Say hello to the saddle master of Crookwell.
Out of all the shops a curious traveller might step into on Crookwell’s Goulburn St there is no doubt that a foot in the door of Ian Lancaster’s saddlery will yield the biggest surprise. The shop doesn’t look like much from the outside, with its modest sign and dim windows, but venture over the threshold and the rich smell and milky sheen of hand-crafted leathergoods will immediately assault the senses.
Ian works steadily behind the counter at the rear of the shop, his entire being focused on the task unfolding beneath his hands. On the wall to his right an army of unusual looking tools stands silent sentinel as he stretches a piece of suede across a small frame, gently hammering in small tacks as he goes.
A quick gaze at his wares will offer the perceptive visitor an understanding of just how skilled the man working behind the counter is. Every expanse of leather is smooth and perfect, every curved line clean, and every stitch dead straight. This perfection is the result of 37 years of experience as a saddler, and with experience comes an international demand for Ian’s skills.
“I don’t have the time to make up collars and belts for display in the shop, I am flat out making new saddles for people,” he says, “people see the saddles I post on Facebook and get in touch with me from all over the world.”
Making saddles to order means every one is different depending on its intended owner and use. He mainly makes smaller show saddles but also has examples of jousting and polo saddles, as well as unusual looking side-saddles, which he says are getting more and more popular.
Saddles of all colours and in various states of completion are draped over frames and chairs. A couple of heavy and unusually shaped objects sit on the front of the counter, which Ian explains are the frames that sit inside every saddle.
“People make them from all kinds of materials but I prefer to use wood reinforced underneath with steel, a local tree-feller makes them for me.”
He sources his leather from England and works it with tools that he says are up to 100 years old, and which he inherited from his mentor, Thomas Lidbetter.
“When I was younger I was visiting his shop on the NSW south coast and I showed an interest, to my surprise he asked me if I would like to learn the trade. I went home and asked my Dad about it, and started my apprenticeship not long after.”
He has been in the shop on the main street for 18 months now, but before that he worked from his home in the countryside around Binda, just north of the Crookwell.
He is clearly keen to share his ancient craft with people passing through, pointing out a tired-looking side-saddle waiting for refurbishment.
“You have to embroider a saddle like that all in one line,” he says, referring to the decorative stitching on the flap, “this particular saddle actually belonged to Ned Kelly’s sister… but I made a similar one recently.”
The Horse & Hounds of Crookwell is located at 1/49 Goulburn St, Crookwell, NSW.