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leather shapes leather shapes




Early man

Use of raw hide.

Preservation with fats, brains and wood smoke, a method still used by some.

Tanning with an infusion of tannin-containing barks, leaves, twigs and fruits of certain trees and plants.

Palaeolithic cave paintings discovered near Lerida in Spain depict the use of leather clothing.


40,000 BC
(Middle Palaeolithic)

Traces of organic materials on stone tools found in the Ukraine suggest they may have been used used for scraping animal skins clean. The skins could have been used for clothing or shelter.


10,000 BC
(Upper Palaeolithic)

Pointed flint tools have been found which may been used for punching holes in skin. The teeth in a Neanderthal skull found in France had a wear pattern which matches that of more recent Eskimos who chewed leather to soften it.

Excavation of Palaeolithic sites has yielded bone tools used for scraping hides and skins to remove hair. Their shape is similar to modern tools used for the same purpose.


5,300 years ago

In 1991 the body of a bronze age hunter was found in the Alps. His fairly elaborate shoes were made from various materials including bear and deer skin. The body is on display at the South Tyrol Museum of Archaeology,


Ancient Egypt

Wall paintings and artefacts found in excavated tombs show that leather was used for sandals, clothes, gloves, buckets, bottles, shrouds for burying the dead and for military equipment.


Ancient Greece

The ancient Greeks were users of leather. References to leather can be found in the works of Homer.


8th Century BC


According to Homer, the god Ailos gave Odysseus a leather bag filled with storm winds to help him reach Ithaca. The Odyssey was composed in the 8th century BC, and is set in the time of the Trojan War from 1194 to 1184 BC.

From around the same time as Homer, leather scrolls have been found with translations of Babylonian texts into Aramaic and Greek.


Roman Empire


Widespread use of leather for footwear, clothes, military equipment including shields, saddles and harnesses. Excavation of Roman sites in Great Britain has yielded large quantities of leather articles including footwear and clothing.

The Romans brought leather manufacture to Britain.


Ancient Britain

The ancient Britons used leather for footwear, clothing, bags and for the hulls of early boats called coracles made waterproof using black pitch, applied hot.


Medieval era


Most towns and villages had a tannery, situated on a stream or river which they used as a source of water for processing and as a source of power for water-wheel-driven machines. In some cases these tanneries live on in street names like Tanner Street.

Footwear of the Middle Ages


7th Century AD

The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the oldest surviving documents in the English language were written on vellum by monks on Holy Island, Northumberland.


8th Century AD 

On the arrival of the Moors in Cordoba, in Southern Spain, two great industries are established, silver and leather.


9th Century AD  

"Well known are the skins that arrive white as snow and then leave here, tanned red, bearing your name, Cordoba". Theodulfi Carmina poem.


11th Century  AD

Knowledge of tanning has spread beyond Cordoba and into Europe. Three tanning processes exist A) the oil process or chamoising; B) the mineral (alum) process or tawing; C) the vegetable process or tanning.



Marco Polo broadcasts the quality of Russian Leather, including noting the aroma from the birch-bark.



The Cordwainers Company of London received Ordinances, and their first Charter in 1439. They worked in Cordoba goatskin leather and later made shoes, leather bottles, and harness.

The Saddlers Company of London received its first Charter, although it is believed to have its origins in earlier Anglo-Saxon times. The Saddlers Company was then incorporated in 1395.



Birth of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose surname comes from the French chausseur, meaning "shoemaker". The family's financial success came from involvement in wine and leather.



The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers are granted articles for the regulation of their craft during Richard (Dick) Whittington's reign as Lord Mayor of London.



The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers received their first Chapter of Incorporation from King Henry VI.




Birth of William Shakespeare, to John Shakespeare, a glove maker and wool merchant.

Hor: "Is not parchment made of sheep-skins?" Ham: "Ay, my lord, and of calf-skins too." (Hamlet, act V, scene I). Originally parchment came from sheep-skins and vellum from calf-skins. Both were used in Europe throughout the Middle Ages.



Two strangers, Roger Heuxtenbury and Bartholomew Verberick were granted a seven years' monopoly patent in England for the manufacture of "Spanish or beyond sea leather" on the condition that the patentees should employ one native apprentice for every foreigner in their service. The supervision of this was entrusted to the "Wardens of the Company of Leathersellers in London". From "Leather for Libraries" by Hulme and others, 1905. This is important as it implies that the process was new to England. The tannage being introduced was sumach tanning from Spain, which had been developed in Cordoba. It was also important as later there was a view that oak tanning was the only vegetable tannage used in the UK. See also 1584.



