Tanning and associated trades

  • Map of the extent of the business in Wheatley
  • Details of the buildings used in Wheatley
  • An example of a tanning barn, not in Wheatley.
  • General picture of bark, which was an important commodity for the tanning business, being stripped. James Robbins of College Farm records many transactions. In 1849, a load of 114cwt. was worth £2.1.0. and another, in 1855 was worth £3.6.6. We do not know for whom it was destined but the tannery opposite would have used large quantities of oak bark and could have been a customer.
  • General picture of a tanner preparing hides
Archive Notes:

It is probable that there were fellmongers here at the east end of the village for generations before John Powell and certainly until the mid-19th century. The processes connected with fellmongering required a source of water and so the stream coming through the back yards of the properties was essential. As it was a rather messy business, there was the likelihood of contamination of the water. Being at the bottom end of the village meant that this would be less of a problem.

These businesses, the extents of which are shown in yellow, used the water from the stream (blue) which ran behind the properties as shown in the image below, based on the 1910 map. It was a very significant enterprise. But, as it was a messy business with likely contamination of the water supply, it was better that it was carried on downstream of the occupied houses. The buildings on Crown Square and now 1, 2 and 3 were part of this industrial operation.

Many Crook family members appear to have been engaged in the trade, certainly from the beginning of the 19th century, but probably before. There were two Noahs of about the same age, one living 1757-1825 and the other 1763-1826. In the next generation there were George, William and James. The family were also involved in parchment making.

Large quantities of dried oak bark would be delivered to the local tannery. Here the bark’s tannin would be extracted ready for use by soaking the bark, now finely ground, in tanks filled with cold water. These tanks were called leaching pits. The tanning of raw animal hides using oak bark could take up to twelve months or more.

Before the hides could be tanned they had to be prepared. They were washed and cleaned and then placed in lime baths to loosen the hair roots and lower layers of epidermis so that both could be removed. The length of time that the hides remained in the lime baths depended on the quality of leather required. Soft shoe leather could need up to six weeks. After removal the hides were scraped clean (the job of the fellmonger) and finally placed in the pits containing the tanning liquor before being, at a later stage, hung to dry.

The buildings with High Street frontage used for the business included the following shown with their current use. The large upstairs room in Cromwell House (see record 1195) was used for drying hides, and this passed into the hands of James Slater in 1852. Roberts House (see record 1184)was originally in the single ownership of Richard Williams, who had bought it for £38 in 1752. In 1775, he advertised for two parchment makers in Jacksons Journal. These properties remained in Williams’s family until Noah Crook bought Roberts House in 1819 for £60. On his death his wife, Mary, sold it in 1836. The Congregational Chapel (without the schoolroom building to the east was previously used as a bark barn - see record 1205. The tanning business seems to have died out by the mid-1800s, William Wane is listed as a fellmonger in Robson's directory of 1839, and the brook was culverted by 1858.

Later, Avery converted the three-storey building, Roberts House which was almost certainly the tannery as these were three- or four-storey buildings with the hides drying with a throughput of air on the upper floor.

Details with text and pictures the process of tanning raw animal hides and the use of oak bark, and where this was carried on in Wheatley.

Another copy of the map at 2283.

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