FOR a business that calls itself “the world’s leading pram restorers” the request from the producers of the incredibly popular BBC One drama Call the Midwife must have come as a bit of a blow.
They wanted ten prams in original condition so that they would look authentic in the drama set in the poverty of the East End of London of the 1950s.
They didn’t want them lovingly restored by Alison’s Baby Carriages of Holbeach. “They wanted them exactly as they were in those days,” says Alison Richardson approvingly. Nothing annoys her more than spotting mistakes such as ’60s prams used in a film supposedly set in the 1950s. “They were showing poor people with poor quality prams, so that’s what they got,” she adds.
Alison’s husband Graham, who collects vintage wireless sets going back to the origins of broadcasting so has an eye for these things, points out: “We do make sure that when Alison hires things out that it is the proper pram for the period. When people make mistakes it stands out like a sore thumb.”
Alison and Graham have been sourcing old prams and renovating them as well as building one-off specials for the past 12 years, drawing on Graham’s background in engineering to make the renovations and Alison’s artistry for the superb finish to each pram.
They find them at auction, are offered them by dealers, buy from online auction sites and have been known to prevent someone taking one to the tip, and their collection had got up to 300 at this time last year.
However, there are things that are so rare it is unlikely the couple will ever come across one, such as the gas-proof pram requested by the makers of the programme Upstairs Downstairs.
“I have got a baby’s gas mask, but the gas-proof prams were an experimental thing at the time and they proved not to be very efficient so there were only a handful made,” explains Graham, who guesses the producers had one made for the programme.
Look out for prams in other TV shows, such as Doc Martin, Larkrise to Candleford and The Last Detective, to name just a few, as they were all supplied by Alison and Graham.
However, their focus is on restoring prams that may be anything up to 80 or 90 years old, Graham spending about three months on each restoration, stripping them back to bare metal to re-build from scratch if they are in really poor condition.
Some of the prams are then sold to collectors who are very knowledgeable about their passion and willing to pay large sums for the rarities. As well as the particularly old prams, this might include the one-offs Graham and Alison have made, such as a ‘gold’ pram for Harrods and, more recently, a pram decorated in red, white and blue with ‘diamonds’ to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.
However, both Graham and Alison prefer their prams to be used, and say you can get them in most cars if you take them off the chassis, which is relatively easy because they hang by straps.
For instance, their first grandaughter Tamsin travelled in style in a 1950s restored Millson’s pram, the choice of Royalty. Their second grandchild, Ashleigh, spent her early months in a specially commissioned white and black Marmet pram.
Graham says: “People say Silver Cross were the Rolls Royce of prams, but I think they were more the BMC because they were mass produced. Although the prams are okay and do the job, they haven’t quite got the quality these other prams have.”
What all their prams have in common though is the quality workmanship that has ensured their survival, unlike the modern ‘buggy’. Graham says admiringly: “It gives you an idea of the coach builder’s craft in those days. They are like pieces of old furniture.”