John Shakespeare, the father of William Shakespeare was a "whittaner" - a worker of kid, dog and deerskin. At the family home in Stratford on Avon, a room is dedicated to showing the work he did in it to tan leather and make gloves. Nearby Woodstock was a centre of glove making, on account of the plentiful supply of deerskins. Shakespeare was himself born in 1564. His father who was a tanner and wool merchant was also sometimes money-lender. The year 1570 is memorable as in this year he was charged with money lending at illegally high rates.



The Punchmakers join the Leathersellers Company.



Queen Elizabeth of England settled her doctor's bills by granting one of her physicians, a Spanish Jew by the name of Roderigo Lopez, an exclusive license to import sumach and aniseed for ten years. This is revealed in Leather for Libraries by Hulme, Parker, Seymour-Jones, Davenport and Williamson, 1905. Dr Lopez was also a translator for the Portuguese pretender, Don Antonio, when he visited the UK. As a result of some misunderstanding Lopez joined a conspiracy nominally against Antonio but actually directed against the Queen. Consequently Roderigo Lopez was executed at Tyburn in 1594. Shakespeare based the character Shylock on Roderigo Lopez.


1563 and

The Leather Acts. English parliamentary laws were passed which stipulated, amongst other things, that leather intended for the outer soles of shoes should be tanned for at least a year and other shoe leather for at least nine months. By the Act of 1563 curriers were forbidden to buy leather (shoemakers were intended to buy crust from tanners and take it to curriers for processing for them). The shoemakers had first asked for this and obtained legislative support for it in 1548. The Company of Cordwainers and the Company of Curriers lobbied heavily on this issue but the Curriers were unsuccessful, although between 1548 and 1563 five acts alternately allowing and prohibiting curriers from dealing in leather. The shoemakers had the upper hand in 1563 and the curriers were not successful in getting a further change in the act, although a number of them did obtain a license in 1567 allowing them to buy leather.

In the 1604 Charter of the Leathersellers' Company "Spanish leather and other leathers dressed or wrought in sumach or bark" are mentioned.


18th/19th Century

The industrial revolution created demand for new kinds of leathers such as belting leathers to drive machinery and leathers for diaphragms and washers.

Sir Humphrey Davy elected President of the Royal Society. Most famous for his invention of the safety lamp for miners, Sir Humphrey (knighted in 1812) also did considerable research in tanning, particularly related to the use of gambier. "A special study of tanning: he found catechu, the extract of a tropical plant, as effective as and cheaper than the usual oak extracts, and his published account was long used as a tanner's guide." The work of Sir Humphrey was published in 1805 and showed that mimosa, chestnut, and hemlock amongst others could be used in addition to oak. This greatly aided the development and expansion of the American tanning industry.

William Henry Perkins discovered the first synthetic dye "mauve" and created the basis of dyestuff manufacture from coal tar products. He had actually been trying to synthesize artificial quinine. The dye went on sale in 1857, and started a fashion craze for the colour in France and the UK. His father was a leather merchant.

First serious marketing of chrome tanned leather under the brand name "Surpass" by Booth and Company in a joint venture with J.P.Mathieu of Philadelphia USA.


Late 19th Century

The demand for softer, lightweight footwear and a general rise in the standard of living created a demand for soft, supple, colourful leather. The traditional vegetable tanned leather was too hard and thick for these requirements and thus the use of chromium salts was adopted and chrome tanning became the norm for modern footwear and fashion leathers.



With 95 leather companies, of which 65 are saddlery manufacturers, Walsall has greatest concentration of saddle makers in the world.



At a celebration in Northampton in June 2011 the Museum of Leathercraft exhibitions in Abington Museum Northampton were opened to the public. Hopefully the start of getting all the items on show,



Emirates' First Class and Business Class customers are now being offered bespoke, state of the art transfer shuttles each carrying Muirhead's low carbon leather.

With an investment of over 12.5 million, the custom-built transfer shuttles will transport First Class and Business Class customers to and from their departure gates, if a flight arrives or departs away from the terminal at Dubai International airport.

Over 600 hides of Muirhead's Ingleston Grey and Ingleston Portland Grey were specified for the use of the shuttles and mirror what is currently fitted within the Emirates aircrafts.



Muirhead leather selected again by Virgin Atlantic.

Muirhead has been selected to supply its world leading high performance low carbon leather to a new UK domestic fleet from Virgin Atlantic.

Northampton is the fastest-climbing university in UK rankings.

The main centre for teaching leather technology in the UK, the University of Northampton, (Here) was named as the "highest climber" in UK university rankings, jumping 39 places from the 2012 list.


Claytons of Chesterfield agree to buy Sedgwicks tannery of Walsall, both in England.

Click for Turk's-head knot

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leather shapes leather shapes