We are very grateful to the ever energetic Janet Cross for letting us have her account of how these fantastic garments came to be. Janet is truly inspirational and seems as active today as she has ever been.
It is so satisfying to see that Ri-Dry is still going strong, as indeed I am at nearly 83 years old! This is a truncated history of how I started this business and a few of the anecdotes encountered along the way.
I was a busy farmer's wife with two small sons and the boys and I hunted with the Devon and Somerset Staghounds. Luckily for me Farmers' Friend in Exeter did not have a white riding mac in my size when I went to buy one. I was just leaving, saying I would look back at a later date, when a man came in carrying a large box. He dumped it down on the floor and said that if I wanted something waterproof I ought to have once of these, pointing at the box. I looked inside and saw green pvc, more commonly called plastic, macs.
I followed him outside and asked if he made the macs. He could get them made he said. Would he make a special pattern for me to test? He would if I could send him the pattern.
Two green plastic macs, made to the exact pattern as the old-fashioned white ones, were delivered and I and a friend wore them at the next rainy day meet. We both asked our friends if they would like one of the macs we were wearing. A few rebellious types said they would. I say rebellious because in those days, early 1980s, it was unheard of to wear a mac when out with the posh hunts and not many did with the less smart hunts.
Taking the bull by the horn, I ordered 100 macs in three different sizes. Then one day Maurice Scott, a joint master, asked if I could get the macs in red. I said I could. Next, I had them also made in black and navy blue.
My hunter was Granite a 16.2 grey which had belonged to the much loved previous master, Bob Nanckivell. I like to turn my horses out for a bite of grass and roll and was spending most evenings scraping the mud off Granite's neck from above my head.
Thinking there must be a better way I began experimenting with various materials to make a hood to cover his neck and head and attach safely to his New Zealand rug. Baby-Gro, bathing costume material, bra material and tights all proved no good as ladders soon appeared.
I went to the Heathcoat factory shop in Tiverton, experimented with some white material on an end of line roll and found that ideal. I bought the roll for £200. After rigorous testing on Granite I decided the hood was exactly what loads of horse owners would like so put an ad in Horse and Hound. Would-be entrepreneurs take note - DO YOUR HOMEWORK. I plucked a price out of the air vaguely based on the £200 for 100 metre roll, found out the current P&P charge for the weight of a hood and waited for the money to roll in, which it did.
I was making the hoods in only 3 sizes, cutting them out on the kitchen table and sewing them up with my small Elna machine. It is so long ago that I cannot remember how I attached the hood to the NZ rug. When I went to post the first few that |I had sold it was worrying to be told that postage prices had gone up that week.
I decided I could not sell the hoods as white so bought a load of brown dye and dyed them, 9 at a time, in my domestic washing machine. I set the alarm through the night so I could keep up with orders.
When I went to Heathcoats for more material I was reminded that I had bought the end of the line and they were not making it any more!
Eventually I got the production of the hoods sorted but conservative horse owners at Shows used to walk past my plastic horse head encased in a hood and loudly proclaim that their horses "wouldn't be seen dead in one of those!" Slowly they came round and after about 5 years the tune changed to: "Oh! there's the hood. You must get one they save so much time." By then trainers as well known as David Nicholson and Henrietta Knight had very kindly endorsed my hood, which fact appeared in my leaflet.
I was selling the hoods well and the macs were taking off. I rang Frank Weldon to see if I could get a stand at Badminton. He explained that there was a very long waiting list but he would add me to that. Before ringing off I explained that I did not sell 'normal' thing's, but all was unique to me and horse orientated. Once I had told him what they were he said he would 'see what he could do' as my goods were the sort of thing they liked to have at Badminton.
A few hours later the phone rang and I was told that they were expanding the trade stand area to a leg behind the grand stand and I could have a 12' square space. Panic! and more panic! I had to twist my suppliers' arms to get stock made and find a suitable stand, all in a few weeks.
Mission achieved and I was at the back of my stand, seeing a mac fitted a potential client, when a friend of mine who was actually a guest staying in Badminton house, put her head round the curtain to say she had a customer - Master, the Duke of Beaufort! He bought a mac and asked me how I was doing. I explained that it was marvellous to have got into Badminton, but my position in the new 'leg' was rather like being in rural Devon instead of Piccadilly Circus! He looked around at the few customers milling around this area, said he would see what he could do and off they went. Next year I found myself in 'Piccadilly', in the inner circle of the main shopping area.
