Did you know that Bermondsey in south London was once one of England’s premier leather manufacturing centres? From around the 14th century leather was big business in the area, thanks to the regular supply of oak barks as well as water and power from the nearby river Thames.

   Leather trade old photo   Black and white tanner family   Bermondsey old tannery

By the early 1800's, the industry had outgrown the skin market at Bankside and the dealing activities at Leadenhall. The main tanners collectively raised some £50,000 and decided to build the Leather Market on Weston Street, SE1. As this combined trading and warehousing at one location near the major tanneries, it was a huge benefit to all. The tanners, curriers and leather sellers came together in sales stalls to trade their skins and hides. 

  Leathermarket studios entrance  Leathermarket studios gate  Leathermarket studios sign 

In 1878, they added the 'London Leather Hide & Wool Exchange' next to it, including their very own private Gentlemen's Club on the first floor. Bevingtons was one of the oldest and most important Bermondsey leather manufacturers. The company was founded in 1800 at Neckinger Leather Mills, then the largest leather factory in Europe. Samuel Bevington was an important member of the Bevington family but was also a great benefactor for the local area. He set up the Voluntary Reserve Battalion of the Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, paid for the original public library and helped advance and develop training in the Leather industry.

Training in the various leather crafts, which formalised and supplemented much of the workplace apprenticeships, was given at the Herold Institute – roughly a mile and a half away from the market. In 1897, largely due to the efforts of Samuel Bevington, the Leather Sellers’ Company Training School took over the Herold Institute. In 1900, Samuel Bevington became the first mayor of the Borough of Bermondsey. In 1909, the school moved into a new building and became the Leading Leather Sellers’ College in 1947. However, with the fall in trade in 1978 it was merged with Nene College (now Northampton University) as the Institute of Creative Leather Technology.   


  Hide & Wool Exchange fachade   Hide & Wool Exchange building   Hide & Wool Exchange entrance  

With the decline of the leather trades in the area, and the use of the Leather Market and Exchange, the buildings were acquired and refurbished by a developer between1993-95 and are now serviced offices and a business centre. Bermondsey's street and pub names are constant reminders of the vibrant leather industry that existed and thrived in this area. Besides, visiting the old Leather Market, surrounding buildings and grabbing some brunch in one of the many lovely cafes around Bermondsey is a great way to spend a leisurely Sunday morning.

                               Leather Exchange Fullers pub sign   Leather Exchange Fullers pub

                               Simon The Tanner pub sign   Simon The Tanner pub 

                       Tanner & Co   Tanner Street

Here are some more detailed images of the carvings at the Hide & Wool Exchange and Leathermaket buildings.

Stone carvings Leather trade   Leathermarket old sign   Leather tanning process 1

Leather tanning process 2   Leather tanning process 3   Selling Leather carving