The Museum of Leathercraft

Honorary Leather Degrees being awarded by Rachel Garwood and the Vice Chancellor
Honorary Leather Degrees being awarded by Rachel Garwood and the Vice Chancellor

All of the Honorary Leather Graduates at this week’s ceremonies studied last century and some come from the days when leather teaching in the UK had three Campuses. Leeds University, Leathersellers in London and Northampton. It was in the 70s when they all got combined into the British School of Leather Technology in what was then Nene College in Northampton housed in the Leathersellers Centre built by the generosity of the ancient London Leather Guild which has for over 600 years been known as the Leathersellers Company.

The three institutions had some great teachers. Prof Procter, Dr Danby, Sharpehouse, Stanley Briggs and many more. Probably worth developing a list. One of those who is remembered by colleagues like Michael Pearson, Bob Higham and Philip Rothwell is Dr.Claude Spiers who was a lecturer at Leathersellers during their days. I tried to look up some of the JSLTC Journal papers he wrote, but it looks like the online JSLTC index does not go back that far.

One of the amazing things Dr Spiers did was set up the Museum of Leathercraft with the famous designer John Waterer in 1946. The museum was started with the aim of “the preservation and encouragement of high standards of craftsmanship and design” in the leather industry and to collect and showcase these items. Waterer, with Spiers, collected several hundred pieces, attracting grants from trusts and benefactors. They pioneered the conservation of leather, and was the inspiration behind the formation of the Leather Conservation Centre, also based  in Northampton, on the University campus just behind the ICLT Leathersellers Centre. The Museum first opened in London but in 1978 was moved to Northampton with a 50 year deal for Northampton to store and display the collection. Sadly it was not long before cuts forced Northampton to struggle with this commitment and everything got parked into rather mediocre storage.

After many years of battling the Trustees of the Museum of Leathercraft have found funds for a full time Curator, Philip Warner, and with the new enthusiasm for the developing “Cultural Centre” in Northampton better storage and some display space is coming available.

So after decades we are starting to uncover what looks like being the world’s finest collection of historic items. In so many spheres such as luggage, leathergoods, books, gloves and drinking vessels the collection appears to be quite unbelievably exciting.

If you want to keep up with this exciting voyage of discovery the Museum of Leathercraft has a Facebook page and we certainly encourage you to friend it and give your support to this amazing work:

Mike Redwood

18th July 2014