Robert Hurford was born in 1950 the son of an engineer and although his father started in architectural practice but like so many of that era the war interrupted his career.
As a teenager Robert developed a passion to become a wheelwright. He was told there would be no chance of becoming a wheelwright but his choice of course at Bristol contained rural craft element. He graduated in education and taught for two years but that role did not fulfil his desire to be involved in wheelwrighting.
On his 25th birthday, Robert started as 'manager' of Ken Potter's wheelwrights' shop, as Ken was retiring, to learn and continue the business which had been bought by a local businessman. Ken was a careful, well regarded workman and initially acted as tutor to Robert. The business grew; eventually employing 3 men. The workshop had a big throughput of wheels through the wheelwrights’ shop. Financial reward did not match effort and after the owner sold the business Robert started working on his own, which gave him the freedom to expand his interests outside the workshop. About that time he began to pursue an interest in the forgotten and unresearched techniques of medieval wheelwrights, alongside his day to day work of making vehicles and repairing and making wheels for the film industry, for museums, as well as for private individuals.
Robert has a deep aversion to poor workmanship and sharp practice. He took pleasure in design and the niceties of style and in the early eighties was asked by CoSIRA, later the Rural Development Commission, later still the Countryside Commission, to start a course in the trade. He devised a course for City and Guilds which later had NVQ added on to it. The course continued under Robert’s tutelage until 2008.
In 1997 he and co-author Liveryman John Wright published the book “Making a Wheel – How to make a traditional light English Pattern Wheel”.
In 2001 the remains of a chariot were discovered during an excavation at Wetwang in Yorkshire. It had been placed in the grave of a woman aged about 35 years some 2250 years previously. The discovery gave archaeologists an opportunity to study in detail one of these rarely found vehicles and the evidence so gathered plus the knowledge and skills of Robert enabled him to build a replica chariot. Other sources of information included notably the wooden wheel parts found in Somerset at Glastonbury Lake Village. The excavation and reconstruction featured in 'The Chariot Queen', a programme in the BBC2 'Meet the Ancestors' series.The chariot was donated to the British Museum.
Robert, a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company since 1985, was awarded The Master Wheelwright’s Award in recognition of the success and originality of the Chariot design project and the film made.
Robert has continued his fascination with restoration work and has worked for customers from Dukes both Royal and Scottish to 'dustmen of both genders'. Clients have included The National Trust, English Heritage, The British Museum, The Science Museum, Imperial War Museum, BBC, National Museum of Scotland, Madame Tussauds to name but a few. He, albeit rather nervously, made a set of wheels for a reconstruction of a 1908 world land speed record holding steam car.
He has built around 20 chariots which prompted him being asked to give lectures in such diverse places as The British Museum, and the International Museum of the Horse, Kentucky.
He is now regarded as a leading expert on chariot design and build.