“I’ll miss my colleagues.”

Well-known and much-admired Walsall saddler John Hardwick has retired after 49 years in the trade.  

John Hardwick has dedicated his working life to saddle-making in Walsall.

John, now 66, got his first job as a saddlery apprentice straight from school when he was 16. After two years, he moved to Sabre Leather where he worked until 1983. 

John then moved to Walsall Riding and struck up a friendship with Keith Bryan who would go on to found his own saddle-making company. 

By 1986, John was working at Keith Bryan Saddlery. He remained there until 2019 when Keith retired and Bliss of London took over the manufacturing. 

John recalls many practical jokes being played during his time in Walsall factories. Once, someone replaced a saddle nail-head with a match – which promptly caught fire when the ‘nail’ was hit. 

“We got up to things you probably couldn’t get away with today,” he admits.

John says the thing he will miss most as he retires are his colleagues at Bliss. However, he wants to stay in touch with the trade and hopes to do some teaching at the Walsall Leather Skills Centre.

Alongside saddle-making, John enjoys shooting and motorcycling. He’s promised himself that his retirement will allow him to travel too – and do some DIY at home.