Tanning was a dirty, smelly and thoroughly unpleasant business. It involved scraping raw flesh from fresh hides, then soaking the scraped hides in a solution of lime to loosen the hair and remaining flesh. Next the hides were soaked in a succession of liquors” made up of dog excrement, pigeon or chicken droppings to loosen the fibres ready for tanning. Finally after some six months or so of this treatment the hides were placed in tan pits containing a solution of oak bark and water where they remained for up to a year or even longer, until the tanner decided the hides were properly “tanned” and could be called leather. Hides were then hung up to dry before being turned into leather goods.
There are believed to have been two tanneries along the Emm. The first is:
The Marlowe Tannery ,Wokingham
At the point where the Finchampstead Road crosses the Emm Brook between the two Railway Bridges was sited the Marlowe Tannery. A document written in 1594 refers to Richard Marlowee of Wokingham, tanner although nothing much is heard further until 1635 when a John Marlowe was assessed for a tan house. In 1667 William Marlowe redeemed a mortgage on a cottage and tannery from Bridget Thackman and her son Thomas Thackman of Arborfield. In 1690 William Marlowe sold the site to John Symons, a glove maker of Wokingham. The property was described as a “message and plot of land employed as a tan yard and included “the tan pits and cisterns there planted for and being also the bark mill and all utensils belonging to the tannery”. The long occupation of the site by the Marlowe family had changed the name of the Emmbrook at this point to Marlowe’s Brook in many documents in the early 17th century and even some in the 18th century.
In 1722 when John Simmonds son and heir of John Simmonds fellmonger mortgaged the site for £200 it was then described as a “messuage or tenement formally employed as a tan yard and now converted to an orchard or garden” and, interestingly, all that of his newly erected messuage or tenement, brew house and mill house”. It is doubtful if the mill was powered by water/; for a small brewery it was more likely to have been a horse mill, a form of mill which appears to have been quite common in Wokingham.
Unfortunately within a year John Simmonds was bankrupt, the site was sold and the cottage became a public house, the Nine Pin and Bowl. A fire insurance policy of 1772 revealed that the property had been purchased by William Simmonds of Reading: the family which later went on to be major brewers in the Reading area. This extract from an 1871 OS map shows the buildings to the rear of the Pin & Bowl.
From then on the industrial use of this site was minor although it was believed that shoes were made for a short time in some of the sheds and outbuildings. However the only evidence for this from scraps of leather found under the floor when the public house now renamed the Pin and Bowl was demolished.
After being a public house for
more than 250 years, late in 1992 the Pin and Bowl closed. The former site of the Pin and Bowl is now the Pets at Home store.
Barkham Rd/ Tanhouse Lane,
The second tannery was situated just off the Barkham Road at what is now Tanhouse Lane. It is believed that it was originally owned by James Twycross. This extract from the 1871 OS map clearly shows what a large site this was.
James was born in Godalming, Surrey, England, around 1790, into a family of fellmongers and tanners who dealt in the preparation and processing of sheep and cattle hides. James followed the family profession, as did his sons.
In December 1812, James married Mary Howell . James moved the family to Wokingham in 1820 to a large, two-storied brick house, south of the town's centre. He named the family's new home The Brook, after the Emm Brook that ran across the bottom of the property. This property can be seen in the previous map.
By the 1840s, James Twycross and his sons were well established as fellmongers, tanners and woolstaplers, dealing in the processing of animal hides and the sale of wool. A decade later, James Twycross & Sons had expanded still further. The business was thriving, with James Twycross employing 43 workers. A further 36 men were employed through the firm's branch in Bradford. John Twycross, now in his late twenties, played an active role as a tanner at the Twycross tanneries on Barkham road, Wokingham. He is listed as living there in the 1851 Census. By the 1861 Census John Philbrick is listed as living there. He is also still there on the 1871 and 1881 Census. I believe that it was then subsequently taken over by Harry Grace a fellmonger from Loddon Bridge. The tannery was offered for sale at the Rose Hotel in Wokingham in Sept 1922 and was sold for £2,300. It was still present in 1933 and I believe that it was finally demolished to make way for the construction of theTanhouse Lane development in 1960.
This picture I believe shows the tannery from the bridge on Barkham Road. The date is unknown.