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They say that tanneries have always needed to be near a source of good water, but there must have been something special in the water back in 1840. In just the last four weeks, I have been involved in two major celebrations for tanneries that have been in continuous existence for 175 years.
Both Muirheads of Glasgow in Scotland and Claytons of Chesterfield in England are to be congratulated on such a fine achievement. The impetus to start a new tanning business in 1840 came, of course, from the industrial revolution and the demands for leather from industry and the railways. At that time society could not function without leather. Different types of leather, from industrial belting to drive the machinery through footwear for increasing numbers of city dwellers and specialist butts for textile machines, were needed for every aspect of life and industry. Understanding the changing dynamics of demand is one of the major tasks of tannery management today.
Indeed, the pressures on the tannery of today are so demanding that it is easy to overlook the past, and view it as a time of crude “craft” in a world that has now changed into one of purely scientific, precision demands. In some ways this is quite true although, increasingly, the final consumer expects to assume that the product is correct scientifically, and still delights in the aesthetic of the craftsmanship wherever the leather is to be found.
So when the Italian Carlo Levi wrote “the future has an ancient heart” he was right on many levels. Leather will always involve an amazing mix of advancing science built into a well crafted natural material. And, however old or young our tannery is, we should work hard to keep records of the past.
Historical records are more than just nostalgia. Corporate history is important in education and in marketing; properly presented it builds trust in the brand and supports the company’s roots in the communities in which it has been located. Increasingly, companies are searching their records for lost technologies (or old ones that can be updated), design ideas and inspiration.
Many of today’s great brands have placed their archives in locations where they are available for staff and scholars to have access. It is sad that the only archives in the International Museum of Leathercraft are those of tanneries which are now defunct. This should change.
Listen to the podcast here: The future has an ancient heart
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