Saturday, 26 February 2011

History of a Saddle Tree

I had my saddler, Roger Whitehead, come out to check both my new saddles that I bought from Sandon Saddlery to make sure that they would be good for Hattie and also to fit the panels on my off-side side saddle.

It turns out that my off-side side saddle was padded with layers of felt with flocking in-between each layer. He removed one layer of flocking from between the felt and immediately, it dropped the saddler down, becoming a better fit for Hattie. Roger said that it probably was originally, just padded with felt but that the flocking was added later on at some point, to make the saddle smaller for a narrower horse. He also said that it made his job a ALOT easier when he opened up the saddle and saw that he could just peel away layers!

Now that we know the tree width is finally correct for Hattie, it is now the tricky part of balancing the saddle. He had me ride around in it and shimmed it out with bits and bobs to see where it needs lifting and took the saddle back to the workshop so he can cut felt shims to put in-between the panel layers.

Roger is going to put a full panel length shim on each side and taper it to nothing towards the front to raise the back of the saddle. He is then going to build up the off-side with layers of felt shims but he needs to come back to see me ride in it so that he can add or remove shims as necessary. He is also going to build up the front of the panels at the tree points a little and move the girth straps forward as he says that Hattie needs this with her particular conformation.

He had me ride with the girth on the point, 1st and 2nd billets on the off-side and attach the balance girth onto the 1st billet and it did make a difference with the saddle staying put!

So things that need doing to my off-side side saddle:
1) Balance panels.
2) Recover panels (not sure about whether to go with leather or linen).
3) Replace all billets and move the back ones more forward closer to the tree points.
4) Reattach the over girth I cut off and add a convenience tab.
5) Try and rebend the leaping head to take a little bit of the curliness out.

Although my Beck Morrow is still a long way off from being finished, at least we are on the right track with fit and making it perfect for Hattie. Roger feels that it is worth it with this saddle as Hattie seemed very forward in it and he said that the tree is actually a good fit for her, better than any of the other saddles (astride or aside) that I've had. We walked, trotted and cantered on both reins in it with ease and without the weird bending sideways thing she did in my last lesson so even with the panels in their current state, the saddle is a million times better in fit than it was!!

Next Roger looked at my Whippy and he said that the panels were fine and they didn't need any flocking taken out (I guess I was paranoid after all the flocking I had to put into my Manorgrove I guess). In fact, he said it could do with a tiny bit more at the extreme back but he said just to see if my side saddle riser pad with out any stuffing in it does the trick as the empty pocket may add the tiny bit of lift that it needs. He said that he couldn't take any flocking out of the front as you could already get two fingers clearance between her withers and the pommel and anymore would make it drop down too much.

He said that my Whippy was probably one of the best fitting nearside side saddles that I have had and to keep it as he is all too familiar with Hattie's awkward conformation. He said the only problem was that the seat was a bit narrow for my wide bum but that he meant it in the nicest possible way! LOL! Roger said though that it was a case of working with what you have since vintage saddles tend to have narrowish seats anyways and that Hattie is such a hard fitting (i.e. needle = haystack) so I must continue with my diet to get my 42" hips back down to the 38" they were in 2007.

We walk, trotted and cantered on both reins and Roger had me put the girth on the nearside point strap and attach the balance girth to the 1st billet and I didn't end up needing my non-slip pad underneath. He took the saddle back with him as well and is going to replace all the billets on it and move the back ones closer to the tree points as well.

The news wasn't so good with my lovely Swain though...

Roger said that is REALLY well made quality saddle but that is was unfortunately WAY too big for Hattie. He said that it would need too much doing to it to make it a narrower fit and that it would probably end up rolling anyways due to it being too wide. He said he had never seen a new black side saddle and that it was very unusual. Roger said it was too bad as the seat fit my bottom!

So with a heavy heart, my lovely Swain is up for sale :(

On a happy note, when Roger took off the panels of my Beck Morrow, he found the original maker's labels on the saddle tree!

The first label gives the date of 1898 and the maker as being W. Slatford & Son with an address of 44 Greek Street in the Soho area of London as well as a former address of 15 or 16 Gerrard Street.

