Living National Treasure
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; www.jfjbaker.co.uk