Meet Croford Coachbuilders…
Who are they, and what do they do?
Since 1896, Croford Coachbuilders have been manufacturing wheels for coaches, carriages, wagons, veteran cars and cannons, using traditional wheelwrights methods to create work of the highest standards. They hold the Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen, in the position of Wheelwrights and Coachbuilders.
Wheelwrights are craftsmen, trained to build and repair wooden wheels – “wright” meaning a worker or shaper of wood. Starting with the construction of the hub (or the nave), the spokes and the rim (or felloe), wheelwrights build outwards from the centre of the wheel, using wood, bone and horn to create wheels for carts, wagons, traps and coaches. Over the years, the appearance of the wheel hasn’t changed much – but wheelwrights create subtle changes to the design, meeting the demands of the industrial age by strengthening wheels whilst reducing their weight.
Then, in the second half of the twentieth century, demand for wheelwrights slowed as companies like Henry Ford developed manufacturing processes that pushed the trade into decline. By the turn of the century, wheelwrights had almost become extinct. If it wasn’t for the efforts of companies like Croford Coachbuilders, the skill would have disappeared entirely.
As heritage coachbuilders Crofords lend their expertise to fascinating projects, repairing and repainting magnificent Gypsy Caravans, rebuilding horse drawn charabanc, and recreating the 1950s milk float used by Benny Hill in the video for Ernie and the Fastest Milk Cart in the West. When a long-standing Director of Funeral Services in Shropshire asked Croford Coachbuilders to rebuild their vintage horse-drawn hearse, they provided a new undercarriage, wheels, and an updated body. Perhaps most impressive; for a number of years, Croford Coachbuilders have been restoring the Lord Mayor’s State Coach – an iconic piece of London’s history which is over 260 years old.
To replace the wheels, Croford Coachbuilders used English oak, which featured ornate carvings on the spokes and gold leaf highlights. They were optimised to improve performance and to reduce the sound created when travelling over London’s variety of road surfaces. The coach now stands in the Museum of London, where it can be viewed by the public.
Traditionally, three timbers are used for a wooden wheel. For the nave, at the centre of the wheel, Elm is preferred for its interwoven grain, preventing the wood from splitting when the spokes are driven in. The spokes are typically oak, used because it won’t bend or flex, and is able to transfer load directly from the felloes (usually made with ash) to the nave.
Ash is preferred for the felloes (wheel rims), because it’s strong in bending with good elasticity i.e. flexible and springy. A perfect natural material for protecting the wheel (and passengers) from shock and damage.
Croford Coachbuilders favour homegrown hardwoods for obvious reasons and are experts at selecting top quality wheelbuilding timbers from waney edge boule and boards stock.