Liv­ing Na­tional Trea­sure

Oak-bark tan­nery

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country Notebook - Pho­to­graph by Richard Can­non

Iwasn’t in­tend­ing to get into the leather busi­ness, but that’s the way things have worked out,’ muses an­drew Parr, owner of J. & F. J. Baker & Co Ltd in Coly­ton, Devon—bri­tain’s last re­main­ing oak-bark tan­nery.

Be­gin­ning each week with a fresh de­liv­ery of hairy, dirty and salted (to pre­vent pu­tri­fi­ca­tion) skins straight from the an­i­mal, Mr Parr—whose fam­ily has run the tan­nery since 1862—and his team be­gin the 12-month tan­ning process.

First, each hide is sub­merged in a se­ries of con­crete pits con­tain­ing a lime-and-wa­ter so­lu­tion, then scrubbed to re­move the hair— as demon­strated here by Roger tucker, a crafts­man with 25 years of ex­per­tise. the pelts are then washed, suspended on sticks and dipped in pro­gres­sively stronger tan­ning liquor, made rather like strong tea, by soak­ing strips of bark in cold wa­ter.

af­ter three months, the hides are taken off the sticks and laid flat, one on top of an­other in deeper pits, with a hand­ful of oak bark scat­tered be­tween each layer, where they stay for a fur­ther nine months. Fi­nally, each hide is dried, rolled, in­spected and al­lo­cated—long stretches of at­trac­tively grained leather are good for sad­dlery, whereas shoe leather should be firm and hard­wear­ing.

‘the work is painstaking, but the end re­sult is very beau­ti­ful and I’m just the lat­est in the long line to whom this knowl­edge has been passed down,’ con­cludes Mr Parr. ‘It’s cer­tainly more art than sci­ence.’ PL 01297 552282;

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