I visited Richard Godden on Thursday evening at his home and workshop in Yeovil. Conveniently only 15 miles away from my home in Dorset. Mr Godden made a new panel for my sidesaddle when I bought it from Phily Robertson over 5 years ago and I wanted to make a few adjustments to it as the flocking had become a bit compressed over that time.
Mr Godden left school in 1952 and went to work for his uncle Les Coker at Champion and Wilton on 457 Oxford St, London as an apprentice. At the time Champion and Wilton held The Royal Warrant and made saddles, bridles and harness for a long succession of Kings and Queens of England.
In 1952 Champion and Wilton would send a foreman to measure up the horse while the owner would visit the shop on Oxford St and be measured up. When the tree was built (they had their own tree makers) and the basic saddle made it was then taken to the horse for another fitting and so on with another two fittings with horse and owner until both fitted together perfectly. The process took 4 weeks and the cost was £55.
By the 1960s Champion and Wilton was no more, having been bought out by Giddons, who found making sidesaddles too time consuming and hence continued only making harness, bridles and astride saddles.
By the 1980s Mr Godden set up his Yeovil saddlery workshop doing repairs and making saddles. He received various commissions for sidesaddles, which over time he became well known for being one of the very few who knew the lost art of the craft of sidesaddle, he was asked to teach. In his 70’s now he is regularly teaching courses, which has become increasingly popular, with many people receiving grants to learn this unique art, as riding sidesaddle makes a comeback in fashion.
I asked him a few questions:
How does a newly built sidesaddle and an old one compare?
It is possible to build a new sidesaddle from an old tree, although they are very difficult to come by. Once you have a good tree the rest is possible to recreate. The cost of rebuilding a saddle is approx £1500, where as buying a good second hand saddle is approx £2500
When buying a sidesaddle what are things to look out for?
Never buy from a photo
Always have the tree checked
Always see the saddle on a horse first
Always see that it fits the rider
How does fitting a sidesaddle compare to fitting an astride saddle?
An astride saddle is balanced evenly on both panels where as a sidesaddle is balanced diagonally. ( This makes sense when you think how your weight is distributed on a sidesaddle. )
Mr Godden placed my sidesaddle on his wooden horse. I mounted and explained how I felt it sat. (Slightly too low on the near side which made me sit a bit wonky and the pressure on the diagonal was beginning to make my hors a bit sore behind his off side wither.)
I dismounted and he began pushing the flock (raw wool) up into the near side back panel, he added more flock. We tried the saddle again and he compressed it and added more flock until the saddle began to feel level again.
Visiting Mr Godden made me realise quite how important it is to have a sidesaddle well fitted to both rider and horse. Its hard enough for a horse to carry it for a long hunting day and really not fair to expect them to do it without making sure they are as comfortable as possible.
When I put my newly built up saddle on my horse I felt instantly straighter, more balanced and more comfortable – I am sure he did too!
Mr Godden working for Champion and Wilton in the 1950s