Langford Tanneries – a History of a Local Industry

With the death of Mr ‘Tacker’ Morris, the hamlet of Lower Langford lost its final connection to an activity that had been important to it for several centuries: shoemaking.  Being situated in the centre of a cattle-rearing area, there was ready access to the most important raw material: hides for leather.  And, stretched out along the main coach road from Bristol to Exeter, Langford was well placed to gain access to markets for its products.  Tanneries would have been an essential element in this business and the Langford History Group has been anxious for some time to put on record the known history of Langford’s tanneries and the families who owned and operated them.  This dormant project has recently been stimulated back into life by some wonderful research by a lady from Brisbane, Jenny Clark.  As a result, we are now able to identify many of the tanners who worked on these sites over nearly two centuries!

Jenny’s interest stemmed from a study she was making of an ancestor, James Clark.  She knew that James had worked at a tannery in Langford during the late 18th century and she contacted us via this website.  Below are extracts from the e-mail exchange which followed.  They illustrate the journey of discovery as it unfolded across the globe!

Jenny’s first e-mail:

I am most interested in the information that you may have on the tanneries at Lower Langford as mentioned on your Research News page. I have noted in my research previously (from The History and Antiquities of the County of Somerset, published 1791) that they mention large tanning yards at Lower Langford, but would love to know who ran them and about the workers and conditions there.

My ancestor James Clark (who was baptised 21st Sept 1783 Churchill, Somerset. Son of James and Ledia Clark) was a tanner. He married Hester Tripp (a widow I do not know her maiden name or first husband’s details) as below:

James Clark, single young man of this parish, and Hestor Tripp, widow, on 28 March 1808, St John the Baptist, Churchill Somerset. Witnesses John Burdge, Ann Burton & Mary Combes.

They had 2 sons before Hester died in 1835. At the baptism of their first son (my ancestor) John Chappel Clark at St John the Baptist, Churchill on 17th Jan 1813, his parents James & Hester Clark are living at Blackmoor Green, and his father is listed as a labourer. At the baptism of their second son James Chappell Clark at St John the Baptist, Churchill on 28th May 1815, his parents James & Hester Clark are living at Langford in Burrington, and his father is listed as a tanner. Sadly James Chappel Clark died shortly afterwards and was buried on the 5th Oct 1815 at St John the Baptist, Churchill, his abode was listed as Burrington. I do not have any records of other children but there may be others. Hester Clark died in 1835 and her burial record at St John the Baptist, Churchill gives her abode as Blackmoor she was 62yrs of age.

James left the area after his wife’s death, going firstly to Flax Bourton and then Nailsea. He remarried in 1841 at St James, Bristol to an Elizabeth Sims. They lived in Nailsea where he worked as a tanner for the Cox family who had tanneries there. He died on 22nd April 1872 at Nailsea aged 84yrs, and is buried at Christchurch, Nailsea.

James & Hester’s son John Chappel Clark also became a tanner, and moved to Bedminster to work for the Cox family at their tannery there.

I have traced the previous generation also; James & Lydia Clark. James Clark & Liddy Howlet were married at All Saints, Wrington on 25th March 1783, James is listed as from Churchill parish, while Liddy (Ledia, Lydia, Leddy) was from Wrington. They had 6 children (including James) all baptised at St John the Baptist, Churchill. James Clark of Blackmoor was buried at St John the Baptist, Churchill on 27th Aug 1828 aged 71yrs. Lydia Clark is on the 1841 census at Blackmoor, in the parish of Churchill, with her daughter Lydia Andrews & family. Lydia Clark died aged 93yrs, at Wrington on the 7th February 1848.

I am attempting to write a bit of a history of my Clark family and would be most interested in their lives as tanners, also the places that they lived. I am very interested in learning about Blackmoor Green, Langford, Wrington and Churchill. Also with such a common name as Clark it is a really challenge to go back much further researching remotely.

I am in Australia so find it a challenge to sort out hamlets, towns, parishes etc. Are there any maps of the area I could access or tithe records etc? Any help with any of the above would be greatly appreciated.

