Tanners
By Anonymous artist  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
A tanner processed hides and skins into leather. The hair was scraped off after loosening with lime and sulphide; after this the skin was soaked in vegetable extracts such as oak bark. Once dry the hide was in a preserved state, which could then be passed on to curriers, who would soften it with oils, fats and waxes. The leather was then ready to be made into shoes, harness and leather goods.
http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/index.html - Accessed 3-2-2016
'No person shall tan leather, or have gain by tanning of leather, except such as shall be brought up as apprentices or hired servants seven years in tanning leather, and except the wife and such sons of a tanner as have used tanning of leather four years, or the son or daughter of a tanner, or such person who shall marry such wife or daughter, to whom he shall leave a tan-house and fats; upon pain of forfeiture of all leather by them tanned, or whereof they shall receive any profit by tanning, or the value thereof...

No person, which shall use tanning leather, shall suffer any hide or skin to lie in the limes till the same be over-limed, nor shall put any hides or skins into tan-fats, before the lime be well sokened and wrought out; nor shall any use any stuff in the workmanship or tanning of leather, but only ash-bark, oak-bark, tapwort, malt, meal, lime, culver-dung or hen-dung, nor shall willingly suffer his leather to be laid or to hang or to lie wet in any frost, until the same be frozen, nor shall dry or parch leather with fire or summer sun... '
An abridgment of the Publick statutes in forcde and use since Magna Charta in the nineth year of King Edward III to the eleventh year of his present Majesty King George II, John Cat, vol I, London, 1739, pp x, xi


In 1525 John Prideaux, tanner, was in debt to Thomas Seymour; presumably the same John Predeax who was in debt to John Elyot of Charleton the following year.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk refs C 131/108/3 and C 241/278/1


In 1598 Ellis Coake of Ashburton, a tanner, claimed that Leonard Miller of Ashburton and Christina Kellye, widow had withheld  bequests made to him in the wills of his parents.

National Archives C 2/Eliz/C16/13

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk - Accessed 6-1-2014

In a legal action concerning the market in 1630 between, amongst others, Thos. Prideaux and Thos. Ford,* Nicholas ffabyan of Ashburton, tanner, made a statement about the 'pillory, cage or prison house', and the stocks.

*Quoted byJ S Amery in his Presidential Address to the Devonshire Association.
Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Assocation, vol 56, Plymouth 1925, p72

Mr Amery gives a reference of 6th Charles 1 (1630), and says the action was in the Exchequer. It seems likely to be linked to the document from the following year in the National Archives, 'Accounts of the profits of the market, Prideaux and Harris v. Ford and Others.' 7 Charles 1 ref E 178/5236
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk

 Occupations in Ashburton PCC wills

John Dolbeare, tanner, February 1611


In 1615 Thomas Dolbere, tanner, was one of the defendants in proceedings in Star Chamber. The case, brought by Thomas Adiscott, involved the alleged suppression of a will, assault, theft and falsification of documents.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk ref STAC 8/35/20


See Wills, under People and Properties for a draft will of Thomas Harris of Ashburton, dated 26th June 1619. Named in it is his wife Johanna, his sons Barnard, Thomas and Nicholas, and daughters Johanna, Mary and Agnes. Agnes is the wife of George Knollings.

1624 Barnard Harris of Aishberton, tanner and Thomas Harris the younger, tanner, brother of Barnard were involved in a settlekment of a 'moiety of a great close of land called Chewley Park', where the consideration was £135.

Ten years later a 'Declaration of the Uses of a Recovery'* was made concerning lands and meadows called Chewly Parke. Peter Gawde of Aishberton, tanner, John Ogier of Aishberton, blacksmith and Nicholas Harris of Aishberton, tanner, were involved.

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk South West Heritage Trust refs 48/14/68/1 and 48/14/68/2

* As I understand it, this was where those involved in a land transaction colluded in a fake lawsuit to ensure that the land was free from restrictions imposed by wills, settlements etc.

https://www.nottingham.ac.uk/manuscriptsandspecialcollections/researchguidance/deedsindepth/freehold/commonrecovery.aspx - Accessed 5-2-2106


1637 Epitaph within the church for Thomas Harris, died September 30th:

'Fear not to die;

Learn this of me,

No ills in death,

If good thou be.'

'H.H.' writing in Notes and Queries, A Medium of Communication between Literary Men, Artists, Antiquaries, Genealogists etc. vol 6, July-December 1852, London, p468


The epitaph is in fact on a granite slab outside the church, on the ground in front of the West door. Thomas Harris died on September 30th 1637, and his son, Nicholas, who is also commemorated, died on 10th October 1669.

