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At A E Batchelor Ltd, Saddlers

August 20, 2015
by the gentle author

After I featured Mia Sabel the Saddler in Walthamstow last spring, Anthony Batchelor got in touch and invited me to visit his family business of A E Batchelor Ltd, Saddlers, established in Epping in 1919

Contributing Photographer Patricia Niven & I took the train down to Epping to meet Anthony Batchelor and his dad John who work together as the third and fourth generation in their family saddlery business. Anthony picked us up from the station and drove us through the town, past the former shoe shop and saddlery established by his great-grandfather in an old weatherboarded house in 1919.

Since 2005, high street premises have no been longer required by A E Batchelor Ltd. Anthony drove us through the winding lanes until we turned into the yard behind an imposing Georgian farmhouse, where he and his father operate today from a comfortable and quiet workshop in a converted barn. Such is their reputation that, even without a website, Anthony and his father find they have as much work as they can handle simply by word of mouth.

While John stays in the workshop at his bench, Anthony sets out on the road driving seven hundred miles a day to visit customers across East Anglia, from the daughters of wealthy businessmen in Southend up to old hunting families in Norfolk. I was assured that, given their different preferences in music and choice of radio channels, such a division of responsibility suits father and son very well.

“In 1919, my great-grandfather Alfred Edward Batchelor returned from the West Indies where he had a sugar plantation,” Anthony explained to me,”he worked for Freeman Hardy Willis in Croydon and then he bought a shoe shop in Epping.” In the thirties, the family purchased the saddlery next door and ran both shops until 2005.“He always called himself the reluctant saddler,” admitted Anthony, referring to his grandfather Alfred Robert,“so he went and worked at Blisses.”

Bliss & Co of Sun St, behind Liverpool St Station, were the last of the many saddlers that once existed in the vicinity of Bishopsgate, originally serving the needs of travellers in the days before the coming of the railway. Thus Alfred Robert and then his son Alfred John both trained at Blisses, which – astonishingly – only closed in the eighties and today its handsome red brick building, custom-built as a saddlers, still stands in Sun St unfortunately awaiting imminent demolition.

“We still use my grandfather’s tools,” Anthony revealed, lifting and brandishing up a half-moon shaped knife which his father had just employed,“he ‘liberated’ this knife from an abandoned saddlery when he went into occupied France at the end of World War II.”

Neither father nor son have any regrets about abandoning the retail side of the business in Epping.“When we had the shop we were there all hours, it was a hard life,” confided John,“now I can take a day off whenever I please.” I watched John as he stitched a simple dog lead with painstaking care. “The work we do is rustic in style,” he informed me modestly, almost apologetically, confessing that his primary concern was to create items which serve their purpose at a reasonable price. Yet, to my eyes, John’s expert stitching and years of experience conspired to produce a distinctive object of subtle beauty in which the form fitted the function perfectly.

The shoe shop in Epping High St opened by Alfred Edward Bachelor in 1919 with the saddlers next door

Alfred John Batchelor

In the saddlery in Epping in the sixties

Alfred John Batchelor with his father Alfred Robert

John at his work bench

Sewing a dog lead with the traditional saddlers’ double stitch

Bob Cuthbert repairing harnesses at A E Batchelor in the sixties

The knife ‘liberated’ by Alfred Robert Batchelor in World War II and still in use

Anthony shows the card templates used to ensure saddles fit the horse’s back

A Sciver – a machine for splitting leather straps

Catalogue for Bliss of Sun St, beside Liverpool St Station

Photographs copyright © Patricia Niven

You may also like to read about

Mia Sabel, Saddler

Tom Burch, Farrier

At Wood St Stables

11 Responses leave one →
  1. Elizabeth cornwell permalink
    August 20, 2015

    We have a saddlers shop in our local town,saddles are a work of art.I love going in there because I love the smell of leather!

  2. August 20, 2015

    Wonderful hands–and textures of gouged wood and smooth leather.

    I like those cardboard “hooks” holding the leashes. Making use of everything!

    Another great story. Thank you.

  3. Paul Vosper permalink
    August 20, 2015

    Interesting to see the picture of “the machine for splitting leather straps”. I have one of these inherited from my Father. I believe it was called a “Sciver”

  4. Richard permalink
    August 20, 2015

    …can almost smell that leather!

  5. armier permalink
    August 20, 2015

    It’s always a pleasure to read an intelligent piece on ‘makers’.

    It made me think, it’s a shame we don’t really have enough words for them (eg versus ‘artists’), because there’s a lot of ‘artistry’ and ‘dignity’ at work here.

    Coincidentally, I was hearing about ‘How Art Became Irrelevant’ which made an extra good bookend to this piece on the Batchelors.

    Thanks again, secret writer; what you do is very much appreciated.

    * via NPR about a Williams College professor, Michael J. Lewis and his article in Commentary Magazine

  6. kristine dillon permalink
    August 21, 2015

    Beautiful photos, especially the images of the John Batchelor’s hands. Loved too, the close up images of the perfectly stitched saddle. Here’s to fine craftsmanship.

  7. Annie pye permalink
    August 22, 2015

    I was taken to Batchelors in 1958 and when I was old enough to go alone I always shopped there for everything I wanted. Old Mr. Batchelor and his lovely lady wife were always marvellous to their customers. I bought my first saddle there and still have it. wonderful place. wonderful people.

  8. Karen Ring permalink
    August 24, 2015

    What a lovely reading, I especially enjoyed the photo’s. I remember the Epping Shop well, with Mr Batchelor snr and his son. All my jodhpurs, jackets and stuff for my horse was purchased from Epping!

  9. Jenny Pugh permalink
    January 26, 2016

    I remember John Batchelor well, such a nice family and hard working, I recognise the girls behind the counter in the photo with John. He also used to come to the Sports Centre in Epping where I worked in the 1980′s. We used to take our shoe and handbag repairs there. John always had the time to chat to his customers. Glad he is still carrying on in his barn. He knew my family (the farming family of Nunn’s) on Copt Hall.

  10. Gwenn Weatherill permalink
    January 28, 2016

    I remember the shop in Epping very well. I first took my daughter there when she started riding
    back in 1981 and used to buy all her boots and jodhpurs and the staff were always very helpfull.

  11. Jenny Townsend permalink
    January 28, 2016

    What a brilliant article, has brought back lots of fantastic memories of when I worked for John from 1975-1987. Glad to see the family business still doing well in Essex.

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