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Octogenarian Carves Horse for Cathedral

20 November 2014

An 84-year-old rocking horse maker from London has donated a one-off piece to Durham Cathedral after a chance meeting with an ex-RAF comrade.

Derek Thorp, had travelled to Durham from his Blackheath retirement home last year to visit the Lindisfarne Gospels exhibition. He said: “I knew a former comrade of mine, who I’d served with in Singapore over 60 years ago, had connections with the Cathedral, so I made some enquiries and managed to contact him.”

Derek met up with fellow ex-airman George Hetherington, a former Cathedral Chorister, who volunteers as a steward at Durham Cathedral. Derek said: “It was lovely to see George and catch up on each other’s lives and while we were chatting, I mentioned that I’ve spent my retirement making rocking horses. By the end of the conversation, we had decided it would be nice to donate one to Durham Cathedral and so I started working on it as soon as I got home.”

Derek has a purpose-built workshop at his retirement home, Morden College, where he has made many rocking horses over the years for private commissions and latterly for hospitals and children’s hospices.

His latest rocking horse will be used by Durham Cathedral’s Education Team during their work with local school children and young visitors, particularly during the sessions about Saint Aidan, who famously gave a horse gifted to him by a King, to the first beggar in need he came across.

Derek continued: “The horse has been named Aidan’s Gift, to tie in with the story and I’ve had a plaque made for it. It is a unique horse, that I have designed and hand carved from Oak and Tulip Wood, so it should last around 1000 years.

“They are a huge amount of work, around 150 hours, and it is heavy and physically demanding work but it keeps me fit and once I start a horse, it is like a compulsion, I get addicted to it.”

Like all of Derek’s horses, Aidan’s Gift has had a time capsule hidden in the body cavity. Derek explained: “It is something of a tradition with rocking horse makers and I put in a copy of a national newspaper from the day the horse is sealed up, along with a letter from me and some items relevant to the time, like a few coins and other bits and pieces.”

Derek visited Durham on Wednesday 19 November to present the horse to the Cathedral. Jo Clamp from the Cathedral’s Education team said: “We are extremely grateful to Derek for this generous gift to the Cathedral. The horse is beautiful and I’m sure will be adored by generations of children visiting us and taking part in our education programmes.”