From the Society of the Military Horse website, I found out a bit of history about the Slatfords:

"This family originated in Oxford, James Slatford (1824-1893), a Freeman of the City of Oxford, brought his family and saddle tree business to London around 1850. They were in Gerrard Street in Soho. James was succeeded by his son William who in turn was succeeded by his sons William James and James Cornelius. The business seems to have died out after them about the time of WW1."

With Beck Morrow closing in 1907, it is no surprise that Slatford ceased trading shortly afterward. World War One and all the horses being requisitioned, would have been the final nail in the coffin for the business.

Thanks also to Google Maps, I also found the area where the tree was originally made although the actual 44 Greek street building got demolished in the late 1920's to build the Prince Edward Theatre which opened on April 3, 1930. The addresses on Greek street skip from no. 40 to no. 47.
I hihlighted with a little grey box down the street on the left side, approx. where number 44 would have stood.

The building(s) on Gerrard Street where Slatford was originally located are still standing right in the heart of Chinatown!

The building is also a historic one as well and has a plaque on it marking it's history. It looks like it got turned into a restaurant after the tree makers moved out!

Interestingly, the saddle measurements on the label give the seat as being 18" and the seat width being 12 1/2". I do not know how they measured the saddle as I get 17" from cutback to cantle or 21" from the front of the fixed head to cantle. The seat measures 14" across it, 12 1/2" is what my Whippy is and that is ALOT narrower than my Beck Morrow. After reading Brita's blog post about side saddle seat sizing and seeing the measurements written on the label, I'm starting to think maybe they measured seats a different way in the Victorian era than how we do today.

The tree fitting is also stated as being a "general" fit when the actual tree is quite generous fitting!

The second label gives the abbreviation of Ctsse and the name Pillet-Will. The only thing that I can think what Ctsse stands for is the French word Comtesse (which is Countess in English). Pillet- Will is a French name and there was a Comtesse Pillet- Will around the time the saddle was made too. She was a rich Parisian socialite and apparently very well known according to a 1901 article in New Zealand's The Evening Post newspaper.

With Beck Morrow being a high class London based saddler with a branch in Paris, she certainly would have been able to afford to have such a specialized saddle made and since France is only over the channel from England, Beck Morrow may have had their trees made in London (or maybe even their entire saddles too) and then sent over to Paris in a fairly short time.

If it is the Comtesse's saddle, then she was about my height but probably a bit skinnier than me! I found this portrait of her painted in 1910 by Paul Albert Besnard which was sold at an auction in Lyon, France in 2006.

Oh if saddles could talk!


  1. Leila how wide is the gullet on your Swain? Just wondering if it might be feasible for me to buy it off you (without even trying to think of the logistics of doing that! lol)... in the wintec gullet plates my mare takes either the red (wide) or the white (extra wide) and how long is it?

  2. The gullet underneath the cutback head is 6", from D ring to D ring is 9". Tree point end to tree point end is 18". Tree point end to tree point between the panels is approx. 17" - nearly 18".

    I tried is on my friend's Shire X horse Samson and he takes the red Wintec gullet but I reckon it could go to an extra wide with some of the flocking let out or a Wykham pad put on.

    It's a 17" seat from cutback to cantle or 21 1/2" from the front of the fixed head to cantle. The seat is 14" wide. It fits me and is comfy!

    I can ship to New Zealand, no problem. I got a big box today!

    I took a load of photos of it as I was going to put it on Ebay tomorrow (it's free listing day!) but if you send me your email through my website contact form at , I can send you the photos. (I don't want to put my email here incase the spam bots get it as I get enough spam as it is, lol!)

  3. What a sidesaddle saga! Great history behind your Beck/Morrow. That's what makes this such a cool discipline.

  4. How much exactly, do you want for the Swain?

  5. I came back to re-read this, and how amazing to think that your side saddle was made for a Countess!

  6. How lovely to see this... W Slatford and Son was my Nans father & Grandfather...! Tina McDonald

  7. Dear Tina McDonald. I think we are related because my Mother's Father (Rueben) was the son of William Slatford. He was a saddle tree maker in Tufnell Park, London. Unfortunately he lost his life in an explosion during the war at Woolwich Arsenal, around 1916. We would love to hear from you if there is a connection.

  8. hi anonymous date 17 4 08 please feel free to email me about our family tina is my cousin i can tell you all about the explosion as my dad told me and i have an indenture with rueben on it and lots more cheers david