The Leather Trade

Many cattle were brought to Moretonhampstead for processing. The hides were first prepared by the fellmonger who did the first stages of preparation, perhaps soaking them in pits of slaked lime (hence Lime Street?) to remove the hair, and then they were usually tanned by long soaking in a bath containing oak bark (obtained locally) which provides tannin to toughen the leather and also to provide a brown colour. Alternatively, instead of tanning, 'white leather' might be produced by treatment with alum or other ingredients - this was the speciality of the tawyer. The final dressing might be done by the currier, who worked the hide to make it more supple and to provide the texture required by the customer, whether saddler or maker of fine shoes (a cordwainer was a worker in fine leather). The Universal Directory of 1793 lists the following men in these trades in Moreton:

In the early 1800s the White family (Edward and his sons Thomas and Edward) were prominent - they were farmers but also tanners, employing 4 men and a boy in the tannery in 1851, and they acquired substantial wealth: Thomas's brother was the solicitor William White and the daughters married well (see family history). They lived at the top of Ford Street (sometimes called Market Street, where Moreton House is now). In Ford Street in 1841-71 we also find three families of curriers (James Neck, James Aggett and Samuel Passmore) and the Wotton family, who were tawers and fellmongers, with several saddlers, harness- makers and shoemakers close by. Several people living in Ford Street also describe themselves as cattle dealers and butchers. George Bragg, who lived at Forder House, was a tanner in 1820-1830 and also apparently did well; the next generation of his family became well-to-do solicitors. Another tanner was Nosworthy of Steward Wood; like John Germon of Leign (see below) he probably used oak bark from his own trees. Treleaven's Diary, in the period 1799-1808, mentions all the same trades and some of the same people, with more detail about some of them.

In September 1800, under a new regulation, Mr Passmore (currier) and George Norrish (cordwainer) were appointed Examiners of Hides and Skins, for which they took a fee of 1d for every hide and 1/2d for each skin. In 1803 Richard Tallamy and Richard Heard, shoemakers, were appointed to the same task..

The patron saint of shoemakers was St Crispin, and on October 25th 1802 they celebrated with supper and plenty of brown stout in the Red Lion. Later John Austin senior, one of the party, was 'seized in the palsy'. A similar feast is reported on Oct. 24th 1803: 'Mon. Oct. 24th 1803. Mr. Richard Tallamy, and Mr. Richard Heard, Shoemakers, sworn by the Portreeve examiners of raw hides and skins for the year ensuing, and this evening the Crafts had a great Eat at the Red Lion, in honour of their St.'

In December 1802 a quantity of leather to the value of £20 was stolen from the drying loft at Leign belonging to Mr John Germon, a tanner. The drying of oak bark was the cause of a serious fire in Lime Street. Treleaven records that 'Between ten and eleven o'clock P.M. we were alarmed by the ringing of the fire bell, & a cry of fire, on enquiry found it to be a small house at Nod belonging to Mr John Neck, and in about an hour it was quite burnt down, it was occasioned by filling in the house with oak-bark, wherein he had made fire in the morning for the purpose of drying bark, but had not carefully extinguishing the coals which remained in the ashes. Great praise is due to the Officers commanding the Volunteers now on permanent duty here for their readiness in affording every assistance in their power. The drums beat to arms and the men turned out with the greatest alacrity, and for half an hour the town appeared in great confusion, but fortunately the damage done was not very considerable.'



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