevenson and his twin brother Tony entered the business in 1982, inspired by their uncle James Bosworthick, a shipwright at Chatham dockyards.

With the whiff of lacquer and paint hanging in the air, 11 artisans do the joinery, carving, sanding and painting that transform bare wood into a finished toy.

Tulip is the wood most used, followed by oak and walnut, though cherry was the favourite a few years ago. The archetypal "dappled grey" model is the most popular but horses can be painted piebald or any other design. A secret lockable compartment under the belly allows the stowing of documents or a time capsule. Blankets are embroidered with the owner's initials. The tails of dead horses are used for the manes and they hang, somewhat incongruously, on a fence outside. Getting hold of less common hair such as grey can be awkward. Sue Russell, a partner in the business, whispered: "Sometimes that causes us immense problems because horses don't die to order."

For modern flats where a traditional rocking horse might look out of place, the company makes rocking tigers and zebras. New rocking horses are delivered all over the world, particularly to the United States. King Hussein has one, and the Queen has two. Frankie Dettori and Alan Shearer have one horse each.

Marc Stevenson says an old "Stevenson" rises in value but realises most of his thoroughbreds are bought for enjoyment rather than investment. "It's a nostalgic gift and it reminds us of a time when there was plenty of time to indulge ourselves in fantasy. When you look at a child going on a rocking horse they disappear into their own thoughts. They are racing along the beach or flying up to the moon - and back in time for tea."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
A survey carried out by Sainsbury's Finance found 20% of new university students have never washed their own clothes, while 14% cannot even boil an egg
science...and the results are not as pointless as that sounds
Dominique Alderweireld, also known as Dodo de Saumure, is the owner of a string of brothels in Belgium
newsPhilip Sweeney gets the inside track on France's trial of the year
Cumberbatch was speaking on US television when he made the comment (Getty)
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Tom DeLonge, Travis Barker and Mark Hoppus of Blink-182 pictured in 2011.
musicBassist Mark Hoppus and drummer Travis Barker say Tom Delonge is 'disrespectful and ungrateful'
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'
tvBroadchurch series 2, episode 4, review - contains spoilers
cyclingDisgraced cycling star says people will soon forgive his actions
Britain's Prince Philip attends a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace in London
Arts and Entertainment
Ed Sheeran will play three sell-out gigs at Wembley Stadium in July
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Lena Dunham posing for an official portrait at Sundance 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Under the skin: Sarah Kane in May 1998
theatreThe story behind a new season of Sarah Kane plays
Arts and Entertainment
Preening: Johnny Depp in 'Mortdecai'
filmMortdecai becomes actor's fifth consecutive box office bomb
Bradford City's reward for their memorable win over Chelsea is a trip to face either Sunderland or Fulham (Getty)
Lars Andersen took up archery in his mid thirties
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Ashdown Group: Client Services Manager - Relationship Management - London

£30000 - £32000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, int...

Recruitment Genius: Credit Controller / Customer Service

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This rapidly expanding business...

Guru Careers: In-House / Internal Recruiter

£25 - 28k + Bonus: Guru Careers: An In-house / Internal Recruiter is needed to...

Recruitment Genius: Tax Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Tax Assistant is required to join a leading ...

Day In a Page

Woman who was sent to three Nazi death camps describes how she escaped the gas chamber

Auschwitz liberation 70th anniversary

Woman sent to three Nazi death camps describes surviving gas chamber
DSK, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel

The inside track on France's trial of the year

Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Dodo the Pimp, and the Carlton Hotel:
As provocative now as they ever were

Sarah Kane season

Why her plays are as provocative now as when they were written
Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of a killing in Iraq 11 years ago

Murder of Japanese hostage has grim echoes of another killing

Japanese mood was against what was seen as irresponsible trips to a vicious war zone
Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea