Restoration of nineteenth century Cornhill carriage finally complete

Anne Reay (left) of Cornhill  outside Berwick Town Hall with the newly re furbished carriage.
Anne Reay (left) of Cornhill outside Berwick Town Hall with the newly re furbished carriage.

VISITORS to Berwick’s Dickensian Market next week will have the chance to feast their eyes on a rare 19th century horse-drawn carriage.

The newly-restored carriage, part of Cornhill Carriage Company’s fleet, will make its second official outing at the Dickensian Market on December 9, after taking part in the parade at Scott’s Selkirk this Saturday.

The stunning Cinderella-style carriage, which dates back to 1850, is finally ready to be seen by the public after a lengthy restoration process. Owner Anne Reay explained: “When my mother-in-law died we decided to buy something that she would have loved. She was always really interested in horses and carriages; she bought my first carriage for me.

“We decided we wanted to get a traditional old carriage and we found one in Glasgow eight years ago. We went to see it and the lady there had it in a container, her husband had died and she didn’t know what she had - it’s incredibly rare.”

Anne’s husband Andrew ‘Midge’ Walker paid £1,500 for the carriage, and they brought it to Cornhill, hoping to put it to use as soon as possible. But the restoration process proved to be more difficult than they’d imagined, and it’s taken eight years to get the carriage back out on to the roads. “When I originally started to strip it I found a lot of the structural wood was rotten, which I hadn’t realised when I bought it,” Anne explained.

“It sat in our container for a long time until I took it to a gentleman in Morpeth, he had a go but couldn’t do it. It then sat in Cornhill for another three years in a state, and I tried not to think about it - it really upset me because my mother-in-law and I were very close and I’d wanted to restore it in her memory. Then finally, I decided last year that it needed done.”

Anne did some research into places that could take the job on, but found most specialist companies were based down south, and charged a premium for their services. “I just couldn’t afford it,” she said. “Then I asked Thomas Charles Upholstery in Berwick if they could do it, and they said yes!”

It was a real team effort, with joiner Eddie Olah and Simon Curphey, who was on work placement at Cornhill Carriages, doing some of the structural work, Charlie and Yvonne Balfour of Thomas Charles Upholstery working on the restoration, and Daniel Balfour of DM Designs transforming the interior. George Bryson, Steven Findlay and Damon Thompson also helped, along with Cornhill Carriage groom Amanda Dobsworth.

Work began in earnest last September, and continued as and when people could spare a few hours. But the team faced a race against time to apply the finishing touches to the carriage, as it was booked to transport a bride to her Holy Island wedding on November 16.

With her 50th birthday coinciding with the day before the wedding, upholsterer Yvonne had no time to celebrate. “I started work at 8.15am on my birthday and didn’t get home again until 8.15 the next day!” she said. “Daniel worked even longer and Steven worked through the night.

“The biggest issue was getting the paint dry in time - we had fan, halogen and gas heaters on the go, as well as hairdryers!”

But the team rose to the challenge, and managed to get the traditional transport to the bride on time. Apart from a bridesmaid getting a bit of paint on her finger, all went to plan.

“The bride was over the moon, she was just about in tears she was so pleased,” Anne said. “The horses that pull it - the only coloureds in Northumberland - hadn’t pulled it before the wedding so I wondered how they were going to get on, but they were great - they have taken to it like a duck to water and it runs really well.”

The finished carriage will now be available for weddings and birthdays, proms and fairs, and will be on show at Scott’s Selkirk on Saturday (December 1) and at Berwick’s Dickensian Market between 11am-4pm on Sunday, December 9.

“I’m over the moon,” Anne said. “I can’t thank everybody who helped enough, it’s amazing. I’m so pleased it’s been done - my mother-in-law would have loved it. I had a vision of what it would be like but it’s exceeded my wildest dreams,” she added.