Still in the saddle
Barbados’ oldest entrepreneur, Melville Williams, said his business had slowed down over the years, especially over the last decade.
However, that neither stops him from doing what he loves nor from teaching others the trade.
Williams, who will be 102 years old on February 21, is a master saddler. He makes saddles, bridles, collars and other fittings for polo and race horses. He started practising his trade with his father in his early teenage years, and has not put down his tools since.
As a boy, the horse lover would work with his father on making the fittings for donkey carts and horses working on various plantations across the island.
“I am doing business all the time,” exclaimed Williams.
“I can make two collars in one day. The saddle would take me about two days [to make]. Nobody ever tell me yet that I charge too much. From the time they see the work, they give me whatever
I want. I work for the plantations here, the race tracks in America, and today I still work,” he said proudly.
After sharpening his skills and realizing that there was not a big market in Barbados for the trade, Williams went to Trinidad, where he spent about 30 years outfitting donkey carts, buggies and horses.
The Lonesome Hill, St Peter resident subsequently left for New York where he also engaged in his trade for many years. He returned to Barbados almost 17 years ago.
Williams said since his return to the island he had made numerous attempts to “set up a shop” so he could produce the items on a larger scale while teaching, but to date he had not been successful.
“He made and sold a saddle about six months ago and he is currently repairing one for a jockey,” said Williams’ great-nephew Henderson Morgan.
“I can’t believe him, [that[ at this age he is still able to work.
He will be 102 and he is still able to work,” marvelled Morgan.
Williams said he was currently teaching someone the trade in the hope that when he is no longer able to do it, someone else would carry on the business.
“When she learns, then she can take over. It would take about seven years to master this trade. She comes from South Africa, the girl who wants to take over. Her stitching is good,” he said, noting that his father learnt the trade from a South African.
Williams suggested that if more people were able to learn the trade, saddles and other equine equipment would not have to be imported.