The subject was Joseph Turney Wood, one of the forgotten technical stars in the history of our industry who had died in early November 1924. Wood was born in Nottingham, England, in 1865 and was apprenticed at his uncle’s, Sir John Turney, tannery while he studied chemistry at Nottingham University.

He was working at the moment Professor Procter’s work was beginning to bear fruit and they became close friends. He was one of the pioneers of the international group, along with Bough, Andreash, Parker, Hughes, Youl, Paessler, Seymour-Jones and Kathreiner who set up the first International Congress of Leather Trade Chemists, which was held in Herold College, London, in 1897. In subsequent years, he was President and Vice President of the British Section, President of the British Leather Manufacturers Research Board, and a Councillor of the Leather Industries Department of Leeds University.

Science knows no boundaries and benefits all

There was a strong argument from the subsequent annual assemblies that the International Leather Congresses served to support the brotherhood of nations at large; that “science knows no boundaries and benefits all”. It was in this spirit that Wood undertook his personal search for a better understanding of the scientific underpinnings of the complex processes of puering, bating, drenching and scudding (seen as an additional “purging” process on the grain side which needed simplification and mechanisation). Puering and bating were essentially defined as the same process with puering being for skins while bating referred to hides.

According to John Arthur Wilson’s obituary in the American Journal, Wood made careful analysis of the dung materials being used separating them into “mineral” and “organic” portions. In the mineral, he isolated a wide variety of sulphates, chlorides, carbonates and phosphates and, in the organic, he saw there was bacteria, enzymes, cellulose materials and fats. Organically, he found both peptic and tryptic enzymes among other things and concluded that trypsin might be the active agent. He also isolated from dung a species of B.coli, which was found to yield an enzyme capable of acting upon skin like trypsin.

The outcome was that artificial puering or bating materials were marketed containing pancreatin, ammonium chloride and some filling materials. A lot of European scientists began addressing the same subject, and Ettore Andreis explains how Dr Kathreiner got them all cooperating. By the start of 1901, 9,000 dozen sheepskins had been treated in Turney Bros with artificial bate they called “Erodin”, after which it was introduced universally. In 1908, Dr Röhm, in Germany, submitted the idea of “Oropon” to Wood. This built on the Wood approach but by infusing pancreas with ammonium salts was more simply applied, although it did require a preliminary bath to prevent the excessive liberation of ammonia. During the ensuing World War, Wood created Pancreol.

During his career Wood addressed other major technical matters, such as measuring acidity, and measuring swelling and depletion of skins – the rather esoteric “puerometer”. It was suggested in the talks that the development of the “profession of tannery chemists” was very much due to him.

A filthy and disgusting operation

We hear a lot about our industry being unsatisfactory because we once used dog dung. I find myself rejecting such arguments as its use was evidence of the huge importance of biotechnology, perhaps the first use of biotechnology, in industry. As soon as society began to understand the health issues associated with asking employees to handle dog faeces, people like Joseph Turney Wood dedicated themselves to changing matters. Research institutes did not exist when he began. His laboratory was in his tannery. Wood himself said that he decided, when an apprentice, that this process was not acceptable yet appeared central to achieving quality leather. “Puering (bating)”, he said “is not only a filthy and disgusting operation but is prejudicial to health, and in the nature of it is attended by more worry and trouble than all the rest of the processes in leather making put together.”

Thank goodness that Joseph Turney Wood continued his University Chemistry studies while apprenticed; and let us consider how many tanneries develop people like him among their staff? How many tanneries would consider a research laboratory?

Dr Mike Redwood

November 20, 2018

Follow Dr Mike Redwood on twitter: @michaelredwood

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