Tanning was a the major industry in the town during the medieval period, with the ingredients – oak bark and livestock hides – all being readily available. Associated with tanning, were boot and shoemakers (cordwainers). There were 55 in the town in 1762.

The tanning industry was a dirty business, old records show some of the concerns and resulting complaints and fines. The quote is from Geo Tate “Town Castle and Barony of Alnwick”.

1709.—” For Teaming and Emptying Guts and Bellys of Beasts to be employed in the Market place” amerced (fined) 6d.

1726. — ” Robert Hindmarsh presented for a nuisance by Tanning and Emptying Bark and other rubbish in the Water Course or Burn at the foot of Hunters Orchard which annoys the Stone Well” and is amerced Ss. 4d.

1730.— « John Gibson, Tanner, amerced 20d. for Emptying his lime pits and throwing the fleshings of his skins and hides in a narrow passage in Hoolling of the Dyke, and for want of Cleansing and Scouring the Dirty Water Annoys the Duke of Somerset’s fountain of fine sweet water, insomuch that the water is so spoiled. that his Grace’s Servant at the Castle was obliged to fetch water elsewhere.” John Moor was also amerced 20d. for the like offence.

Two years afterwards the tanners are again presented. 1732. — ” John Moor and John Gibson who keep lime pits on the west side of Hoolling Well, and for want of cleansing out the water race, their lime water overflows the said well and spoils his Grace’s water leading into the Castle in lead pipes, insoemuch, that the water will stink like a house of Office ” each was amerced Ss. 4d. and ” to be amended.”

Not all sweetness and light then!

From an article by Phil Huntley in the Winter 2020 edition of Bondgate:

George Tate records that in 1664 Alnwick had 22 tanneries. Suspect that Tate meant 22 tanners not tanning sites (PWH).

Wood’s 1827 map shows the following tanneries:

Mr Hindmarsh – in the area that is now Davidson’s the electrical supplier – could this be the same building?

Mr Hindmarsh – on both sides of Dispensary Street (was Back Way) near where the bus station is today.

Mr Thew – on north side of Green Batt near Tower Lane

Mr Gibb – on south side of Green Batt near Tower Lane

Tanning for Alnwick map project

The first record of an Alnwick Tanner was Adam Tanner in 1296 on the Lay Subsidy Roll (a taxation list).

It took 1 year to turn a hide into ready to use leather. Skin, clean/trim, de-hair and de-flesh, stretch and scrape, pound with dog poo where bacteria ferment and soften it, finally soak in tannin.

Records of protective guilds exist from 1611 but these would be clarifications of earlier rules.

Family names at Alnwick. Apprentices and masters leave records and dates of training, though not a full list, the following are interesting.

Apprentices include:- Ralph Wood, George Marr, George Vardy, Mark Taylor, John Hindmarsh, Henry Macklane,Terrwick Potts, John Mills, Robert Carr, John Reavely, George Todd, Wm Robson, Jacob Wood, John Stamp and Robert Anderson. Masters range from Thomas Warriner 1720, through Luke Hindmarsh 1719 and Thomas Moffat 1784. The period for an apprenticeship seemed to be 5 – 7 years, one 1744 record quotes 5 years and a fee of £2-0s-0d

Records of tanners come from many sources; one is the County Militia Roll of 1762.