Right and below: The memorial slab to Thomas Harris, tanner, and his son Nicholas, tanner.
My own photographs 2017

Robert Prowse and John Dolbear were ordered to keep the peace in 1639. Both were tanners of Ashburton

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk South West Heritage Trust ref 133Z-0/Q/20


The will of Nicholas Harris, tanner of Aishberton, was proved in the court of the Dean and Chapter of Exeter in 1670.
He left messuages in North Streete and East Streete and 3 closes of land called Longabrendon.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk South West Heritage Trust ref  48/14/68/7

1717 'A petition of the tanners, leather-dressers and cutters of leather, in the town and borough of Tot_ness as also of the town and borough of Ashburton, both in Devon, on behalf of themselves and others was presented to the House and read; setting forth that vast quantities of oak-bark had been exported from this part of the kingdom into Ireland, where there is no duty on hides, to the great discouragement of the petitioners; and for the better preventing the gathing of hides and skins in the flaying, a law was made against the same; but the forfeitures therein are so inconsiderable that it is in a manner ineffectual; and by another statute, the engrossing of oaken bark to fell again is forbid; but by the art of some people those laws are made of no effect: and praying the the exportation of bark may be prohibited.
Ordered, that the said petition do lie upon the table.'
Journals of the House of Commons, August 1714- September 1718, reprinted 1803, p702,703

1748. At the Court Leet and Baron the searchers and Sealers of Leather in 1748 presented William Hern for 'Selling of leather unsearched and unsealed', an offence which he was to repeat in 1751 and 1762.
Court Entries of Ashburton 1747-1803, Hamlyn Parsons, Report and Transactions of the Devonshire Association, vol 87, Crediton 1955, p245

In 1750 Jno Teddey, his son Thomas Teddey and Philip Bennett were also presented at court for 'Washing skins above the town' - they may have been tanners.
ibid

1760 Amongst the bastardly bonds held in the accounts of the overseers of the St Thomas Union is one concerning Ann Coles and William Herne, tanner. Both were from Ashburton.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk South West Heritage Trust ref
1481A/PO 692/8

William Hern and son, tanners
William White, tanner
Trades and Professions from the Universal British Directory of Trade, Commerce and Manufacture, Vol 2, late 1700s

November 5th 1795 'A method of tanning leather without oak-bark, discovered and proved by William White, tanner, of Ashburton, Devon.
I have tanned several hides and calves skins (these three years past) with oak leaves only, and have found that the leather is tanned quicker, weighs as well, and answers for wear in all respects as well as if tanned with oak-bark...Bark being now so very dear, the above discovery must be of some benefit to tanners. The expense of drying the bark by fire, and pounding and sifting it, is considerable; whereas the expense is saved by using the leaves. The felling of coppices so young as fourteen years growth hath for several years past reduced the quality and quantity of oak-bark very much; therefore I suppose the above discovery will be of public utility...'

8 tanners and dressers of leather added their support - many are local names, but they may not have been from Ashburton: William Herr; John Windeatt; George Ley; Tho. Bickford; Edward Langman; Richard Maye; William Bickford; William Batten
Letters and papers on agriculture, planting etc. selected from the correspondence of the Bath and West of England Society, vol 8, Bath, 1796, p84

Old Maps Online has an 1803 map of Dartmoor, Devon, which shows tanyards at Chewley
http://www.oldmapsonline.org - Accessed 4-2-2016


The will of Samuel Tozer, tanner of Ashburton, was proved in the Court of Ely in 1807
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, ref IR 26/333/266, Sept 11th 1807

1810 Amongst the bankrupts listed in the Bristol Mirror was John Ellis of Ashburton, tanner.
Bristol Mirror 3 November 1810, p4 col5

In 1811 John Higgins of Ashburton, tanner, was involved in the lease of two fields called Hemphy and Splatt (in Ashburton?)

http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk South West Heritage Trust, part of the Torquay Natural History collection ref 48/14/68/23

Bristol Record Office holds an 1813 marriage settlement concerning Lavington Evans, tanner of Ashburton, who is betrothed to Mary Sparke, also of Ashburton.
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk, Bristol Record Office ref
14152/73, Jan 4th 1813

1816 'At Totnes, Ashburton and Moretonhampstead there are several tawers*, who prepare large quantities of goods.'
Review of the mercantile, trading and manufacturing state, interests and capabilities of the Port of Plymouth, William Burt, Plymouth, 1816 p249

* Made white leather. http://rmhh.co.uk/occup/t.html - Accessed 3-2-2016

Pigot's Directory 1822-23 lists 4 tanners in Ashburton: Lavington Evans in North Street, John Higgins in St Lawrence Street, John Vere Mann in East Street and John Rendle at Old Mill.

