Behind the scenes at a rocking horse maker on the Wirral

PUBLISHED: 00:00 12 December 2016

Carpenter, Stephen McGreal of Wirral Rocking Horses

Carpenter, Stephen McGreal of Wirral Rocking Horses

Archant

Once a rocking horse was the ultimate status symbol Christmas toy. Rebekka O’Grady visits a Moreton craftsman

Carpenter, Stephen McGreal in his workshopCarpenter, Stephen McGreal in his workshop

When Stephen McGreal fell off a roof and shattered both wrists, he was told he would never work again as a joiner. But he proved everyone wrong with a busy career crafting wooden toys which has spanned nearly 30 years. Rocking horses, once the ultimate status symbol toy in an upper class nursery, were something of a speciality for Stephen.

‘I would come back from physiotherapy and start work on a rocking horse,’ explained Stephen McGreal, from his Wirral Rocking Horses workshop in Moreton, Wirral. ‘They think that the movement of using a gouge and mallet really helped.’

The ex-shipbuilder’s perseverance to continue his trade has seen him fashion hundreds of rocking horses, as well as restoring many older ones. From grandparents wanting to buy something special for a new baby, to unloved horses discovered in basements and attics, the joiner has been able to bring horses to life – including one special Liverpudlian horse many locals will remember.

Fitted saddleFitted saddle

‘When Blackler’s Department Store was still open in Liverpool, there used to be a giant rocking horse at the top of the stairs. It was famous in the city, people used to want to have a ride on it. After the store closed in 1988, the owner gifted it to Alder Hey Children’s Hospital. Years later it was in a bit of a state, so I restored it for free.’

The horse named Blackie, which is now at the Museum of Liverpool on the Pier Head, is not the only restoration item that Stephen has helped to revive. Most recently he acquired a Lines (which later became Tri-ang) rocking horse from 1910. After correspondence with the Victoria and Albert Museum of Childhood on how to restore the wheel, the little rocking horse is nearly as good as new.

‘I don’t do that many restorations now, maybe six a year. But when I do, I get a kick out of restoring a horse that is badly damaged so that when it’s finished no-one knows it’s been done,’ explained Stephen, who around five years ago closed his store to move the business online. As well as restoration, the business now primarily focuses on the manufacturing of accessories for other makers and restorers.

Carpenter, Stephen McGreal in his workshopCarpenter, Stephen McGreal in his workshop

‘There’s quite a big movement in the UK of people rescuing rocking horses and restoring them themselves, especially in the antique industry. With the accessories they can just buy what they need, so we hand make leather saddles (which are named after Wirral towns and villages) and bridles, as well as stocking items like glass eyes and manes.’

Stephen has seen the industry chop and change. Moving with the modern way of rocking horses has given him flexibility within the business. He still has one hand on the traditional crafting of horses, but also one firmly in the future of the industry.

‘When you get a horse, sometimes you think – where have you been?! I bet they would tell a good tale if they could.’

Creating accessories for a rocking horse in the workshopCreating accessories for a rocking horse in the workshop

www.wirralrockinghorses.co.uk

More from Cheshire Life

Yesterday, 09:58

Chris Gleave founded his property development business in 2004, with the aim of building homes that buyers would want to live in forever.

Read more
Tue, 18:00

Our Shop Local campaign is all about championing our favourite independents – so here’s a word from some of them on why you should shop, dine and browse with Cheshire’s finest.

Read more
keeplifelocal
Tue, 16:37

Farndon is the type of quintessential English village where the minute you step foot there, you want to call it home. It’s the kind of place that makes you forget anywhere else exists; where you take a peaceful wander to explore the pretty houses among the nooks and crannies of the windy roads and breathe in the gentle, slow-paced way of life.

Read more
Tue, 13:21

As the Great British Bake Off returns, Jade Wright looks at Cheshire’s own flour power

Read more
Cheshire Life Knutsford Wirral
Tue, 11:18

Win this fabulous prize from a Devon-based supplier of quality beds and bedding who pride themselves on their expertise and the highest levels of customer service.

Read more
Mon, 00:00

The hamper includes the original London Dry Gin, the loved Yorkshire Rhubarb Gin and the brand’s latest launch, Slingsby Marmalade Gin.

Read more
Friday, September 18, 2020

A handsome period property in a delightful setting against the backdrop of Beeston and Peckforton castles

Read more
Friday, September 18, 2020

See where to walk your dog, from Frodsham Hill to the Wirral Way, Pickmere Lake to Tatton Park and with great pub stops too

Read more
Friday, September 18, 2020

Fancy a day leaf-peeping? Here’s where to go in Cheshire

Read more
Autumn Cheshire Life Dunham Massey
Thursday, September 17, 2020

Kunal Trehan and Thomas Hope have pushed glazing technology to new limits on their new home

Read more
cheshire
Thursday, September 17, 2020

One lucky Cheshire Life reader and guest will enjoy an overnight stay and spa experience at the glorious Hoar Cross Hall in Staffordshire

Read more
Thursday, September 17, 2020

Cheshire cycling booms under lockdown

Read more
photography
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Looking for things to do in Bramhall? Here’s what we discovered.

Read more
cheshire
Wednesday, September 16, 2020

We’re at the end of summer and our readers have captured the many changes taking place in the countryside.

Read more
Autumn

Most Read

Subscribe or buy a mag today


Local Business Directory

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Latest from the Cheshire