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The provenance and alchemy of belt-making

8 October 2021

Herring has long associated itself with British craftsmanship by working with the best shoe factories in Northamptonshire to bring our customers quality footwear. The same can be said of many of our other products too. Look no further than Tanner Bates, based in Dartington, Devon.

Tanner Bates founder John Hagger was already entrenched in the leather industry – his father was a leather guilder who followed in the footsteps of a family of glovers – before he trained as a saddlery and bridle-maker in Walsall. John brought his love of leather and traditional expertise to make a range of products, including belts for Herring.

Tanner Bates use oak-bark leather made from Devon cow hide. Oak-bark leather is made by placing the leather into large pits with water and seasoned oak-bark chippings from Lake District coppices.

This part of the process is carried out by J & FJ Baker & Co in Colyton, East Devon, which is believed to be the UK’s only remaining traditional oak bark tannery still in production. No chemicals are used, and the entire tanning process can take up to 18 months.

John said: “I am fascinated at the way we can make leather just from animal skin and tree barks. The transformation is alchemy.”

This makes the leather very hard wearing and flexible. The perfect belt material in fact. This material is then cut, trimmed, stitched, riveted, punched and polished by hand to create a quality product, such as the oak bark belt sold by Herring.

What drives John is provenance and his enthusiasm for it is infectious. He relishes in the expertise and familiarity with those he works with. He says he knows the names of everyone involved in making the raw materials for his belts and other leather goods, from the people who make the sand-cast brass buckles in Walsall to the man whose oak trees are used at Baker’s tannery.

Such traditional values do not mean John’s designs are old-fashioned though. A glance through the range available from the Tanner Bates web shop reveals a modern edge has been applied to classic items.

In his own words, he says: “In making my products, this combination of rich, rustic leather, my own traditional making technique and the product’s contemporary purpose is what fuels my creativity. There’s an ironic juxtaposition of tradition and technology.”

And, so concludes our peek behind the name behind one of our products. We are sure you will agree, Tanner Bates are very much aligned to our Herring way of thinking.

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