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


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

More from Cheshire Life

Buy local this Christmas... and fill your festive larder with all kinds of everything wonderful from these 23 food and drink heroes

Read more
Yesterday, 09:45

Enjoy five-star hospitality in the ancient city of York

Read more
Yesterday, 09:32

Dr Trouble is offering the chance to win a set of their all natural limited edition African Lemon Chilli Sauce and their limited edition African Double Oak Smoked Chilli Sauce – 25 sets up for grabs

Read more
Wed, 16:06

Coronation Street actor Ian Bartholomew records song for Women’s Aid

Read more
Wed, 16:00

These festive pups will make you want to rush to the pet store for a Christmas outfit asap...

Read more
Wed, 09:54

Things to do in Cheshire this Christmas

Read more
Wed, 08:32

How downsizing can affect inheritance tax

Read more
Tue, 16:41

The best things about Chester – by some of its greatest fans

Read more
Mon, 15:50

As a Christmas treat, Cheshire Life gives one lucky reader the chance to win an array of fantastic prizes to share with their loved ones

Read more
Mon, 15:32

Take a bird’s eye view of this lovely Cheshire village with its blend of history and high-end retailers and restaurants

Read more

Real Housewife of Cheshire Nicole Sealey creates a fabulous festive wonderland in her Wilmslow home

Read more
Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christmas at home with Julie and Phil Neville

Read more
Saturday, November 21, 2020

Louise Minchin on loving news, getting up early and the BBC

Read more
Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Support local this festive season with this stockingful of made in Cheshire gift ideas...

Read more

Most Read

Subscribe or buy a mag today

Local Business Directory

Comments have been disabled on this article.

Latest from the Cheshire