Thanks for your time,

Jenny Clark
Brisbane, Australia

We know for certain that there were two tanneries in Langford, one in Burrington, located adjacent to Saxon Street, and a second in Churchill, on the corner of Langford Road and Blackmoor, occupying a site where today Bay Tree Cottage and Virginia Cottages stand.

Alex Kolombos responded to Jenny as follows:

Dear Jenny,
Intriguing stuff! Our research shows that the Saxon Street tannery in 1838 was owned by Thomas Brookman. He also occupied “The Old Post Office” which is the building on the road to the south of the tannery.  There have been a number of ox skulls found in the vicinity a sure sign of a tannery. We think the tannery ceased to operate around the 1840’s as this area became gentrified. The Somers family occupied Langford Place nearby, and I can imagine there was considerable pressure to close
the tannery.

The Blackmoor tannery was advertised for sale in the Bristol Mirror of 15th June 1811 along with the adjacent mill house. … So far we have not been able to identify the owner of this tannery.
Kind regards

From the census data it was clear that Jenny’s relative worked at the Blackmoor tannery and she followed up the newspaper references which showed that the tannery was occupied in 1811 by Joseph Wilmott:

Bristol Mirror – 15 Jun 1811 & 22 Jun 1811



 ALL those extensive Premises, in the occupation of Mr. Joseph Wilmott, Tanner, situate at Langford, 12 miles from Bristol;- consisting of a Messuage or DWELLING-HOUSE, and Garden, Tan-Yard, Pits, &c. Cottages, Mill House, and Outhouses of various description; together with a prime young Orchard,— the whole containing, by estimation, three acres.
The above Premises are on the right-hand side of the road leading from Bristol to Bridgewater, and are well adapted for the business Tanner, or would be most eligible spot for building; the situation being universally admired, and the greatest part of the Materials necessary for a large House being on the premises.

The Blackmoor tannery can be discerned on the 1811 Ordnance Survey surveyor’s drawing.  The rectangular site bounded by Blackmoor, Langford Road and Maysmead Lane occupies nearly three acres and well fits the description.  By 1838 it had been sold and developed as indicated in the sale advertisement.  The tithe map of that year shows that the corner site had been converted into the blacksmith’s yard (555) and that two rows of labourer’s cottages had been built, Foster’s Row on Blackmoor (553) and Granger’s Row on Langford Road (556).  A more substantial dwelling bordered Maysmead Lane (557). The northern boundary of the site now reduces its area to about two acres.   By 1885, the first edition Ordnance Survey plan shows that the orchard still existed but that Foster’s Row had been replaced by the Chapel, which is incorrectly labelled as Wesleyian Methodist.  A few years later, the 1903 Revised Edition shows Granger’s Row and the buildings on Maysmead Lane replaced by the Victoria Jubilee Homes.

Following the sale in 1811, Jenny Clark discovered that Joseph Willmott and his family fell on hard times.  In 1813, they were living in the Bristol workhouse in the parish of St Phillip and St Jacob. They later lived in River Street.   Joseph was still working as a tanner.

In his talk at the January 2017 meeting of the History Group, Alex reported on his and Jenny’s follow-up work on the tanneries, tanners and their apprentices.  The following Masters and Apprentices have been identified:

Master Tannery Apprentice Date of Indenture
John Sturgis Saxon James Ford 7 Nov 1721
Thomas Davis 10 Jun 1730
Richard Beacham Blackmoor Joseph Plenty 19 May 1740
Samuel Simmons Blackmoor John Reed 10 May 1742
John Keen 6 May 1752
Will Wickham 25 March 1757
Richard Chapman Saxon Simon Smeathes 17 Aug 1748
Eleanor Chapman Saxon Hugh John Sturgis 22 Oct 1753
John Blakehouse 27 June 1758
Maurice Howard Saxon James Cox 5 May 1779
John Moon Blackmoor James Hurdith 28 April 1781
Philip Emery 28 May 1781
Robert Lane 8 June 1782
John Parker Saxon William Parker 1 Oct 1783
James Simmons Blackmoor John Simmons 31 Dec 1785
Thomas Phillips Cox 6 Aug 1784
Joel Keel Saxon Walter Webb 7 Dec 1793
William Danger 18 July 1804

We hope it will be possible to give more details of these former Langford residents and their families in future articles.