The new bespoke building replaces the existing factory and dilapidated outbuildings, adding housing alongside a farm shop and co-working cafe. This provides an opportunity to combine both sites together under one roof, with Hollaway placing community firmly at the heart of its plans. Maker of fine rocking horses for the late Queen Elizabeth II, Stevenson Brothers – which was established almost 40 years ago by twin brothers Marc and Tony – commissioned UK architect firm Hollaway to design a contemporary, sustainable workshop to showcase these methods and its heritage.
High Halden site
Hollaway has designed a contemporary timber-clad building that is a gentle nod to the fabric of the rocking horses. An abundance of glass permits visitors to view the making process and fine craftsmanship for themselves with the opportunity for organised tours.
This desire to reveal the hidden side of the workshop is a hallmark of Hollaway’s design ethos. It can also be seen in its extensive plans for Brompton Bicycles' European HQ and factory (briefly covered in FC&A’s April 2022 edition), which is due for completion in 2027 in nearby Ashford, as well as Hollaway’s Curious Brewery.
Beside the workshop will be Stevenson Brothers’ ‘rocking-horse hospital’, offering expert restoration and conservation, recognising that these often-heirloom items are an integral and valued part of the family. Here, any rocking horse can await the necessary repairs so that it can provide prolonged joy for future generations to come. Beyond the hospital will be a shared working space for the public and schools to learn about the craftsmanship involved.
“When we first started to make rocking horses over 40 years ago, we had three goals,” explain Marc and Tony. “To re-introduce the rocking horse and make them popular again, make the best rocking horses in the world, and inspire people to discover their creativity. By building the new workshop, museum and showroom, we will be allowing members of the public to be part of a larger experience, watching for themselves what we do and being inspired by all they see. It’s been an honour making rocking horses for Queen Elizabeth II for the past 20 years.”
To make this vision possible, to the rear of the new workshop, Hollaway has designed 22 new detached four- and five-bedroom exemplar homes based on a contemporary farmstead design with exposed brick, black timber and slate to match similar buildings in the surrounding area. Ponds, pathways and cycle links will open up a previously inaccessible public right of way to allow the local community to enjoy the space. The inclusion of the farm shop and co-working cafe will become the beating heart of the area.
Sustainability is key to the design, with a biodiversity-net-gain improvement of 16% thanks to the addition of grass roofs and grasslands. As well as the environmental progress in transforming the land in this way, the site’s transformation will significantly increase employment.
Bethersden is a picturesque village set amidst the glory of the Kentish countryside, a region of tile-hung cottages, spectacular old mills and pretty oasthouses. A hamlet with properties dating back to the 17th and 18th centuries, including five listed buildings, the village was formerly the centre of the Kentish wool trade.
In addition to the High Halden site, Stevenson Brothers also owns another brownfield site in Bethersden. Here, the finishing touches are given to the rocking horses before they are displayed for the new owners and taken home. As part of the overall scheme, the old Bethersden workshop will be redeveloped into nine affordable apartments comprising seven one-bedroom apartments, one two-bedroom apartment and one accessible apartment. Together, these nine apartments will provide 40% affordable homes, which are fully compliant with Government legislation and reflective of local housing needs. The re-development of the site will also create a biodiversity-net-gain improvement of around 30%.
Commenting on the project, Guy Hollaway, Principal Partner at Hollaway, says: “This project is about community. The design of the new Stevenson Brothers’ workshop and museum actively encourages members of the public to engage in the creative process of these world-renowned rocking horses. Whilst gaining a rare insight into the craftsmanship of Stevenson rocking horses, members of the public will also be able to visit the farm shop, cafe and courtyard, which will become a rural destination and meeting place.”
The aspiration is that Stevenson Brothers will continue in a new, purpose-built workshop completed in 2025, bringing together the local community and providing much-needed new homes. The story of rocking horses will continue for many decades to come, as will this much-loved Ashford-based business.