Richard Thornton, Master of Leathersellers 1836-1837

Juan Manuel Salazar reading Tony Covington's new book during Dr Wilkinson's recent tour of Latin America.
Juan Manuel Salazar reading Tony Covington's new book during Dr Wilkinson's recent tour of Latin America.

Richard Thornton would have been proud to see how his money is being spent 170 years on.  The June prize giving was one of the best in the period that Ann Tate has been Vice Chancellor. More parents turned up – from Latin America, India and Africa – and a full house saw a perfect blend of City of London tradition and informality.

Once more the main speech was given by an alumnus, this time by a Past President of the IULTCS, Juan Manuel Salazar Arango. He studied in Northampton in the time of Peter Element from 1980-1983 and from what he said straight off the plane in 1983 he was dragged into the tannery to change the production from vegetable tanned sole leather to chrome upper. We all know he was famously successful and it was fitting that his own son was graduating. As the Vice Chancellor said today’s students should emulate this feat and keep our industry strong and the leather school full.

The new Northampton Leather M.Sc.

In a busy world and one in which understanding the supply chain, and understanding leather in all areas of the supply chain, the one year postgraduate course is becoming more important. With this in mind the Northampton Leather M.Sc. has been updated and is now relevant to those already in the industry wanting good leather knowledge and a higher degree and those who have done a first degree in a science based subject and want a chance to work with leather. This latter can mean anything from a meat packing company to a retailer or brand – and anywhere in the world. The three pathways for the new M.Sc. are MSc Leather Technology, MSc Leather Technology (International Environmental Management) and MSc Leather Technology (International Marketing).

Over the years the Leathersellers course has developed a distinctive brand name and image and still serves the BSLT well. For a different and perhaps larger audience this new course is likely to come just as famous.

And where does Richard Thornton fit into the picture, you ask?  Well, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars he did a bit of hedging in hemp, tallow and hides. He cleaned up as the war created demand and scarcity at the same time. Much of the gains he donated to the Leathersellers Company to enlarge the funds which they use to give as scholarships to many of our students. Along with Union Specialities many of the scholars who graduated at this year’s ceremony had received funding to one degree or another.

They have just rediscovered his gravestone; let us say thanks to Richard Thornton and other like benefactors.

Mike Redwood

10th June 2010

Rainbow Reception and the colour of leather

The BSLT foyer
The BSLT foyer

One of the most outstanding things about entering the renewed BSLT building is the reception area which has been transformed with an array of computers for the students to use, a wide screen to provide news and events (and world cup coverage?) and new bright furniture. The leather for the furniture was donated by the Scottish Group and has created a stunning modern look for the area, so fitting for the approach of the BSLT and the setting up of the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies.

The old settees in brown leather, also from the Scottish Group, were more suited to Club Rooms than staff/student meeting point and this is where they have gone – to the Sunley Centre – where they fit perfectly. For the BSLT my only wish is to have a couple of tables in reception where one can hold small informal meetings with a cup of coffee. It is bright and light now and good place to be.

A new short course

During June we have a new short course on leather making which addresses the needs of the whole supply chain allowing stakeholders in leather such as retailers, shoemakers and designers to obtain an understanding of the processes in just a few days. Hopefully before long some of the NGO people will think to attend before making negative comments about our industry without any scientific knowledge. Well intentioned statements are dangerous if they are not based on fact.

Boiled buffalo

Leather Sculpture
Leather Sculpture

A new art form has come into vogue in the BSLT based on the old French system of Cuir-bouilli which has been best described as: Leather boiled or soaked in hot water, and, when soft, moulded or pressed into any required form; on becoming dry and hard it retains the form given to it, and offers considerable resistance to cuts, blows, etc.  Discussion has been held with Tony Covington over the last eighteen months with regard to this being a technology worth re-examining in the modern world of knife crime and nasty needles, but we had not thought of this until Paul Evans got weaving with some buffalo hides.

The pieces in the pictures are on display in the BSLT building but are photographed in a garden setting in the village of Spratton where our Director had an open garden. All pieces were greatly admired as fabulous items for interior designs, and it was noticeable that Northampton folk intrinsically knew that they were made from leather, while those from out of town thought they might be ceramic or some other material. Who is it that said “leather in the blood”!

Late Notice, New Venture

In a new venture for the Institute and recognising the intention to address the needs of the whole supply chain a one week Summer School on leather is being held at the BSLT week commencing the 21st of June. As the note says “you may know your wools and polyesters, but what about leather”.  Bookings already indicate that it will be a success and we look forward to more such events in future months.

Mike Redwood

7th June 2010