Although the name of Frederick Henry Ayres is very well known in the Rocking Horse world it was first synonymous with high quality sporting goods, such as billiards, croquet and tennis, together with board games.
It is unclear when the first F H Ayres rocking horse trotted off the assembly line at their factory in Aldersgate Street, London. Bow rockers came first, then with the adoption of Philip Marqua of Cincinatti’s 1880 patent, rocking horses on safety stands in many styles and sizes from very small up to extra large were made. Marqua’s British patent lasted for only three years, resulting in the base board of each rocking horse on safety stand being stencilled with ‘patented Jan29 1880’ until the patent lapsed in 1883, though some horses continued with the patent stamp until later.
Most F H Ayres rocking horses are not marked, though occasionally the name is stamped under the rocking horse belly. Some have a transfer of a Maltese Cross inside a Union Jack applied to the base board, others a brass plaque.
Ayres supplied rocking horses to most of the major London department stores, including Harrods in Knightsbridge, Selfridges in Oxford Street and Army and Navy Stores – these rocking horses usually had the name of the store stencilled on the base board of the stand.
(Some of the earlier, best quality F H Ayres rocking horses are extremely beautiful, with extra carving to the neck and back legs, skilfully carved turned heads, indented hoof rails and in the larger sizes, carved tongues. More standard models lack the extra carving and have plain hoof rails, but still have that distinctive Ayres look. All can be identified by the pointed and bevelled ends to the hoof rails, distinctive baluster turning of the stand columns, brackets with four bolts and ends of swing irons which are peened or burred over after passing through the hoof rails and metal washer, thus avoiding the need for split pins and end caps. Very small horses have a different style of bracket with just three bolts, but are still inescapably Ayres rocking horses. Extra large Ayres rocking horses have brackets with additional rectangular bearing plates.
F H Ayres tried out many rocking horse designs, including one with a patented moveable head around 1887, but not many have survived, and production ceased fairly quickly, which makes the few survivors very desirable.
Possibly slightly more successful was their Spring Rocking Horse around 1895, which continued in production rather longer than the moveable head horse. In this case two strong metal springs were attached to the wooden stand base from which were attached the swing irons and hoof rails. Not too many of these survive, so they are eagerly sought after.
F H Ayres Ltd was taken over in 1940 by William Sykes resulting in some horses having a plastic label with the F H and Ltd cut away, just leaving ‘manufactured by AYRES LONDON’ Production moved to Horbury in Yorkshire, but the quality of the horses was much reduced with more basic carving and very small eyes. Production ceased in 1950 after the takeover by Slazenger group.
If you have been inspired by the history of the FH Ayres rocking horse and want to buy one, we have a number of these wonderful creations in stock. Take a look at our antique rocking horses page for more details.