“IT’S A GREAT LIFE”

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Rob Jenkins in his workshop

This award-winning saddler recently moved his business to a modern workshop where traditional skills continue to flourish.

Rob Jenkins has been named ETN/SMS Bench Saddler of the Month for November. 

This ETN award, presented in conjunction with the Society of Master Saddlers (SMS), recognises those who uphold the highest standards of leather craft skills.

Rob is a Master Saddler who founded Worcestershire based The Malvern Saddle Company in 2000. 

He was nominated by Richard Brown of Abbey England, who says: Rob’s attention to detail is of the highest standard. He is well-known throughout the industry for his specialist side saddle skills.”

ABOUT Rob Jenkins

The versatility of leather has fascinated Rob since he was a child growing up in Hampshire. He learnt to ride as a youngster too. “The New Forest was the perfect equestrian playground,” he says.

After leaving school aged 16. Rob took various jobs, most of which failed to satisfy. Then, in his early 20s, he enrolled on a full-time saddlery course at Walsall College.

“It was a great place to learn and I was like a sponge, soaking up knowledge and skills until the day I left. And I’m still learning now,” he says.

A rider enjoys one of Rob’s saddles

Side saddles

“My main interest was harness-making, but life has its own plan and I found myself involved in the world of saddles, and ultimately side saddles. And this led to training with the brilliant Richard Godden at the Saddlery Training Centre in Salisbury in the late 1990s.”

Side saddles have remained Rob’s favourite item of saddlery. “They are so quirky to make, and different from any other type of saddle.” 

He’s particularly proud of his Malvern pad, a Wyckham panel design used for side saddles. “They combine the best elements of a felt pad with a traditional flocked panel, allowing for lots of adjustment and close contact stability,” he explains.

Church bells and mail bags

Rob relishes having “a great life and one that has artistic freedom alongside traditional heritage. 

“I love meeting clients and their horses as much as making saddles. Every day is different, it can be a challenge sometimes and you can’t please everyone. The days can be long and there is pressure to meet deadlines, but thankfully these are minor gripes.”

Over the years. Rob’s stand-out pieces have included leather seals for a Victorian water well, while he regularly makes church bell muffles. 

“More recently, we had a great commission making three exact copies of Royal Mail train post bags. They were huge and all hand stitched complete with bespoke ironwork. 

“Some of the leather straps were layered six deep and no awl could cope, so we drilled holes for stitching. They are now on display in the London Postal Museum.”

Classic cars

Side saddle by The Malvern Saddle Company

On the hobbies front, Rob loves riding motorcycles and restoring old Italian bikes. He’s also trying to improve his schoolboy French. But it’s four-wheeled vehicles that have crept into his business life. 

While saddlery forms the majority of Malvern Saddle Company’s workload, it also makes leatherwork for Morgan Motors and other classic car companies and private clients.

New workshop

“We’ve recently moved to a lovely, modern workshop after spending the last 20 years in an old farm building,” says Rob. “It’s given us a new lease of life and energised us into a new phase of our business.”

During his time in the saddlery industry, Rob cites greater emphasis on training and science-led research into product design as major evolutions. 

“I find it fascinating,” he adds. “The Worshipful Company of Saddlers, along with the SMS, have spearheaded much of this research which ultimately benefits us all. 

“I hope there’s continued help for trainees. They are the saddlers of the future, and we need them to keep the skills alive.”