The Rocking Horse Shop

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Thursday, 15 December 2011

Christmas opening times and A Merry Christmas from all at The Rocking Horse Shop

The Rocking Horse Shop staff would like to wish all it's customers a very Happy christmas and a Wonderful New Year.

Please note our shop will be closed from 12 noon on the 23rd December and will re-open Tuesday 9am on the 3rd January.  Although the shop will be closed you can still place your order on line.

Best wishes
The Rocking Horse Shop

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Rocking Horse Restoration - Identifying Old Rocking Horse Makers

Getting to know Rocking Horses

Over the last 35 years The Rocking Horse Shop have restored hundreds of Rocking Horses and below we look at one of the most prestigious makers of traditional Victorian Rocking Horses - F H Ayres.


Among the half dozen or so historic makers of wooden rocking horses which are readily identifiable by name, Ayres horses are generally regarded as the best. As with all hand crafted artifacts, there is some variation in the quality of the finished article, so although all Ayres horses are good, some are better than others. For example the smaller and medium sized horses and some of the large ones tend to be a bit more basic than others in the provision of carved detail, presumably because these horses were made with more of an eye to price, and perhaps more junior, less experienced carvers.

Even among the bigger and better horses there are interesting variations. Thus two of the large carved Ayres horses may be more or less identical in size and have similar carved detailing, but one (for example the one with three seats pictured here) has some thing about it which makes it better than its twin.

This is a very large and very unusual Ayres three seater.
The metalwork for the end seats is original, but the remains of the original wooden seats and footrests were so worm eaten they were beyond repair and replacements were made, using the remains, as far as possible, as patterns to determine the shape and size of the new seats and footrests.
The difference between the two horses are small, but significant. When asked to say which of the two they prefer, people invariably choose the first one. This is the one with 'star quality' and is due, presumably, to the fact that it must have been made by a carver who had just that bit better eye and talent (or was having a particularly good day). Suffice it to say that the best of the Ayres horses serve as a model of the epitome of the traditional Victorian rocking horse. Many a maker has looked with awe at a really fine Ayres horse and thought, 'I would love to be able to make something that good'.

The company was founded in 1864 by Fredrick Henry Ayres and operated from an address in Aldersgate, London. Little is known about the man, but it seems the company depended very much on his personality; in his heyday when he was at his most active and declining as he grew old. The company had its most prolific period between about 1875 and the early 1900s. The company described itself as a 'manufacturer of Indoor and Outdoor Games and Sports' and as well as its excellent rocking horses produced a wide range of sporting goods, including billiard tables, tennis rackets, cricket bats and equipment, croquet sets and board games. F.H.Ayres was eventually bought out by a Yorkshire company called Sykes and Co in 1940, though the name lived on for some time after that.

Makers marks are rarely in evidence, though sometimes an 'F.H.Ayres' black coloured stamp can be found under the belly. If you are very lucky you may find a white mark nailed onto the top stand rail in the shape of a horizontal H and bearing the words 'Manufactured by Ayres London', and Patricia Mullins also mentions a transfer found on a stand base consisting of a union flag with the words 'British Manufacture' incorporating a device of a Maltese Cross and the words 'Registered Trade Mark'. Black stencilled lettering is quite often to be found on the stand base, usually giving the name of the shop which supplied the horse – eg 'Selfridge', 'A.W.Gamage Ltd, London', 'Harrods Knightsbridge' (in italic script), 'Baker's Kensington' and also sometimes the simple legend 'Patented Jan 29 1880'. This last refers to the registration in Britain of Philip Marqua of Cincinatti's patent for the swing iron safety stand, the patent having been first issued two years previously in the USA. Presumably Ayres had acquired the right to use this patent (as did Lines, followed by virtually all the other rocking horse makers. I hope Marqua benefited from this patent; it was such a good idea everyone wanted to use it, and did!).
Later in 1887 Ayres filed a patent for a horse whose head and neck could be made to swivel to the left and right. The pivot is a great long bolt which passes through the body of the horse from beneath into the neck and the head is made to return to the centre by means of a pin set into the underside of the neck and which locates into a long spring set into an arc shaped trench. A wide strip of thin leather conceals the join between neck and body. It was a simple arrangement and was intended to be employed on large horses mounted on safety stands as well as on a tricycle mounted horse. These swivel head horses are very rare and it is hard to imagine Ayres made very many.

A fine large Ayres Rocking Horse, fully restored. 
The wide leather strap round the neck conceals a join,
for this is an example of the very rare swivel head horse.
Patricia Mullins mentions another patent filed in 1914 by F.H.Ayres and one Thomas Freeman, for a rather interesting looking rocking horse mounted on an arrangement of springs and levers. The drawings do not make it clear how the horse could rock in practise, and it is not known if many or any of these were actually made. Ayres made about eight sizes of rocking horses and sometimes a black stencilled number can be found on the base of the stand, which indicates the size. In the absence of a makers mark the easiest way to begin to identify an Ayres horse is by examining the design of the stand. Large Ayres horses were fitted with four hole iron brackets and the bottom stand rails and cross pieces often have big chamfers, the top rails having very small chamfers, little more than a rounding over of the corners. The largest horses have very heavy stands, the lower part of the base being made of 2 ½ x 7 ½ inch timber (usually pine) with the cross pieces half jointed into the bottom rail and a 2 x 5 ¼ inch top rail, again employing the four hole iron brackets.

The Medium and Large horses are fitted with
the four hole type of steel bracket.
Hoof rails of the larger horses have a section cut away in the mid part (usually parallel but sometimes curved), and are wider at the ends where the hooves are secured and the swing irons pass through. The posts are of a distinctive design, usually beech, threaded at the bottom, with 1 inch spigots (surprisingly thin considering the massive surrounding timber on the largest of the stands) and wedges at the top.

Typical Ayres design stand post.
The smaller models have stand posts of a simpler design and simple pressed steel three hole swing iron brackets. The ends of most Ayres hoof rails are cut and chamfered at angles to leave a small diamond or hexagonal shape at the extreme ends. The lower ends of the swing irons are riveted over the washer rather than using split pins and they did not employ 'bowler hat' covers.

The horses made by Ayres have many distinguishing features, easier to spot in the pictures (and with experience) than to describe here in words.

Taken from Issue 3 of The Rocking Horse & Toy Magazine © The Rocking Horse Shop Ltd

F H Ayres Rocking Horse brought to
The Rocking Horse Shop for restoration.

The above F H Ayres Rocking Horse
Restored by
The Rocking Horse Shop