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National Saddlery Competition 2020

Well it’s that time of year again; the days are shorter, the weather is horrible, and all the saddlers in the country flock to London for the annual National Saddlery Competition.

This year was another big year for me. After signing off from my apprenticeship in 2019, it was time for me to collect my completion certificate, officially marking the end of my training as a saddler. As some of you may remember, when I signed onto my apprenticeship back in 2017, I was presented with my portfolio by HRH The Princess Royal, master of the Worshipful Company of Saddlers. So, what better way to bring things to an end than being presented with my completion certificate by Her Royal Highness. It feels both sad and exciting, the end of an era but also the start of the next chapter.

I also chose to enter the competition itself. I decided to go a little wild this year and enter the President’s Choice class. This class is a little different to the other classes, which consist mainly of saddles and bridlework. This year the class was for any leather item with a nautical theme, in commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the Pilgrim Fathers’ voyage on the Mayflower. The only other guidelines given were that it should be made using traditional hand skills. I “ummed and ahed” about what I could enter but by Christmas I had come to the decision of making a lighthouse! Giving myself a bit of time off over Christmas meant that I then had two weeks to create a lighthouse out of leather.

I tried to keep to a fairly simple design for my lighthouse, and luckily, I had both some red and some white leather left over from previous projects. This coupled with a lovely hexagonal marmalade jar made for a lovely traditional looking striped lighthouse. I added a few fun little details like windows, doors with little gold doorknobs and a little wind vane on the top. Thanks to a little help from Dad, I was able to run a light up the lighthouse into the jar which was switched on via a little switch hidden in some leather rocks.

When we attended the competition at Saddlers Hall, it was fantastic to see the huge number of entries across the classes. The standard of work was excellent, and it really is a wonderful showcase for the trade. I was absolutely thrilled to be given a premium award for my entry. These awards are given to entries that demonstrate excellent craftsmanship and to receive one on my first entry in an open class has given me a well needed boost for the start of the year!

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“How did you become a saddler?”

A question I get asked a lot, is “how did you get into saddlery?” The short story I tell people is that I stumbled across is by accident while trying to avoid going to university. That may sound like a bit of a joke, but it is the truth!

During my time at school I always did well academically, what I struggled with was motivation in subjects I wasn’t passionate about. Unfortunately, at school the advice we got was all based around university. Alternative routes weren’t really covered and there was a bit of a stigma around not going to university. So, I did as I was advised, looked at university courses that interested me and applied to universities.

A Levels are a stressful time, with the pressure of making important life decisions and being told that your exam results will determine your future. While I knew I didn’t WANT to go to university, I was constantly being told that it was normal to feel anxious about it and it was the best thing to do. I was fortunate to get an unconditional offer to study at university which took the pressure off my exams, and then I decided to defer my place for a year to give myself time to think without losing my place.

I am fortunate enough to say that my parents have always been very supportive. While they have always said I should do something that makes me happy, they also didn’t want me to miss out on opportunities or settle for something just because it was the “easy option”. The deal was, if I was going to turn down my place at university, I needed to have something else lined up. So, from the moment I left school, I was on a mission to find my way out of university!

During this year I also planned to do a lot of horse riding while I had so much free time. The horse I had at the time was an interesting crossbreed, which meant that he didn’t really fit the conventional, shop bought equipment. I was planning on competing a fair bit, so he needed to have a smart, well-fitting saddle and bridle. This is when my mum suggested I find a saddler to custom make them for me, and it was like someone had switched on a light-bulb! It sounds so stupid when I think about it now but somehow, I had never even thought about saddlery being a career, let alone a potential career option for me! Two of my greatest passions were horses and crafts, and this seemed to combine both.

Luckily, as I was on a gap year, I had far too much free time! This gave me time to research saddlery as a career option, but all my research pretty much brought me back to the same place. The saddlery world isn’t that large, and the only way to qualify as a saddler is to find an apprenticeship or go to college. I was lucky enough to find a couple of Master Saddlers to chat to, who gave me some brilliant advice and before I knew it, I had turned down my place at university and enrolled on the Saddlery course at Capel Manor College.

The further in I got, the more my passion for Saddlery and Leatherwork grew. Once I completed my course at Capel Manor, I was incredibly lucky to be one of the three students that year that was offered an apprenticeship with a master saddler. Feeling more determined and inspired than ever, I packed my bags and moved myself, and my lovely horse Victor, 150 miles from home to Shropshire. It was something I never thought that I would have been brave enough to do, but my passion for saddlery and leatherwork just seemed to overwrite everything!

After completing my qualifications in Shropshire, I decided to move back home to Hertfordshire and set up Lucy Ellis Leatherwork. This has given me the time to work on some of my own designs and the chance to be a bit more creative with my work. Although the reason I chose saddlery was largely due to the equestrian aspect, I have found a passion for all sorts of leatherwork and really enjoy making and repairing all sorts of items. While I don’t know what the future holds, at least for now I can say that I genuinely enjoy my work.