BNC Text G4P

Experiences of the leather trade: conversation with John Hooper, leather trader. Sample containing about 2681 words speech recorded in leisure context

4 speakers recorded by respondent number C194

PS21U X f (j. hammond, age unknown, interviewer) unspecified
PS21V X m (John, age unknown, leather trader) unspecified
G4PPSUNK (respondent W0000) X u (Unknown speaker, age unknown) other
G4PPSUGP (respondent W000M) X u (Group of unknown speakers, age unknown) other

1 recordings

  1. Tape 091801 recorded on 1987-11-08. LocationWest Midlands: Walsall () Activity: Conversation with John Hooper, Leather trader

Undivided text

Unknown speaker (G4PPSUNK) [1] In [...] Walsall, August fourteenth, nineteen hundred and six.
[2] I have two brothers, one older and one younger.
[3] Shortly afterwards we moved to , and we lived there for many years.
[4] ... The family had always been interested in the leather trade, indeed as far back as eighteen hundred and fourteen er, our ancestors were tanners in the south country, and we make an article known as Hooper's saddle food, which is much sought after by the saddlers, and other people using similar sort of leathers.
[5] ... Worked for the firm of with whom my grandfather was connected and also my uncle.
[6] were rawhide merchants and grandpa joined the firm to start them in the leather trade.
[7] Subsequently ... he started the Walsall branch to where my father went and also the Northampton branch, to where my uncle went.
[8] And also, in later years, my cousin was ... o o operating, was working with in the rawhide trade.
[9] Father was ... very ill, he had T B, and during the war he became worse and shortly afterwards ... fifty seven he died.
[10] I was then twenty years old and was asked to take charge of the Walsall business.
[11] ... My cousin er ... what's name now Kenneth was the Lieutenant Colonel, and was the youngest commanding officer in the army at the time of Alamein.
[12] He was killed in this battle ... erm, is that of interest?
[13] I don't know.
[14] Erm ... with regard to the leather trade, I worked for until I was ... fifty ... until I was fifty-four years old.
[15] ... After which, I decided to ... get into the leather producing industry rather than the purely merchanting business and I joined ... as a director of the main board.
[16] ... In this capacity, I started where we built a new building in , a very nice ... building of handmade bricks and, expensively ... constructive ... I also was the ... principal negotiator when Harvey hired the firm of in Walsall.
[17] Unfortunately ... due to a difference of opinion in the after casing of new methods, this was not a successful venture.
[18] Because was very fine producers, of top-class saddlery and other leathers in the old style.
[19] The new methods of mass production, were unsuccessful and was closed down a few years later.
j. hammond (PS21U) [20] Why were they unsuccessful?
[21] What, what was the problem there?
John (PS21V) [22] They brought in management and er, I've got, I've got erm, ... I, I'll show you a, a thing about it.
[23] Do you want to know that?
j. hammond (PS21U) [...]
John (PS21V) [24] Can you co up again if you can co ... I'm going back to The reason being that the approach to the business was one of quality and ... a large amount of hand-finishing, and, the leathers were aimed mainly at the, saddlery and leather goods trade and also only at the very top end of the shoe trade.
[25] Under the new management, the idea was to get into the production of leather for the shoe trade with modern machinery and mass-production methods.
[26] ... These ... were not ... understood by the workers and the ... management on the floor, and indeed should never have been put into operation.
[27] With the old style of production, with a little extra help in the marketing and on the financial side, it would have been a big success.
[28] Is that all right?
j. hammond (PS21U) [29] Yes.
John (PS21V) [30] I'm not used to this you know.
[31] What am I going to say now?
j. hammond (PS21U) [32] Erm, what was your job exactly?
[33] What, what did you do?
John (PS21V) [34] At ?
[35] I was a director, but I had no responsibility in the production of leather or indeed in any of the management, er, ... erm methods.
[36] I did my best to oppose ... er, these new er, schemes and found myself in the majority of one quite often.
[37] And of course and what, dear oh dear oh you go
j. hammond (PS21U) [38] How many people did they employ there?
[39] Was it a large concern?
John (PS21V) [40] was the biggest, leather producing unit in Walsall.
[41] At one time, I think I'm right in saying that they had two hundred people.
[42] Certainly at the time of our ... taking over, the ... the number of operatives would have been ... not far short of a hundred.
[43] ... It was
j. hammond (PS21U) [44] And whereabouts was their premises?
[45] ... Whereabouts was the premises?
John (PS21V) [46] Oh the premises er, are, were, erm in er, between er , er and .
[47] And indeed in those days, the whole of that area belonged to even the ... land facing onto was ... nearly wholly owned by .
j. hammond (PS21U) [48] So what happened to them?
[49] I mean, are they still in existence or
John (PS21V) [50] Ha
j. hammond (PS21U) [51] have they been taken over completely?
John (PS21V) [52] shut.
[53] I was then ... put in er, charge, if that's the correct word, of disposing of the premises and er, we sold a part to Harry who was an old friend of mine er for his garage purposes ... and er, later on, purchased a large building in the middle of ... of erm, er, this area, which was still being used as a leather currying works ... and so on.
[54] Er
j. hammond (PS21U) [55] And when was this?
[56] About what year, would you say?
