‘Our Grand Old Man’ at work: remembering a Sussex saddler

Mr Ewens, aged 81
Mr Ewens, aged 81

Milly Boxley from Saddlers Bed and Breakfast in Funtington sent in these photographs.

They show 81 year old Sussex saddler, Mr Frederick Ewens, who is making a harness in 1931.

Mr Ewens outside his business

Mr Ewens outside his business

Mr Ewens was born at Funtington in 1850, to a saddler father who had run a business there since 1827.

The younger saddler, who was known as the ‘Grand Old Man’, was featured in the Sussex Magazine in 1942.

In the article, Wm. Albery from Horsham wrote: “The difference between the conditions of Sussex saddlers craftsmen from 80 to 100 years ago, when they were working 66 to 70 hours per week for wages from 14/- to 18/-, to when they made by hand, every set of farm and trade harness, is compared with those of today (1942), is very striking.

“Mr Ewens began part time work in his father’s shop at eight years of age. In 1864 he took to daily work at the bench and has never left it. Mr Ewens in addition to saddle and harness making, was a collar-maker, rope maker and knacker. He also undertook duties as assistant overseer, parish constable for many years, and rate-collector for 57 years.

The 'Grand Old Man' at work

The 'Grand Old Man' at work

“Today in his 93rd year, he still enjoys himself and satisfies his customers, friends, and neighbours by actively continuing at his craft; and though he is completely deaf and has lost the use of one eye, intellectually he is very alert, and regularly contributes each month an article to the Leather Trades Review in which he instructs the younger members of the trade, those in their sixties and seventies and even eighties, how to do, as well as how not to do various kinds of work. There are not many sixteen and seventeens in the trade today!

“Mr Ewens attended the last meeting in the Sussex Master Saddlers Association at Arundel recently, where not with standing the above, mentioned unfortunate disqualifications, he was the most youthful and lively member present. All saddlers of the Sussex Association know of Mr Ewens as his pen name “South Coast”, whilst to the readers of the Saddlery and Harness and the members of the Federation of Mast Saddlers of Great Britain, he is known as Our Grand Old Man.”

The building Saddlers, originally named Blenhim, after the knobbly apple tree on the back lawn, was built back in the early 1900s by Mr Ewens. Here he housed his workshops, living quarters and eventually a shop. Due to demand the house, was renamed Saddlers several years later.

Milly and her husband Tim bought Saddlers in order to create a boutique bed and breakfast.

Milly said: “Having lived and worked in London most of my life, although having had close affinity to Bosham and East Ashling since a child, my dream came true when I made the big decision to leave the big city and move to West Sussex. After my marriage to Tim, we were thrilled to find our dream home in the village of Funtington, a house previously lived in by its owners for over 42 years, packed with history and a lovingly cared for English country garden.

“One of the pictures shows the great man himself in action, stitching saddlers onsite in his shop - now our sitting room.”