The Tannery in Ivybridge

There are very few early historical records regarding the tannery in Ivybridge, but it is believed that it was in operation for the majority of the 19th century. It was located beside the corn mill in Fore Street, on land which once belonged to the ‘Royal Oak’ inn, originally the Three Tunns, the first known inn at Ivybridge. Following its demise, the land became available for other uses.

 

Documents record the sale of bark used in the tanning of hides to John Sanders in 1810. This gentleman was known to be the lessee of a newly built dwelling house in Fore Street, with a tan yard and offices. It is not known exactly how much of the complete tanning process, which converted raw hides into leather, was carried out at the facility in Ivybridge. Parts of the process required substantial quantities of water, so both a plentiful and reliable supply of water would have been factors in the choice of the site. Later records confirm that Sanders was permitted to share the water from the leat, that for centuries had powered the neighbouring corn mill, but it would appear the arrangement was the source of friction between the two operations over the years.

 

In the early nineteenth century villages typically had their own tannery, using raw hides from local slaughterhouses and butchers. These hides were tanned using principally oak bark. There was an abundance of oak trees to be found locally on the Blachford estate and Ivybridge woods. Bark was stripped from trees during the spring and summer and then dried and cut into very small pieces before soaking to produce a tanning liquor.

 

The raw hides, which had been previously processed in lime pits to remove the natural oils and hairs, were immersed vertically in tanning pits of progressively stronger tanning liquor solutions. This process would take around 3 months. The hides were then layered flat in large pits with more bark placed between each layer. They were then left for a further 9 months for an even tan to be imparted to the hide. At the end of the 12-month period the hides were transformed into leather and were ready for conversion.

 

By 1821 John Sanders was declared bankrupt and a creditor, Mr Robert Sanders, was awarded the assets of the business against outstanding loans. One can only assume that this gentleman was a relative of John given the scant amount of information. A few years later, in 1825, permission was granted for the dwelling house at the tannery to be rebuilt and this survived until the early 1990s when this area of the town centre was redeveloped. It was located on Fore Street with its entrance at the rear, approached from the main street through an arch between buildings. This arch remains today beside the current walkway to the precinct and known to the older generations as ‘Tannery Arch’.

By 1836 a new lessee was in place at the tannery, George Tattershall. It seems he was operating in partnership with John Tattershall. This arrangement lasted until 1847 when the partnership was formally dissolved.

 

Shortly after, the tannery was being listed as ‘an extensive joint stock tannery and leather manufactory’. Tattershall had found a new lessee in the ‘Devon and Cornwall Tanning and Leather Company’ managed by William Carkeet with the process ‘licensed under Dr. Turnbull’s Patent’. This new process was alleged to be more cost effective and produced leather of a superior quality by dispensing with the use of lime in the removal of hair from the raw hides.

 

“The advantages of the leather, over every other, is that the gelatine and gluten of the skin is entirely preserved, thereby rendering the skin, after being tanned, by the patent process, entirely impervious to moisture, and as elastic as when on the animal’s back”.

 

This new company advertised that the fully operational tannery was producing 600 to 1000 Kips and Skins per week. Kips were intermediate in grade between calfskin and cowhide. Whether this enterprise proved to be successful is debatable, as by 1850 the tannery was being advertised for sale by auction:

Trewmans Exeter Flying Post 14 February 1850 records

A Superior Tan-yard, Dwelling House and Premises

To be sold by public auction at Rivers’s London Hotel, Ivybridge on Thursday the 14th day of March next by Mr Widdecombe, Auctioneer, at the hour of 2 o’clock in the afternoon precisely, and on such conditions as will be then and there read, all that DWELLING HOUSE with the Offices attached, together with the TAN YARD and PREMISES immediately adjoining situate in the village of Ivybridge, Devon, and late in the occupation of the Devon and Cornwall Leather Tanning Company.

The above Premises comprise a comfortable Dwelling House, with all necessary Offices attached, Coach house and stabling immediately adjoining and two productive Gardens. The Tan Yard which is capable of Tanning about 80 hides per week, has very extensive Drying Lofts and Bark Barns. The Yard with the exception of the lime pits is all under one cover, and the Bark Mil and Pumps are worked by Water power only, which is a feature of considerable importance, in point of economy in labour, to a property of this description; in fact it may be truly stated that it is one of the very best description of Tan Yards in the County of Devon, in respect to its general conveniences and power of tanning a large quantity of hides.