Pigot's Directory of Cornwall and Devon 1822-23


In 1827 The Exeter Alfred reported 'A destructive fire' at Ashburton. It started in Mr. Caunter's factory - the whole building and stock was lost, together with a dwelling house alongside. Mr Mann's tan-yard and part of Mr Hern's tan-yard were also destroyed - a total of £12,000 damage.

Exeter Alfred, reported in Palmer's Index to The Times, 5 July 1827, p2 col6

Mr J Mann, tanner, died as the result of an unfortunate accident in March 1834. He was walking along the banks of the Exeter Basin when he fell backwards into the water. The alarm was raised and he was soon retrieved from the water and taken to the House of Reception near the lime kilns. Despite efforts to save him, 'the vital spark had fled.'

Taunton Courier and Western Advertiser 19 March 1834 p4, col3

James Parker Evans, a tanner of Ashburton, gave evidence in the trial of William Barnes, accused of stealing wool.

Western Times 27 February 1841, p3 col5

Indenture between John Rendell, tanner, of the first part, assigning all his freehold, leasehold and personal property to various people of the second and third parts in trust for all his creditors.

London Gazette Issue 20924 8 December 1848, p4489

Later that month Mr Edward Sawdye was advertising a peremptory sale by auction, by the direction of the assignees and mortgagees of the estate of Mr John Rendell. The premises were the Old Mill, and consisted of a tan-yard, drying lofts, a bark barn, sheds, a dwelling house and 5 nearby cottages. 300 hides could be dried in the drying lofts, and the bark barn could hold 100 tons of bark. The house had two parlours, two kitchens and eight bedrooms, and there was nearby stabling for 14 horses.
Western Times 16 December 1848, p1 col3

In 1851 John Rendell, tanner, is one of many occupants of premises called Old Mill. It lies between Chuley House and the Old Totnes Road.
1851 census HO 107, piece no. 1871, folio 359, p2

In November 1852 John Hern, yeoman, married Caroline Susanna Restalic at Ashburton parish church. John's father was William Hern, tanner.
Parish records

Mr Evans, tanner, was selling two bark mills in 1854, one of them with a poweful horse pump. He was also selling two stoves, with pipes for drying leather.
Western Times 8 July 1854 p4 col5

1856 Mr Pinsent Ware of Kingsteignton was letting a tan-yard in Ashburton. Called Old Mill, it had a dwelling house, drying loft, bark barn and water pit. It had 5 lime and 83 tan pits under cover. 800 hides could be dried in the drying loft, and the lifting pumps had a constant supply of water.

Exeter Flying Post 5 June 1856

The 1861 census shows 84 year old Christopher Benton as formerly a tanner. William Whiddon is a tanner, and John Bowden a tanner's labourer. Elizabeth Rendell is a tanner's widow.
William Whiddon is one of a large number of people living in Browses Buildings - which appear to be in the vicinity of Bowling Green and Heavyhead Lane.
On the same census Joseph Aggett is a master currier living in East Street. 
75 year old James Doil is a currier lodging in West Street.
http://www.freecen.org.uk/

In 1864 Mr Aggett, of Ashburton, was selling his currier and leather cutter's business. He advertised commodious premises at a reasonable rent. He had been in business for 23 years.
Western Times 23 December 1864, p1 col1

1876 'Small yards are gradually becoming extinct throughout the country, and within a few years some scores have been closed. A village in Wiltshire had seven tanneries at work; now it has only one. At Ashburton, in Devonshire, there were five at work, and they are now all closed.'*
Journal of the Royal Society of Arts, vol 24, p217
*However tanning was still going on after this date - see items below.

 
The 1890s.
'When quite young my mother had a serious illness and I well remember that she had to be kept very quiet, and what we then called tan was spread over the road for some distance outside the shop to deaden the sound of horses and horse vehicles. This tan was actually the bark after the tanners had finished with it.'
The memories of Reg Andrews, born 1893. See Growing up in the 1890s.

A note in Indigo in the Arab World says that the author had a conversation with Wilf Joint of Ashburton in the 1990s, where Wilf remembered dog turds being used by leather tanners.
Indigo in the Arab World, Jenny Balfour-Paul, Routledge, London and New York, 1997, reprinted 2004, p 215, Note 59