Tanning in Devon

Since Roman Times

After a minuscule amount of investigative work, a reader from Beirut and I established that J. & F. J. Baker  — the UK's last remaining oak bark tannery — were the makers of the Russian leather used on Crockett & Jones' Radnor 4 Derby Boot.

J. & F. J. Baker has a long history. They say a tannery has been on their site in Colyton, Devon, since Roman times. The Baker family acquired the existing tannery in 1862. Andrew Parr (top photo — by Paul Glendell Photography — and right in the photo below from 1979) is the fifth generation of the family to head the business. I thought you would like the old-school jackets in the photo below.

The Tanning Process

J. & F. J. Baker know they can't cut corners when it comes to producing the best leathers. Tanners undergo a lifetime of training, during which they are imbued with the skills and practices passed down by the long line of tanners who have worked on the site over the centuries, ready to pass on those skills to the next generation of tanners  — a continuity of invaluable knowledge that is killed stone dead the moment a plant closes.

Oak bark tannage is a 'long, gentle process that protects the natural fibres of the hide'. Baker's curriers 'finish the leather by hand with our own special blend of natural oils and greases that protect and feed the leather whilst simultaneously emphasising the natural grain and colour'.

This fascinating video provides more depth on the tanning process:

The Products

Baker's leather is used by the likes of Globe-Trotter in the manufacture of their suitcases, and by Northampton's shoemakers for their footwear and accessories.

I have mentioned that I like to see labels for the names of mills and finishers of the cloth used in the production of suits and jackets, but it would also be nice to see the names of the tanners used to make the leathers used in shoes. I was pleased to see Clarks have started doing this. It's all about the provenance and making it easier to support UK manufacturing.

Splendid Leather Flooring

J. & F. J. Baker also produce leather for flooring. I have made up our minds on this, gents — we simply must have this in our studies. Imagine? They say that leather flooring, originally used in ballrooms, adds 'distinction and character', and its softening effect helps create 'an insulated retreat'. I'd say! We all need an insulated retreat now and again.


  1. Owning a product made in their oak bark tanned leather (the excellent PenLoop Notebook from Tanner Bates) I can attest that the quality is quite good to say the least and feels vastly superior to most of what is offered elsewhere. In fact it evokes a certain je ne sais quoi reminiscent of craftsmanship from a bygone era

    1. Thanks Ramy. I took a look at that notebook. It's a lovely thing. Best wishes, Tweedy


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