Abbey England have supplied the equestrian market for over three decades using traditional manufacturing methods and British raw materials from their Walsall foundry and workshop.Find out about why they’re launching The Abbey Scholarship to support the industry
Can you tell me about the history of Abbey England?
The company was founded as Abbey Saddlery in 1982 by the late Gerald Brown with the intention of offering the most complete range of workshop materials to the Equestrian Trade. From those early days Abbey has moved into other areas and today, in addition to providing tools and materials to the saddle-making trade, we cater to many other sectors including the fashion, leather goods, pet, military and automotive industries under the Abbey England brand.
Do you remain a family business?
We are very much a family business with 9 full time members working for the company across 3 generations. During the holiday period we welcome back an extra two family members who work for the company during their time away from higher education. We are pleased to retain our family values and business ethos while embracing new technologies and other non family colleagues.
You have an extensive product range, can you tell me a little about your products and who you supply?
We have over 15,000 stocked items that are supplied into several industries across 53 countries. Much of our hardware and leathers can be seen on saddles, high end luxury bags, pet accessories, films, outdoor equipment, yachts and much more. We even once supplied leather which ended up as a decorative leather wall inside a hotel lobby.
We also stock a large range of textiles, narrow fabrics, workshop tools, glues and dyes and we are always discovering new markets from the enquiries that we receive. We like to be a one stop shop so that our customers can buy in one place and have a supplier that they can trust to deliver high quality products helping their businesses to grow.
In 1995 Abbey received a Royal Warrant, how did that come about?
We were awarded the Royal Warrant for the supply of saddlery workshop materials to the Royal Mews for 5 consecutive years. Each year we have to reapply to ensure we qualify for this prestigious accolade.
Abbey has its own foundry; what does it take to work in the foundry?
Our workers in the foundry have many years of experience between them from the foundry room to the fettling department and the Pattern making room.
They have to be strong and physically fit and able to work in hot conditions and have to drink plenty of liquids to avoid dehydration. They also need good hand and eye co-ordination. Qualifications are not always necessary but courses are available in foundry technology. Pattern making is a highly technical skill and courses are available and new techniques and processes in 3D printing will need computer skills.
I’ve seen you also manufacture rubber products, from UK materials. Where do you source the rubber from and how is it processed?
We manufacture Equus rein grips which are used to cover the leather reins to give the horse rider a strong grip and are especially needed in racing. The rubber compound is made in Manchester from rubber sourced ethically. The compound has a large proportion of natural rubber to give a soft and supple strong grip. We also manufacture overreach boots for horses using another rubber compound made in Wales which is easily stretched over the horses’ hooves and offers them protection for the back tendons. The range also includes cheek guards, rein stops and Martingale rings which are available in a range of colours.
You are based in Walsall – ‘the heart of the saddlery industry’, how did Walsall come to own this title, and what’s the state of the industry in 2017.
Traditionally, the Walsall area had a great mining presence which enabled a local metalworking culture to develop and allowed Walsall’s economy to be built around the leather trade and the Lorinery trade that supplied it. This combination made Walsall a hub for saddlery production as well as the fact that the canal system switched over in the area. The horses were rested and a new team swapped over and at the same time the leatherwork was repaired.
Walsall’s saddlery industry also had a huge impact on the First World War and supplied thousands and thousands of saddles, belts and other leathergoods towards the war effort. Today the industry is not as large but still retains a strong presence and influence in the high end production of Saddlery and leather goods.
All of our production is based in Walsall alongside a trade counter dedicated to supplying the saddle making trade within the town.
You’re very supportive of the industry and are offering a scholarship. Can you tell me more about that?
It has always been important to us to support the saddlery trade. As a business we have always been committed to keeping British manufacturing alive and to allow UK Saddlers to be able buy quality products made in Britain for their production. To this end we kept the foundry and the lock making industries going and continue to invest in this industry.
The Abbey Scholarship is another way for us to support the trade and the trainee saddle makers who are the future of the industry. Each year at the Society of Master Saddlers National Competition it is wonderful to see so many aspiring saddlers who are breathing new life into the industry and are without doubt the future of the saddlery world. These new trainees embrace new ideas and technologies combined with the history and heritage British saddlery is so well known for.
Through this we are not only supporting the British saddlery trade but British manufacturing. The skill set these trainees obtain during their courses is remarkable and transferrable to many other trades such as luxury Leathergoods.
The Scholarship is open to the following:
– Individual trainee saddle makers who have started the journey to become a Master Saddler and are currently in training.
– Are attending one of the recognised saddlery training courses.
– Or are self-learning saddlery manufacture with the aim of working up to one of the City & Guilds Level 2 qualifications in Bridle, Saddle or Harness making.
To enter, the applicant must write in no more than 500 words why they deserve to win, what it would mean to them and tell us about their ambitions for the future.
They must also provide their contact details and attach a photograph of themselves. All entries must be sent to IshbelJohnson@abbeyengland.com marked Abbey England Scholarship.
The deadline for entering the scholarship search is November 30, 2017.
You’ve exhibited at our Meet the Manufacturer trade show every year since it began in 2014, how has this been beneficial to your business?
Meet the Manufacturer has always been a great platform for us to meet up and coming designers who are looking to keep their brand UK based. We have received many enquiries through Meet the Manufacturer and we are gradually getting our name known through the industry.
Will we be seeing you again at MTM 2018?