History of leathermaking and education in Northampton

The history of leathermaking in Northampton dates back to the late Saxon period and the prominence of the craft has made the town renowned for footwear and leather manufacture as well as leather education worldwide. The University of Northampton is one of the the only universities in Europe to offer a degree in Leather Technology, continuing to educate the leathermakers of the future.

To find out more about studying Leather Technology, see our Leather courses hub

  • 1213

    King John purchased a pair of riding boots for the sum of nine pence


    Henry III demanded hides, both white and tanned, from Northampton while he was besieging Bedford


    Record of a tanner, a parchment maker and Tanner Street


    Probable existence of a Guild of Tanners and Shoemakers. Mention of well-organised dispute against butchers over hide prices

  • 1470 – 1550

    The Western Tannery was in operation at The Green. This tannery can be viewed as complex production on a relatively large scale – early factory based manufacture.

    photo of section of excavated tannery, Western Tannery, in 1980s

    The Western Tannery comprised 36-37 pits. Some had clay linings for retentions of solutions, on top of which traces of oak staves could be reorganised. Traces of lime and ash – used for alkali swelling of the skins for softening – were identified.

    Bone evidence suggests that cattle and horses, as well as sheepskins were being processed at this tannery. It was not usual trade-practice to tan hides and sheepskins at the same tannery as they require different methods of processing.


    Reference to The Green / St. Peters Street tanneries


    15 tanners, 1 fellmonger recorded


    Apprentice lists show: Cordwainers 3, Tanners 2, Curriers 1

  • 1642-1645

    Northampton tannery and shoemakers provided leather boots for Oliver Cromwell’s New Model Army


    Mechanisation began the shift in boot and shoe making from a well-organised home-based craft towards efficient footwear manufacture


    The Grammar School is split into Classic and Commercial (technical) schools



    Beeby Thompson established the original tanning school as part of the commercial part of the Grammar School. Records show a tanning class operated with 15 students.

  • 1900s

    Northampton tanners and footwear manufacturers provide essential footwear during the First and Second World Wars


    The Grammar School is divided into two Schools: Northampton Technical School and the Grammar School (now Northampton School for Boys)


    photo of David Woodroffe (centre) first Principal of Tanning and FootwearTanning and Boot and Shoe departments relocated in an adjacent tannery fitted with model equipment in St. Michael’s Road. David Woodroffe (centre in photo) became first Principal of Tanning and Footwear.


    Tanning and Boot and Shoe departments relocated in the New Technical College at St. George’s Avenue (now Avenue Campus)


    42 known tanneries and leather dressers located in Northampton


    The Leather Department and The National Leathersellers’ College merge and relocate to the newly inaugurated Park Campus and become the British School of Leather Technology (BSLT). The specialist building was funded by The Worshipful Company of Leathersellers.


    Nene College designated as University College Northampton

  • 2005

    University College Northampton became The University of Northampton


    The British School of Leather Technology is rebranded as The Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT)


    Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) moves to Waterside Campus

    leather-making lab in ICLT Centre


    ICLT continues to provide services to the national and international market in leather education, training, research, problem solving, environmental matters, fashion and specialised footwear.

    Find out more about the Institute for Creative Leather Technologies (ICLT) on our hub.

    This page includes research and text by R.P. Daniels