The tale of the Christmas miracle…

Words by:
Steffie Shields
Featured in:
December 2023

Steffie Shields shares a special Christmas story by leather craftsman Martin Ashworth, of TV’s Salvage Hunters, following the rescue of Anthony the antique toy horse.

A decade ago, in this magazine’s December issue, I mentioned a cherished, antique toy horse on wheels. It had belonged to my great uncle Roy Matthew Hadingham (1894-1916). A Lieutenant in the 2nd Battalion of the 4th Gloucestershire Regiment, a Territorial Force, Roy was reported missing on 22nd July 1916, having disappeared on a night patrol on 26th June, the third of the night, in the danger zone in the Neuve Chapelle Sector, Laventie.

After his second reconnaissance sortie, he had been congratulated by the Brigadier for penetrating further into No Man’s Land than anybody else in the Brigade, within 15 yards of the wire. His body was never found.

As with countless families, deeply saddened by loved ones lost, Roy’s sister Gabrielle was rightly proud of her brother’s posthumous medals.

The Hadingham family always used to gather for a “Christmas tea” at our maiden aunt’s, where the youngsters, my sister and I, and our fellow cousins, were allowed to play with her fascinating Victorian toys.

My great aunt Gabrielle talked about how Roy had named his toy horse Anthony, always the star attraction. When the time came to retire to a nursing home, she gave me a few treasures, including those precious toys.

Meeting Martin
Anthony became a valued part of family traditions. Every Christmas morning, once all the presents had been shared out, we placed him under the Christmas tree. Now a great age, he looked more the worse for wear and sadder with every passing year.

What happened in October 2022 now appears nothing short of a miracle. I had been invited to the Isle of Anglesey to advise a landowner about his historic gardens. On the way, Mike and I hoped to visit Conway to purchase a small Christmas gift for our daughter in Drew Pritchard’s antique shop, the one featuring on TV’s Salvage Hunters. Unfortunately, we discovered it had closed down, so we drove on to Anglesey.

Once there, we discovered that Martin Ashworth, the gifted leather restorer who appears regularly on the Quest channel’s Salvage Hunters: The Restorers, had his workshop close by.

As Mike’s favourite old, burgundy leather holdall, purchased 30 years ago in Florence on a silver wedding trip, was falling apart, we seized the opportunity to call by.

I suddenly remembered Anthony! Could Martin possibly tackle his restoration as well?

“Is he bald?” enquired Martin, after hearing my problem. “Yes, I am afraid so,” I replied. He shook his head, “Then I doubt I can do anything”.

We left Mike’s holdall for repair and departed. I admit to feeling disappointed, even though we had much enjoyed meeting Martin and seeing his workshop.

Only a week later, a package arrived. Inside, Mike’s polished case with brand new zip and tags and with lining repaired, gleaming smartly, almost as new.

I emailed Martin our huge thanks: “You have made my old man very happy. Now we know the same elation and thrill experienced by those folks who get special items restored on The Repair Shop!”

War horse challenge
Hoping against hope, I attached a photo of poor Anthony, asking for a repair estimate. An email came back almost immediately.

“By all means send the old war horse. I would be proud to give him another lease of life for future generations. The horse estimate would only be a token from one war horse to another. Best Regards, Martin.”

Martin Ashworth is a former Marine who clearly loves a challenge!

Anthony was sent on his holidays to Anglesey. It was not long before the postman delivered him home safely. Nervously, opening the parcel, Anthony’s miraculous restoration moved me to tears.

We will continue to light a special candle this and every family festive season in memory of great uncle Roy and his countless fallen comrades – and give thanks for our Anthony under the twinkling Christmas tree.

This year I will also remember how, 80 years ago, my father, “Buzzer” Hadingham, helped to put on a Christmas party for village children during a brief break from bitter fighting after the River Garigliano crossing, as a Territorial Commander of 302 Anti-Tank Battery, 56th (London) Infantry Division (the Black Cats) in the WWII Italian Campaign 1943-45.

He wrote: ‘Most of my Battery were by now out of the battle zone. The Battery cooks had organised a children’s party a few miles back in a local church hall, to which they had invited about 50 kids. News of this had spread far and wide. Eventually we had 106 boys and girls, who faced tables groaning with all sorts of cakes and pies. We had one or two characters in the Battery who got up and even got the kids singing.’ (R.E.H. Hadingham, A Black Cat Abroad, Unicorn Press 2022).

A special Christmas story
Now, as I wish you and your families a happy and peaceful Christmas – I must share with you this special story, penned by Martin Ashworth, much to our surprise and delight, after Anthony had returned home resplendent!

You might like to read it to your children or grandchildren on Christmas Eve!

The Tale of the Christmas Miracle
Once there was a very battered and forlorn little horse which had brought joy and happiness to a little boy for many years, but sadly age and time had taken its toll, so he was only brought out at Christmas. As time passed its present caring owners decided that he needed some Christmas Magic and sent him off to the little old workshop in Wales to see if there was anything Martin, the old toy fixer, could do to help.

He arrived in a box all wrapped in paper, and Martin feared that there was nothing he could do to help poor Anthony – he had lost one ear, all his forelock, most of his saddle and bridle and was nearly bald.

Martin shook his head and put him on the workshop table and left him for the night knowing that a miracle was needed.

All night the wind howled and the rain was battering the windows in the worst storm of the winter, it was a terrible time that none should be out in.

Morning came all quiet as the storm had passed, and Martin trudged over to the workshop through all the fallen branches and leaves, and saw a strange light glowing through the windows. He opened the door and saw a true Christmas Miracle!

Anthony stood proud on the table with two new ears, a new forelock and a smart new saddle and bridle, and a glint in his eye as though he had been born again.

Strange things happen in Martin’s old workshop in Wales, things are always given a new lease of life and Anthony says thank you to all.

Grateful thanks to Martin Ashworth, The Leather Workshop, Anglesey LL63 5HJ

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