John (PS21V) [57] ... About nineteen ... [...] before ... to sixty-nine.
j. hammond (PS21U) [58] And then when, where did you move on to, from, from that point?
[59] You yourself, what did you do?
John (PS21V) [60] Well erm, the firm of er, was taken over by ... Geoffrey and myself were ... the two main board directors ... mostly in favour of the takeover.
[61] ... But shortly afterwards, ... er, I was ... in confrontation with the chairman ... the basis of my contract with was such that it was not to his liking and I was not prepared to ... give way in the matter and was dismissed within ... six months of ... the acquisition of by .
[62] ... I was then sixty-four years old and I started a business ... again as John ...
j. hammond (PS21U) [63] Where was that?
[64] Was that here or is this in ?
John (PS21V) [65] Oh no.
[66] Er, I didn't have any ... idea er that I was going to start, obviously, er, but er, I first started at home in the backroom and had letters all over the floor.
[67] Within a few months I took a small office space ... oh dear ... I can't remember.
j. hammond (PS21U) [68] What [...] that was?
John (PS21V) [69] Can I go back?
[70] It was in, it was in where
j. hammond (PS21U) [71] Yes.
John (PS21V) [72] I took the offices yes.
j. hammond (PS21U) [73] Tell me exactly what you were doing.
John (PS21V) [74] Merchanting er, is the buying and selling of materials not the production of materials, and erm, I was ... probably the first person from this area, in the leather trade, to go to China and we started to do quite a large business with China, so that immediately I was on my own, the first big operation I took was to go to China and make very substantial purchases of pigskin leather.
[75] ... Then ... shortly after that I moved ... to where [clears throat] because no one else who wanted to buy the old buildings, I purchased them from the firm of er in ... our own right, no ou , in my own right and I started my office there where I had warehouse space.
j. hammond (PS21U) [76] [...] they were all leather manufacturers?
John (PS21V) [77] ... We sold quite substantially locally but also we had a reasonable export business.
[78] We erm, sold ... bigger parcels to other parts of the countries in, in this town because we were not dealing specially in Walsall leathers at that time.
[79] Erm ... we were agents for a firm called in Australia, who made very good leather indeed, and we did sell quite a large ... amount of his tanneds to the local er firms for the saddlery trade.
j. hammond (PS21U) [80] Where else did you acquire leather from?
[81] You mentioned pigskin from China and pigskin Australia.
John (PS21V) [82] Er, that's a difficult question because we bought er ... anywhere we could er, and where we thought there was leather that we could make a small profit on.
[83] Indeed erm ... I can say this now er that at that time, unknown to ... the ... top management of I was buying large quantities of leather from my old firm [...] it into the town, right past the front door of my old offices which were now the hea the local headquarters of our [...] and selling them, literally, within sight of the building that used to be the place where I operated from on their behalf. [laugh]
j. hammond (PS21U) [84] When did you come to then Mr ?
John (PS21V) [...]
j. hammond (PS21U) [85] And what was the firm doing when you ... came here were they
John (PS21V) [86] This is a very old established firm.
[87] Er, it started in eighteen fifty six, had been currying leather for the saddlery trade all those years and it was then a subsidiary to and was making saddlery leather for them, but in addition, quite a large production of fancy leather for the local light leather goods trade.
[88] ... After er, purchasing we continued to produce the same materials ... erm, mainly er, directed towards the saddlery trade.
[89] Later, at the time of the ... collapse of the empire, we also purchased the small er manufacturing ... plant in which again was a plant that I'd started.
[90] ... We produced there only fancy leathers ... However, two years ago, we decided to close this plant in mainly because I'm getting fairly old nowadays and my son had many activities to take charge of.
[91] So we concentrated our leather producing efforts in in where we make ... almost exclusively leather for the saddlery trade.
j. hammond (PS21U) [92] Where do you get your hides from?
John (PS21V) [93] This is, at the moment, a difficult question.
[94] The immediate answer is the hides as such, almost entirely come from the British Royal Hides which are tanned in this country and then er, find their way back to ... Walsall er for the saddlery trade.
[95] Unfortunately, there are only two or three tanners left in the country who produce the type of leather that's suitable for this trade.
[96] And, in addition, we're suppliers to other countries as well particularly the European countries.
[97] So that the source of supplies for the saddlery trade ... is becoming more difficult year by year.
[98] One can look around the world but ... even though there are somewhat similar leathers produced in South America and Africa, they're not really ... quite suitable for the better end of the Walsall trade.
[99] We can all still bring leather in from our friends in Australia ... but for reasons that I don't ... wholly understand, this is very much dearer than the local er supplies available and for the time being it's not of interest to the saddlery-makers in Walsall.
j. hammond (PS21U) [100] Erm, do you export any of your finished items here?
John (PS21V) [101] Yes, you're asking us er, a question which now is erm pass, er politically er not, er very, er advantageous to put on the air for public erm interest, however, we do export er quite considerably.
[102] Er we export to France.
