The Playground Rocking Horse Website

Old playground rocking horses. History photos and locations.


Hirst & Sons of Halifax


B Hirst and Sons were established in 1846 and are listed as an engineering company producing washing machines and mangles in 1874. These were proudly advertised as ‘being capable of being worked by a boy of twelve.’


Their principal factory seems to have been The Britannia Works, at Northgate Yard, Portland Street,  Halifax.


By the 1920’s they were involved in producing sporting equipment – particularly tennis posts, court marking machines, rackets and presses. Top of the range seems to have been the "Ne Plus Ultra" All Steel Tennis Posts which were exhibited at the 1922 British Industries Fair. It was this involvement with sports ground equipment that seems to have been their route in to playground equipment.


The ‘Ne Plus Ultra’ seen on the front of their playground rocking horses was clearly in use earlier to describe their tennis posts. Rather than being a specific legend for the horse it was a more general company motto – it means ‘The highest, ultimate point of achievement which can be reached; perfection.’ It can be seen on other Hirst products.


The Hirst horse is a five seater and the large cast iron head has the name 'Bonny Bright Eyes' stamped along the base. The rocking arm mechanism differs from the standard Wicksteed design as can be seen in some of the photos in the gallery. There only seems to have been one model of horse produced but a 'rocking boat' version was also available.


A company brochure from about 1950 descibes their horse as 'Unequalled for smoothness and ease of working. It is the only rocking horse made fitted with double row self alligning ball bearings...which for practical purposes eliminate friction.The closest attention has been devoted to every detail of its construction and no effort has been spared to make it the finest product of its kind. Attractively finished in colours.'


Most images of Hirst playground horses seem to date from 1950s to early 1980s and this may have been their principal period of production. The company later became part of Sutcliffe Play Ltd which was formed in 1987. They continue to manufacture a wide range of modern playground equipment including small single rider horses but sadly no longer the big Hirst five seater. The company is now proud to be an employee owned partnership -"The John Lewis of playground equipment"


A long serving member of the Hirst/Sutcliffe staff tells me that the horse was still being made when Sutcliffe took over the factory in 1987. He also recalls issues with an early design for the horse's head which included prominent ears. These however were deemed to be too dangerous if children rocked forward on to them and were modified to the rounded head shape finally used.

Relatively few Hirst horses seem to have survived in to the 21st century.


Take a look at the gallery of Hirst & Sons photos as well as the albums showing the restoration and relocation of two Hirst horses. Those of you of a strong disposition can also look at the ‘Horse butchery’ album to see what has become of some of the old Hirst heads.  


Wicksteed Ltd of Kettering


Charles Wicksteed was born in 1847, the son of a Minister in the Unitarian Church in Leeds.  As a young man he was apprenticed to the engineering works of Messrs. Kitson and Hewetson of Leeds – manufacturers of locomotive engines  With the help of friends of his parents he commenced his first steam ploughing business at Castle Acre in Norfolk. After years of ploughing in Norfolk he decided to move his engines and in 1871 he moved to Kettering.


At the age of 29 Charles Wicksteed established a business initially servicing and repairing ploughing machines on the current site of the factory in Digby Street, Kettering. In addition to this he manufactured both cycles and cycle stands. Charles Wicksteed & Co. Ltd. went on to develop other products such as power drills and wooden toys.  The company also manufactured a machine used extensively on board ships and large establishments for the slicing and buttering of bread. 


In 1913 Charles Wicksteed purchased the first portion of the land that he was to create into Wicksteed Park - the first Leisure Park to be built in the UK. In 1916 at the age of 69 he established The Wicksteed Trust to look after Wicksteed Park for the people of Kettering and maintain his dream after his death.  At the end of the First World War, Wicksteed organised a “school treat” to celebrate the end of hostilities and he is reputed to have removed central heating pipes from the Digby Street factory to erect swing frameworks in Wicksteed Park.  This was not only the first playground to be built, but was also the start of what was to become the first playground equipment manufacturing business in the UK.


Charles Wicksteed died at the age of 83 and the business passed into the hands of his sons. The first Playground Safety Standard in the United Kingdom – BS3178 was published based on the products manufactured by Charles Wicksteed & Co. Ltd.


In 1960 Charles Wicksteed & Co. Ltd. was sold and lost its family connections. In 1989 Wicksteed Leisure Ltd. was purchased by the current owner - Lord Howard of Rising. 


Wicksteed Leisure Ltd is now the largest manufacturer of playground equipment in the UK and also sells throughout the world. 


Yates Playgrounds

From the company website:

Yates playgrounds of Ormskirk Lancashire are a family company that have been in the steel fabrication and engineering business for 3 generations.

From making bullet proof panels for army tanks during the second world war, through to manufacturing agricultural trailers and equipment, narrow boats and even ocean going steel yachts, we have carried out all types of steel fabrication projects. In 1992 we were asked to manufacture our first play area for the local Parish of Rufford.

During the following few years the demand for our play equipment was so great that for the past 15 years we have worked solely within the play industry and have undertaken hundreds of playground projects throughout the UK.

 As of 2013 Yates Playgrounds still advertise a fine horse. They describe it as follows:

This all steel rocking horse will be enjoyed by generations it has 5 seats made from polyethylene which is warm to the touch has a non slip surface and is maintenance free.

Pivoting on eight large sealed bearings for a smooth rocking action it will give years of fun.

We have been producing these for 20 years and have never had to replaced any moving parts


G.L Jones Ltd


From the company website:


GL Jones Playgrounds was established in 1978 and has expanded continuously ever since. This family-led company has been designing and manufacturing some of the most ground-breaking playground equipment available on the market for over thirty years. From humble beginnings in a small village set in the picturesque surroundings of Snowdonia, GL Jones Playgrounds products can now be seen in counties all over of the British Isles and are even found on the Isle of Man and as far as the Shetlands.


The company manufactures a striking 5 seater playground horse.














Overseas manufacturers


This section is still under construction