The premises are in excellent repair and the purchaser would be enabled to commence tanning business immediately.

Ivybridge is in a neighbourhood where considerable quantities of Bark are yearly offered for sale and is situate within half a mile of the South Devon Station and 10 miles of the Port of Plymouth from whence Leather can be shipped off to all parts of the United Kingdom. There is a considerable Importation annually of Foreign Hides and Bark into Plymouth with which this Tan Yard could be fully supplied at a very small cost in carriage.

The sale of the tan yard must have been successful as by 1856 the Post Office Directory records that John Head & Son were tanners at Ivybridge. Also a map of the properties in Ivybridge held by the Rogers family in 1871 records that Samuel Head was occupying just over ¾ acre of land as a tannery and tan yard. The partnership between father, John and son, Samuel was formally dissolved in 1869. Samuel Head appears in all the directories of the later 19th century, changing to Head & Son, tanners and coal merchants in 1897 as the business diversified. Old aerial views of the area clearly show the coal yard and the piles of coal.

Samuel Head was a respected member of the local community. He had lived in Ivybridge for over 50 years and served on the Local Board. He was also a Manager of the Council Schools. A prominent Wesleyan he was also a local preacher. He died in 1918 at his home at Greenbank, Ivybridge aged 82.

 

Samuel Lear Head, the next generation, continued the business, although later directories list the business only as coal merchants suggesting the tannery had ceased to operate sometime in the early 1900s.

SHead

In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry John Fice Lee, who occupied the old Holman’s paper mill which he had converted to a corn mill, went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting. Samuel Head of course had established a coal merchanting business, whilst Hawke & Co which had occupied the old Union Mill site was also listed at coal merchants although they could have taken over Head’s business as he was contemplating his move abroad.

TANNERY IN IVYBRIDGE

There are very few early historical records regarding the tannery in Ivybridge, but it is believed that it was in operation for the majority of the 19th century. It was located beside the corn mill in Fore Street, on land which once belonged to the ‘Royal Oak’ inn, originally the Three Tunns, the first known inn at Ivybridge. Following its demise, the land became available for other uses.
Documents record the sale of bark used in the tanning of hides to John Sanders in 1810. This gentleman was known to be the lessee of a newly built dwelling house in Fore Street, with a tan yard and offices. It is not known exactly how much of the complete tanning process, which converted raw hides into leather, was carried out at the facility in Ivybridge. Parts of the process required substantial quantities of water, so both a plentiful and reliable supply of water would have been factors in the choice of the site. Later records confirm that Sanders was permitted to share the water from the leat, that for centuries had powered the neighbouring corn mill, but it would appear the arrangement was the source of friction between the two operations over the years.
In the early nineteenth century villages typically had their own tannery, using raw hides from local slaughterhouses and butchers. These hides were tanned using principally oak bark. There was an abundance of oak trees to be found locally on the Blachford estate and Ivybridge woods. Bark was stripped from trees during the spring and summer and then dried and cut into very small pieces before soaking to produce a tanning liquor.
The raw hides, which had been previously processed in lime pits to remove the natural oils and hairs, were immersed vertically in tanning pits of progressively stronger tanning liquor solutions. This process would take around 3 months. The hides were then layered flat in large pits with more bark placed between each layer. They were then left for a further 9 months for an even tan to be imparted to the hide. At the end of the 12-month period the hides were transformed into leather and were ready for conversion.
By 1821 John Sanders was declared bankrupt and a creditor, Mr Robert Sanders, was awarded the assets of the business against outstanding loans. One can only assume that this gentleman was a relative of John given the scant amount of information. A few years later, in 1825, permission was granted for the dwelling house at the tannery to be rebuilt and this survived until the early 1990s when this area of the town centre was redeveloped. It was located on Fore Street with its entrance at the rear, approached from the main street through an arch between buildings. This arch remains today beside the current walkway to the precinct and known to the older generations as ‘Tannery Arch’.
By 1836 a new lessee was in place at the tannery, George Tattershall. It seems he was operating in partnership with John Tattershall. This arrangement lasted until 1847 when the partnership was formally dissolved.
Shortly after, the tannery was being listed as ‘an extensive joint stock tannery and leather manufactory’. Tattershall had found a new lessee in the ‘Devon and Cornwall Tanning and Leather Company’ managed by William Carkeet with the process ‘licensed under Dr. Turnbull’s Patent’. This new process was alleged to be more cost effective and produced leather of a superior quality by dispensing with the use of lime in the removal of hair from the raw hides.
“The advantages of the leather, over every other, is that the gelatine and gluten of the skin is entirely preserved, thereby rendering the skin, after being tanned, by the patent process, entirely impervious to moisture, and as elastic as when on the animal’s back”.
This new company advertised that the fully operational tannery was producing 600 to 1000 Kips and Skins per week. Kips were intermediate in grade between calfskin and cowhide. Whether this enterprise proved to be successful is debatable, as by 1850 the tannery was being advertised for sale by auction:
Trewmans Exeter Flying Post 14 February 1850 records

