Our Secretary Leigh Chamberlain was visiting Toowomba recently when she noticed a rocking horse in an antique store on Ruthven Street. On further inspection she discovered that it was made by Lou Peets, a name that was well known to the earlier children of West Toowong. In Leigh’s words: “He made rocking horses in his factory under his house in Market Street. The bus stop was outside his house so kids would wander in and watch him while they waited for the bus to go to school.”
rockinghorseshed.Com describes Lou Peets as Australia’s third largest Rocking Horse manufacturer, 1915-1964. According to their site Lou Peets was a blacksmith who came to Australia from England. His shop was underneath his family home in Market Street, Toowong, near the corner of Duke St. Others have identified that it was near Billy Ireland’s house. After Lou died in 1964 his son Laurie and then his nephew, Syd, continued to make Rocking horses until 1972. It seems these rocking horses are still highly valued and valuable with restored horses being offered for sale for around $2000.
Leigh shared this story and photo on our Facebook page which elicited a huge response and was shared wide and far by other groups and individuals. There were lots of interesting comments with a few former connections reestablished between people. Many people had one of these rocking horses at one point in time and others had fond memories of watching Mr. Peets at work.
One woman, Heather, had lived across the road from Mr. Peets and had been “fascinated by his artistry”. Barry grew up living next door to Mr Peets and said “Under his house was a wonderland for a youngster like me who loved making things. Apart from the woodwork he did all his own leatherwork and metalwork. Such an inspiration! I became and still work as an engineer.”
Christina remembers him well, “we loved to sit on the horses and help out where we could, loved the smell of the sawdust that covered the floor under the house, the leather for the bridles & saddles, he would hang the horses from the hills hoist in the back yard after painting”.
Many people shared pictures of their rocking horses and there was an interesting discussion about the characteristics of a genuine Lou Peets horse and the differences in style between Lou, Lawrie and Syd’s designs. Katie was very knowledgeable and shared a few specific things that identified them:
Lou’s horses have rather square open mouths compared to many and the front swinging iron is approx 1” shorter than the rear from cleat to hoof rail (bend to bend). The shape of the front legs is also very different to other makers, they’re “flatter” in the angle of their front legs where the knees bend. The pillar design is specific to him as well. Nephew Syd made the rumps in a flatter style he would also engrave a very subtle s on the underside somewhere.
Katie and Elizabeth shared details of an article about Lou from The Sunday Mail, Brisbane, November 24, 1929 which gives some interesting background about how Lou came to be making rocking horses under his house. The text is below.
THE TALE OF A TOY-MAKER
TOOWONG’S ROCKING HORSE KING
THE Rocking Horse King! It is the nickname given him by his neighbours at Toowong. His real name is Peets, L. Peets, and he loves to carve in wood. Horse figures emerge — horses -with graceful, strong lines, with fluttering cow-hair manes and tails. He calls himself a toymakcr, a humble constructor of wooden rocking horses, but his use of hands and plane bespeaks the delicate touch of the real artist. And while he is creating his rocking horses for the Christmas shopping rush he likes to talk about the things he has seen and done — about industry, and the joy his rocking horses give to children.
Peets understand, is a cheerful fellow. His eyes are full of friendliness His mouth is a continuous pucker of amused admiration for life find sun light and children’s toys. His workshop, in the yard of his home, is little more than a tin shed, but his tools are sharp and his gift for carving in wood is there. What does the workshop matter? He declares, smilingly, that at Christmas time some 200 children in Queensland will be playing with his rocking horses — riding them to rescue fair maidens from turreted towers, tiny knees gripping their pic-bald withers. ”Yes, I only make rocking horses,’ he says. ‘But last year I made toys — many different toys. Tricycles and motor cars! Big and small ones. ‘All kinds of toys! But, now, no, they will not have my toys, only my rocking horses.’
Then if you are sympathetic he will tell you his story, a toy-maker’s story of a dream that was shattered against the concrete walls of commerce. Back in Lancashire Peets’ parents make toys, and their parents before them made toys in the big factories that are there. Peets, however, did not like the sweated labour of the Lancashire mills and factories, and came to Australia in search of sunshine. He found it in Queensland, and obtained work as an engineer’s black smith. He worked hard, and saved, and at night time dreamt of starting a toy factory of his own in his adopted country.
Then came the war. He enlisted and served with the ‘Australian Imperial Forces. He was wounded and sent back to Australia. He made his home at Toowong under the shadow of the tree-covered slope of One Tree Hill, but his wound prevented him from seeking work in his old capacity. Again he dreamt of making toys. Then he made his dreams come true. With his small savings he bought timbers and started to make and carve wooden toys for children. He did fairly well, and built his factory — a spacious tin shed in the yard of his home. Children loved his piebald rocking horses with their fluttering cow-hair manes and tails, and gradually the big city firms heard of him and his wares.
The postman began regularly to bring him orders. He worked hard, some times well into the night, making rocking horses in an attempt to cope with the orders for more — at the price. And the more rocking horses he made the more orders came in. Peets was glad, and he employed labour. He worked with four assistants, making nothing but rocking horses for children. He continued to prosper, and at night to dream of owning a big toy factory — a factory that made many toys — mechanical toys — as well as carving rocking horses out of hunks of wood.
He talked with local business men, showed them samples of his toys, and, they too, became enthusiastic and dreamt, of sharing in the ownership of a big toy factory. They gathered together and formed a company, and Peets put his savings of £600 into the fulfilment of the dream. Machinery and electric motors were installed; his tin shed was enlarged almost to the size of his modest home. For many months his yard clattered with the activity of whirling wheels and flapping belts, and the buzz of timber be ing planed. Neighbours even complained about, the noise! Hundreds of pounds’ worth of toys were made. On paper the garden of toys was lovely. They were acclaimed as cheaper and better than those imported from America and the Continent. The shopkeepers and public alike were pleased with the samples submitted, and at least one big retail establishment took a considerable stock.
Then trade difficulties of one kind and another arose to block the expected developments. Distribution was more and more hampered, and, like other returned soldiers who had taken up this means of livelihood, Peets found himself baffled and beaten. Disappointed but not discouraged, Peets courageously returned to his first love, and restarted the making of rocking horses.
He is still a cheerful fellow. He is busy carving in wood; busy catering for the Christmas de mand for wooden chargers. The firms that would not or could not buy his mechanical toys now send him orders for wooden rocking horses, and he hopes by next year to have rebuilt his industry to such an extent that he will once again be working busily with, four assistants. ‘Children love to ride on my, rock ing horses!’ says Peets, while his cutting tool goes gently, ever so gently, over the graceful neck of what is to be a piebald pony.