A Manly Side Saddle
By Leila Hidic Marvin
My friend and I did some antiquing the other weekend as the weather was rubbish, her neighbours were being jerks, and it was just generally a rubbish day. Old things always cheer us up and we drool at the architecture of the old houses we pass along the way. We ended up in a junky shop in the middle of nowhere. There was nothing much there, just old tat, most of it overpriced and nothing special. It was all pretty depressing really. I wandered around in a zombie state looking at all the “antiques” and stumbled upon a back room with the door open. I don't know if customers were supposed to go in or not, but the door was open and there were some things with price tags, so I went in.
And there, piled up on a cardboard box with a load of broken old mouldy stuff, garbage, and junk, was c.1920s Champion & Wilton!
It looked at me and I looked at it (his name is Champy), and he told me to rescue him from this dump of a shop and take him home. Unfortunately, since he was in the “garbage pile,” he had n no price tag and the unhelpful salesperson didn't know a price nor did they want to sell Champy as the shop owner wasn't there. Champy was crying as he didn't want to be there with all the nasty things in the box so I made an offer, the salesperson went away to “consult” with the other salesperson there, and then Champy came home with me.
I took Champy out for a spin on the Hairy Miserable Beast (aka Hattie). The ride is VERY comfy, the seat seems to be padded with something between the leather and webbing, I wonder if it's Illsey foam? The seat has a slight dip to it which I like, and the pommels are comfy, too. The seat is 17.5” from cutback to cantle (US 21.5”) and 13.5” wide. Annoyingly, a little mouse also had fun with Champy and chewed through the leather layers of the fixed head. LUCKILY, the mouse hit the iron strapping on the tree so could not proceed any further and gave up. It's only cosmetic, and it's neat to see all the layers of leather that the saddle maker used to build up the big flared head! The panels are a bit moth eaten, and the flocking needs sorting out, but other than that (and new billets as the original ones are on there), it's actually quite rideable as is!
He needs a C&W style balance girth with point and buckle, but luckily it came with such a one which also happened to fit Hattie. Interestingly, the saddle has a crupper loop at the back of it, along with two back D-rings for attaching a rolled up rainproof mac or other gear to the back!
I was curious to know the date of Champy as I figured he was about the 1920s mark due to the transitional features he has from both eras of side saddle, i.e. the plain sweepy seat from the late Victorian and Edwardian period but pommel and flap style of the 1920s – 1930s “Golden Era” of saddles.
The panels are nailed on at the front so couldn't drop them without taking out the nails (I'll leave that to my saddler when he comes to linen the panels), co carefully pulled the panel edge away approximately where the labels are usually stuck on and peered underneath.
There I spied the edge of a label saying “Champion & Wilton” and it turns out that Champy was made for a MAN!!!!! The label says “India” at the top, then “Major Farley” with his tree measurements underneath, “18 ¾” for the length and “12” for the seat width. The label is dated October 9, 1919 and the serial number 1669.
Thanks to the power of the internet, I did find a little more information on Major Farley. He was born in 1890 to Reuben Farley, First Mayor of West Bromwich, Staffordshire, and Harrietta E. Fellowes. Reuben was one of five children, and served with his two brothers (Capt. Charles Finch Farley and Francis Dashwood Farley) in WWI. At the start of WWI, Reuben seems to have enlisted in the Cavalry, as he is listed in the September 8, 1914 London Gazette's Cavalry “temporary Second Lieutenants” list. An interesting note, before WWII, Cavalry recruits were required to be at least 5'2” tall, but could not exceed 5'9”. As I am 5'9”, maybe this is why his saddle fits me?
Reuben was a Major by 1917 when he was wounded, and still a Major after the war in 1919, serving in a reserve cavalry regiment. On June 3, 1919, Major (A./Lt.-Col.) Reuben Llewely Farley (Cavly. Res.) received an OBE [Order of the British Empire].
In 1920, Major Farley bought Wornditch Hall, originally built in the 18th century, and is now a Grade II listed building in Kimbolton, Huntingdon, Cambridgeshire. The Wornditch Hall and outbuildings (including stables and tack room where Champy lived), are still there to this day and are currently for sale by private treaty if you have several million pounds to spend!! The shop where I bought Champy is about 30 miles from Kimbolton in the same county so it makes sense that perhaps the owner of the antique shop purchased the saddle along with other house contents after Major Farley died.
Then in 1946 and 1949, Major Farley was nominated to be “Sheriffs in the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice on the Morrow of Saint Martin” for Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire. In 1950 he was appointed Sheriff of Cambridgeshire and Huntingdonshire.
I had the fortune that Major Farley's great nephew, Tom Farley (Francis Dashwood Farley's grandson), saw my initial blog post about Champy. Tom sent additional information on his great uncle and kindly sent me a photo of the dashing Major in his uniform. It is so wonderful to put a face to the name written on an old saddle label and give the history of this side saddle, the human aspect. Tom informed me that his great uncle sadly died in 1954 and never married so had no direct descendants. I am very happy then, that Champy has ended up in my care instead of being in that antique shop's rubbish pile with a forgotten history.
[This article was compiled and edited with permission from several posts on Leila's blog “Side Saddle: My escapades in the world of side saddle riding!” at http://www.sidesaddlegirl.co.uk/ Leila also provided additional, higher resolution images for this article.]