The history of the Leather Market in London
The history of the Leather Market in London
At Workspace, we have a plethora of historic buildings that have been lovingly restored for use as business space. One of the oldest being the Leather Market, situated less than a ten minute walk between Borough and London Bridge.
It’s now home to a diverse array of start-ups and established businesses with strong communities in the consulting, architectural, technology and design industries.
Let’s take a look at the history of the Leather Market, its former use and the facilities available to Workspace customers today.
From the City of London to Bermondsey
A Grade II listed Victorian building, the Leather Market was the hub of leather trade in Bermondsey during the 19th century. Tanning was banned by the City of London due to the abhorrent smells generated by the tannery industry involving dog faeces to soften the skins. Subsequently, the tanning industry moved south to Bermondsey outside the jurisdiction of the City of London.
The Leather and Skin Market opened in 1833 in Weston Street by a group of local tanners and leather dressers. After moving from Leadenhall Market to Bermondsey, the Leather Market initially traded just the skins (untreated pelts from sheep and calves) with hides from horses and oxen utilised in the production of heavy-duty leather still bought and cold at Leadenhall. However, these procedures also moved to Bermondsey as the months elapsed.
Home to more than 50 skin salesmen
The skin market within the area was a rectangular-sized space, designed so that carts could transport and unload the skins into the marketplace. Within the space, up to 50 different skin salesmen were present, selling their goods to buyers who would use the skin to produce leather, wool or parchment.
Some time later in 1878 a new building was erected alongside the market, inscripted with with the words ‘The London Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange’. The new building included a pub where plenty of business was likely conducted. There is a pub that still exists there today, called the Leather Exchange. The building was made during the era of architectural sculpture, which explains its spectacular stone reliefs that demonstrate the processes of individuals turning raw skins into processed leather.
The demise of Bermondsey’s tanning industry
Unfortunately, Bermondsey’s tanning industry peaked in the mid-to-late 19th century. The arrival of the 20th century saw radical changes in the production of leather and other hubs grew in the north of England where rents and labour costs were lower.
Subsequently, although Bermondsey remained a hive of leather activity, it was more as a wholesale centre for processed leather and manufactured leather goods transported from areas such as Leeds and Liverpool. The development of leather manufacturing hubs in the north of England, coupled with the growth of the motor vehicle industry – and natural decline in the need for horses and saddlery – further affected Bermondsey’s leather industry.
Bermondsey’s infrastructure was not helped after it was bombed heavily throughout the World War II, resulting in the destruction or damage of many of its bustling tanneries.
The final nail in the coffin came in the 1960s, when increasing numbers of goods once manufactured using leather were then made from cheaper, man-made synthetics.
The last working tannery in the region closed in 1997, with S.O. Rowe & Son PLC of Tanner Street bringing down the curtain on a hugely influential industry for the area.
The Leather Market today – and tomorrow
The remainder of the Leather Market and the London Leather, Hide and Wool Exchange avoided the threat of demolition in the early 1990s and today is a permanent reminder of the area’s heritage whilst providing feature-laden workspace for New and Growing Businesses south of the Thames.
As a business centre, the Leather Market has so much to offer start-ups and growing companies looking to make their mark in the capital.
It’s enviably located, with mainline and underground stations in walking distance and is currently undergoing a considerable redevelopment project, bringing all available office and studio space up to scratch, futureproofing the needs of Workspace customers for many years to come.
If you’re interested in the story of The Leather Market and its potential for your business as a long-term home, please take a look at our available spaces and arrange a viewing with a member of our friendly team.