[103] We export a little to the United States.
[104] Er we export some to India ... We export ... and anticipate to export a fair quantity to another country, which for the purpose of our own affairs shall be nameless.
j. hammond (PS21U) [105] Erm, does climate affect the finished item?
John (PS21V) [106] Yes.
[107] Er, the question you are now asking, er is really concerned with the final finish of the material.
[108] Some buyers prefer the grease to be left lying thickly on the grain and the flesh of the leather and t so that it will gradually be absorbed and also they can then brush it up when they have got the goods, when they are making it up in their workshops.
[109] But for the local manufacturers, we pedal it and dress it up here before it is delivered, so that it's then in its final beauty, ready for being cut up into the various items of saddlery.
j. hammond (PS21U) [110] Are there any other currying firms such as this in the [...] area?
John (PS21V) [111] Not in the [...] area.
[112] Er, there's one other firm in Walsall called who are ... very fine producers of saddlery leather, indeed, the leaders.
[113] They are much bigger, much er, better mechanized and very good quality producers.
[114] Er ... we are good friends, er although competitors and erm ... my view is that ... that whoever, who are the Walsall producers ... make the best leather we can be found in this country.
j. hammond (PS21U) [115] Would you say erm at one time there were many more firms?
John (PS21V) [116] Oh, years ago, when I was a boy, there were twelve tanneries in Walsall.
[117] There must have been ... more than twenty curriers ... Nowadays there are no tanneries and there are only three curriers ... So the answer to your question is yes, many, many more.
[118] A lot occasions it is a contracting trade.
[119] It's contracting not only as regards the Walsall trade, but for the simple reason that ... hides and skins at [...] ma v very largely found in the ... countries of ... Asia, Africa and South America.
[120] Now all these countries have much cheaper labour force, most of them have warmer climates and with the advantages of low-price labour and also less expensive from the point of view of having to dry out leather and ... do these various processes that come in the production, the erm ... the leather tanning trade is being increased in those countries, with the knowledge and indeed the design of the western [...] countries, because tanning is not the most salubrious of, er works.
[121] There are certain smells and there's er effluent problems and very often they're quite glad to get rid of the tanneries if they're anywhere near the middle of the towns.
j. hammond (PS21U) [122] Do you promote your products [...]
John (PS21V) [123] That's an interesting question.
[124] We don't promote them.
[125] I disagree with advertising.
[126] I think it's an unnecessary expense and we take the view that if the product is good and if the price is fair, buyers will come to us.
[127] If we spend a lot of money in advertising, I think it's not only unnecessary, but wasteful.
[128] ... At least it
j. hammond (PS21U) [129] Had they had any problems getting labour?
John (PS21V) [130] Always, that we now could of, do with one or two suitable workers er there were problems throughout trade.
[131] Our friends who are saddlers and bridle makers can't get workers and nobody, there aren't any workers in the currying and tanning trade ... available.
[132] It's quite possible that there are one or two old gentlemen, but ... when one wants to find ... a new operative, one really is looking for somebody to come in the trade who will be with the firm, all being well, for a number of years.
j. hammond (PS21U) [133] Why can't you get these sort of people now?
[134] What are the reasons for this ... these shortages?
John (PS21V) [135] I can't answer that question.
[136] I don't know.
j. hammond (PS21U) [137] What are the main uses of leather today would you say?
John (PS21V) [138] [...] Of course, that's too simple.
[139] There's a very large amount of clothing which is new in the last twenty years, because the technology of producing leather is such that the skins can be split thinner and still retain their strength.
[140] The leather processing is such that they can produce leather with very soft handle, nearly as soft as er, as er fabric er,ja er, erm jacket or costume er and also it's er become a fashion article.
[141] So ... after the shoe trade, the clothing trade is of an immense importance.
[142] Gloving has declined somewhat.
[143] You don't see all the ladies pulling their gloves on every time they go to church or appear in public, er and certainly men, very, very rarely ... wear, use gloves ... possibly, as we're driving cars, we're not exposed to the cold.
[144] If we were walking backwards and forwards er to our offices, we'd pro er probably wear gloves in the cold weather.
[145] Then ... there were so many other uses of leather.
j. hammond (PS21U) [146] What percentage of the total would be the saddling and harness side of it then?
John (PS21V) [147] Minimal.
[148] Minimal.
[149] Er, it wouldn't matter to the leather trade as such or to any of the countries, er if there was no saddling and harness trade, and that goes for countries like erm, Britain and France and Germany and United States and so on.
[150] Obviously, of course, it matters in the sense that people who want to ride horses and race horses and hunt with horses and this sort of thing, so that as a pleasure thing, er it's good er to have the leather for those purposes.
[151] But one has to bear in mind that it is always possible that you could have other materials for riding and so on.
[152] Not as good, but nes nevertheless ... er such things are possible.