J.& F. J. Baker & Co. at Colyton in Devon is one of the very few traditional oak bark tanners and curriers remaining in Britain. The attractive site beside the river Coly has been a tannery since Roman times and the process has not changed much since then.
The lime used to loosen hair is removed by soaking in river water. The hides are then hung in weak tanning solution in 'handler pits', where they are constantly agitated by a wonderful old mechanism of reciprocating wooden arms driven from beams and shafts in the roof, powered by a waterwheel. The waterwheel also drives a grinder which strips bark from oak branches.
After several months, the hides are moved to deep 'layer pits' to soak in strong oak bark liquor for nine months. After drying, the hides are shaved before currying. Hand tools are used for setting and staining and the hides are dressed with the traditional fish oils and mutton tallow.
The 'bend roller' is a superb iron monster with a pulley belt reversing mechanism driving a curved polished roller back and forth across the hide under great pressure to help produce soling leather.
The images on this page are taken from the video.