A Superior Tan-yard, Dwelling House and Premises

To be sold by public auction at Rivers’s London Hotel, Ivybridge on Thursday the 14th day of March next by Mr Widdecombe, Auctioneer, at the hour of 2 o’clock in the afternoon precisely, and on such conditions as will be then and there read, all that DWELLING HOUSE with the Offices attached, together with the TAN YARD and PREMISES immediately adjoining situate in the village of Ivybridge, Devon, and late in the occupation of the Devon and Cornwall Leather Tanning Company.

The above Premises comprise a comfortable Dwelling House, with all necessary Offices attached, Coach house and stabling immediately adjoining and two productive Gardens. The Tan Yard which is capable of Tanning about 80 hides per week, has very extensive Drying Lofts and Bark Barns. The Yard with the exception of the lime pits is all under one cover, and the Bark Mil and Pumps are worked by Water power only, which is a feature of considerable importance, in point of economy in labour, to a property of this description; in fact it may be truly stated that it is one of the very best description of Tan Yards in the County of Devon, in respect to its general conveniences and power of tanning a large quantity of hides.

The premises are in excellent repair and the purchaser would be enabled to commence tanning business immediately.

Ivybridge is in a neighbourhood where considerable quantities of Bark are yearly offered for sale and is situate within half a mile of the South Devon Station and 10 miles of the Port of Plymouth from whence Leather can be shipped off to all parts of the United Kingdom. There is a considerable Importation annually of Foreign Hides and Bark into Plymouth with which this Tan Yard could be fully supplied at a very small cost in carriage.

The sale of the tan yard must have been successful as by 1856 the Post Office Directory records that John Head & Son were tanners at Ivybridge. Also a map of the properties in Ivybridge held by the Rogers family in 1871 records that Samuel Head was occupying just over ¾ acre of land as a tannery and tan yard. The partnership between father, John and son, Samuel was formally dissolved in 1869. Samuel Head appears in all the directories of the later 19th century, changing to Head & Son, tanners and coal merchants in 1897 as the business diversified. Old aerial views of the area clearly show the coal yard and the piles of coal.
Samuel Head was a respected member of the local community. He had lived in Ivybridge for over 50 years and served on the Local Board. He was also a Manager of the Council Schools. A prominent Wesleyan he was also a local preacher. He died in 1918 at his home at Greenbank, Ivybridge aged 82.
Samuel Lear Head, the next generation, continued the business, although later directories list the business only as coal merchants suggesting the tannery had ceased to operate sometime in the early 1900s.
In 1913 it is recorded that Samuel Head emigrated to Canada and it is believed that Henry John Fice Lee, who occupied the old Holman’s paper mill which he had converted to a corn mill, went on to purchase the whole site shortly after. This included the old Union Mills, tan yard and accompanying properties, including Tannery House on Fore Street, which was to become home for his son, Sydney. The complete site became known as “Lee and Son, Ivybridge Ltd”. The acquisition of the coal yard enabled Mr Lee to diversify into coal and coke merchanting. Samuel Head of course had established a coal merchanting business, whilst Hawke & Co which had occupied the old Union Mill site was also listed at coal merchants although they could have taken over Head’s business as he was contemplating his move abroad.