Mike and Greg Rowland make wooden wheels and also repair, restore, or make all kinds of hand or horse-drawn vehicles. In 2005 their company, which supplied wheels for the movie 'Gladiator,' received a royal warrant as wheelwrights and coachbuilders by HM The Queen. They also restore military cannons and equipment.
The Rowlands live in the little town of Colyton in Devon where Mike Rowland established his wheelwright business in 1964. Greg Rowland, his son, said they're basically a two-person operation but have recently brought in a 16-year-old apprentice who's "really good." They work on and can build everything having to do with a carriage from the ground up, which is why the Rowlands get called to the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace once or twice a year to make a repair on one of the 104 carriages owned by the Queen.
Carriage construction is hard work: Premade wooden wheel (spokes and hub and wheel) are fitted with iron "tyres" pulled from fire pits. It is Mrs. Rowland's job to pour water from a green plastic watering can onto the scalding tyre as it makes contact with the wood.
"If we don't water it right away, it will create a layer of carbon and the tyre will slip," explained Greg.