What really put the macs on the map was to do with god - Captain Ronnie Wallace, Chairman of Master of Foxhounds Association and a stickler for protocol as well as being a brilliant huntsman. He was referred to as 'god' throughout the hunting world. I had met him on a few occasions when he came down from the Heythrop with his hounds each spring. The first time was when I was sitting on Granite on Hawkchurch ridge listening to hounds in the valley. Ronnie came over to me and said he had not seen me out before. I explained that I had only just taken up hunting again after a long break.
"Good God, what on earth were you doing?" Hunting to him was his life. I had lived abroad for 4 years, got married, had a family and latterly enjoyed a few years beating with my gun dog.
Anyhow one day I was at my stand at Exford Show when Ronnie came past. Cheekily I said that I had something that might interest him.
"Hm, what's that?" I showed him the plastic red macs expecting him to explode. After a few minutes looking at them he asked if I could take some to show him one day. I did and the result was that macs were now OK to hunt in - even plastic ones! I was allowed to say that, as hunt coats were so expensive it made sense to preserve them by wearing a Ri-Dry mac on wet days.
When Masters from America came to stay at his home at Mounsey I often was asked to dinner to meet them and many came to my home to buy a mac. The Americans always wanted their macs to be made with Hunt collars. These were often piped around the edge with a second colour which caused a bit of a problem, overcome of course.
One day Ronnie and I decided that my leaflet needed a good picture of the Exmoor Hunt all wearing their macs - the masters and staff in red, the second horse boys in black and a couple of the field in a green one.
It was decided the shoot would be at a meet at Moles Chamber and I booked a first class photographer to be there. The day dawned - clear blue skies with a hard frost! I rang Ronnie to cancel the event but he said: "You have booked the photographer specially haven't you?"
"Yes" I replied. "Then we'll go".
It is a lovely photograph developed on canvas and looks like a superb oil painting. It is framed and takes pride of place in my study. My leaflet took on a new look with this on the back.
On the back cover of the authorised version of Ronnie's biography written by Robin Rhoderick-Jones there is a photograph of Ronnie sitting on his horse, wearing a red Ri-Dry mac, blowing his horn. Underneath is written: "Let the Trumpet of GOD Sound High". Ronnie gave me a copy of the book and inside he had written: For Janet Cross. What about the picture on the back?! Thank you for all your efforts to keep us dry on Exmoor. Not to forget the famous photograph of all the Ridrys and the sky a brilliant blue! Ronnie Wallace".
I have been told how teased he was when his friends came down to Exmoor to hunt with the foxhounds. Remarks such as "Good God Ronnie, what are you doing galloping over Exmoor in a plastic mac?!" He and Rosie could not have been kinder to me.
The firm who had made the first batch of macs insisted on me giving them huge orders which I just could not contemplate so I went to see Remploy in Bournemouth. I toured the factory and was hopeful but unfortunately they were about to shut down so did not want begin a new line. That night Sylvia Messenger rang. She was a foreman at Remploy. I had not met her but she had seen me. She her husband Derek decided that they could make my macs at their home if that would help. What a godsend they were. They continued to make my macs until eventually new waterproof materials were developed which could breathe.
I immediately had a few macs made in Aquatex and tested them. They were also machine washable. The price of these super macs as I called them almost trebled but they sold really well. Most people did find the plastic ones, although totally waterproof, made you very hot inside and were glad to be able to change; Captain Wallace never did.
The construction of the macs had to change as all seams had to be hot air taped. This was done with a machine that cost over £6,000 which I could not justify buying. I rang up the manufacturers of the machine to see if any one in the West Country used them. One was in Plymouth and another in Exeter. I rang David Ross at his business Arktis in Exeter to see if he would be able to sub-contract the taping for me. After looking at the mac and pointing out how the pattern would have to change a bit, he took on the job. Several years latter his wife tragically died and several years after that he and I got married in 1995.
By now I was going to all the big Events and had got my act together. What you younger readers of this will have to realise is that businesses did not have websites and all advertising had to be in all the horsey magazines, with quite a lot of expensive space needed for a full postal address and phone number, a description of what you were selling with a clear picture. This was expensive but editors were very good to me and often gave me a good write-up to go with the ad.
To-day, I would just need a small space for my logo, website url and a few words and customers would look on that to see what I had for sale. They would probably send it to connections via Facebook and Twitter and no other advertising would be needed. AS it was I spent all but my living expenses on getting my new ideas known.
One day I was out to lunch and introduced to Linda Jones as Janet Cross of Ri-Dry. She said how she liked the products so I immediately asked her if she would like to run it!
That was really the end of my involvement with the business which I had started in 1980 with £200 and a Horse and Hound advert!