Posted on 07/14/2015

Photo taken on July  8, 2015

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Leather Factors
ghost sign
leather trade
Morocco Street

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Leather Factors

Leather Factors
Bermondsey, London


"Bermondsey has been for many years the principal seat of the leather manufacture in England, and derives from this circumstance a character and appearance different from those presented by any other district in London. The cause to which this localisation seems to be most correctly assigned is the existence of a series of tide-streams, which twice in every twenty-four hours supply a large quantity of water from the Thames for the use of the tanners and leather-dressers.

The skins from nearly all the sheep slaughtered in London are conveyed to a Skin Market in the western part of Bermondsey, and there sold by factors or salesmen, who act for the butchers, to the fellmongers." (A Day in the Factories, 1843)

The writer says that although each type of leather worker was employed in very different tasks, the yards and buildings in which they worked looked very much the same; they would have lived 'over the shop' or very nearby. "The surface of the court or yard is in most cases intersected by pits, or square cisterns, in which the skins are steeped during some part of the manufacturing process." Henry Mayhew wrote of "a series of closely-adjacent pits, filled to the brink with a dark chocolate-coloured, thick liquid".

Leather prepared with Sumach (extract from a tannin-rich plant grown in Hungary) Goat, a thinner hide. This became Morocco leather, which took rich dyes well and was quicker to produce. It was used for coach linings and chair covers. An inferior type, made from split sheepskin - skiver - was used for book covers, hat linings, and pocket books.

Leather prepared with Alum - kid, imitation kid (made of sheepskin) and lamb. This process was called tawing, and the finished product was used for gloves and ladies' shoes. Kid was used for better products, and imitation kid for cheaper goods.

Curriers softened the hides, parchment makers created fine filmy sheets out of split sheepskins.

Leather prepared by tanning using solution of oak bark - oxen, bulls, buffaloes, cows - the strongest hides. These leathers took the longest to soak (up to two years) and were used for the soles of shoes and for saddles.

All leatherwork created foul smells. Alum was made partly of urine, and another essential ingredient for Alum preparation was 'pure' or dog faeces! Pure gatherers would be paid to pick it up from the streets and from pedigree kennels on the outskirts of London. (A 19th century public health inspection revealed that a railway arch was used to store the stuff in, giving the immediate area a very foul smell.)

Dickens remembers the Leather Market as full of evil smells from the hides and the substances they had been processed in.
3 years ago.