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."

News
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
science
News
Richard Dawkins dedicated his book 'The Greatest Show on Earth' to Josh Timonen
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Extras
indybest
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Travel
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
travel
Arts and Entertainment
music
Sport
football
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, Graduate, SQL, VBA)

£45000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Quantitative Analyst (Financial Services, ...

Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Perl, Bash, SQL)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Application Support Engineer (C++, .NET, VB, Per...

AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - Investment Management

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: AIFMD Business Analyst / Consultant - I...

Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pillar 1, 2 & 3) Insurance

£450 - £600 per day: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Solvency II SME (Pilla...

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home