Procter is still relevant today

The Redwood Blog
Published:  10 March, 2015
Mike Redwood

Every leather Technical Director worth her or his salt in the leather industry knows about Professor Henry Richardson Procter (1848-1927) who was Professor of Leather Industries at the Yorkshire College/University of Leeds, from 1891 to 1919. Many technicians today have his Leather Chemists' Pocket Book on their shelves. 

In June of 1912 he was also made an Honorary Freeman of the Worshipful Company of Leathersellers of London. This was a fantastic honour after a much distinguished career. A dinner was held to mark the event and almost every top tanner was present along with members of the House of Lords and two Members of Parliament who had to nip out to vote in the House of Commons during the meal. The Master of Leathersellers at the event, John Pullman, gave a long talk about Professor Procter and explained the many great career opportunities he had outside of leather, yet having grown up in a tannery near Newcastle after studying chemistry in London he returned to Newcastle to set up his laboratory in E&J Richardsons. By the time I came to work at Richardsons in the 1970s his laboratory had been moved and the original we used as a staff dining room.

More importantly The Master made a great play on the fact that Procter "never sold a single one of his processes or ideas for money". The work he did on understanding the chemistry behind processes such as the then relatively new chromium tanning he shared worldwide so the whole industry could progress.

In his reply Professor Procter spoke about the need for education. "When we began to devote attention to technical education we did what was wise, we did what was good, but I cannot help thinking that in certain respects we started at the wrong end. We said to ourselves, 'now If we teach our workmen, if we teach our foremen (supervisors), if we let them know a little more about the various parts of the business, if we give them more instruction in the principles or science of the trade, and show how processes may be improved, it will be well for ourselves and our workforce.' But it is there we made the mistake. It is we, the employers, who ought to have had the teaching. It is the officers, not the privates of an army, who really are responsible for the conduct of the campaign and the skilful guidance of the operations.

"I want to impress upon our good commercial friends that in making all arrangements necessary for their business they should remember not only their own but also the scientific side, and thus take a step in the right direction. Let them keep a good look out for women/men of particular ability and make it worth their while to enter the trade and devote themselves to technical chemistry."

Good advice for today, over 100 years on.

Mike Redwood

mike@internationalleathermaker.com

Follow Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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