The site of J & FJ Baker’s Oak Bark Tannery in Colyton, Devon, has existed since Roman times.
The World today is so different from my Dad’s day when he was farming a mixed small farm of Dairy Cattle, Sheep and Pigs along with growing crops of corn, hay and some root produce. Being the farm manager of an agricultural college, he also worked horses, and had the latest tractors and machinery so that students could learn all the agricultural methods which were still being used on British farms. This Worcestershire farm is where I was born, spent my childhood and developed my love of leather whilst surrounded by farm animals, horses and their harness and tack.
I loved growing up in this lively and rural background which played a big part in the way I see the world and in particular, my ethos with regard to the products I make, how I make them, the materials I use and their origins and manufacture.
Bovine Leather is the principal material I use and is a by-product of the meat industry from cattle reared ethically in the British Isles on farms with the highest standards of animal welfare and husbandry. UK farming has been under attack from many areas recently and is being unfairly compared with generalised global agricultural practices and environmental issues which if examined reasonably and with proper scrutiny will prove these accusations unfounded in British practises. As a farmer’s son I am reasonably knowledgeable on this subject and will only use leather from British hides tanned in English tanneries where the standards are at their highest. The Oak Bark leather I use from Bakers of Colyton is tanned in the oldest known method, a vegetable tannage with crushed Oak Bark to provide the tanning agent and using hides sourced from cattle in and around the West Country of England, principally Devon, Cornwall and Somerset. The transport of these materials is therefore at a minimum thus helping reduce the very small carbon footprint of my products.
The buckles and fittings I use are of the highest quality and cast in a modern foundry situated in Walsall at the heart of the ‘Black Country’ in the West Midlands, still the heart of British manufacturing. Using the traditional sand cast method, each item is carefully inspected and finished by hand before being sent the forty five miles to my workshop.
I make all of my collection by hand and all belts are hand stitched too which when applied to the finest English Bridle and Saddlery leathers and solid brass buckles provides a sustainable product with a life expectancy of twenty years, or in most cases a lot longer.
The sundry items used in making my products such as threads, stains, glues etc. are also from local or British suppliers and from sustainable sources.
The finished goods are carefully checked, polished and then packed in Gift boxes made in the West Midlands England and despatched by Royal Mail in Jiffy bags from that eponymous company based in Winsford, Cheshire (UK deliveries in their Jiffy Green version).
Thank you for reading this short article and I welcome any constructive comments as well as examples of belts in manmade materials which can compare with my collection proven over thirty five ‘sore handed, much bruised and bashed, worn out finger’ years.