Telling the Story of Leather

The National Leather Collection is an emerging heritage and visitor attraction located in the Grosvenor Centre, Northampton; the heart of the UK’s shoe and leather industry. The museum was founded by John W. Waterer and Claude H. Spiers in 1946, and has grown to become a collection of over 10,000 objects. It tells the world story of leather-crafting from prehistory to present day, and features an eclectic collection of artefacts including Ancient Egyptian underpants, fragments from Tutankhamen’s tomb, and George III’s toilet.

Thanks to the Nenescape Landscape Partnership Scheme’s ‘Stories of the Nene' community heritage grant, we have been able to start a new, exciting project to unbox our archival material for the first time, in an attempt to better understand the museum’s history and our local leather heritage. The best way of describing our ‘Telling the Story of Leather’ project is to imagine that it’s Christmas, except that the presents are old photographs and documents, wrapped in folders and cardboard boxes. For the last forty years, the museum’s archive has been in storage, inaccessible and uncatalogued. The material chronicles the leather industry in Northampton and beyond, and covers every leather-related subject including archaeology, tanning, heritage and fashion in a mixture of typed documents, handwritten notes, press cuttings and photographs. The aim of the project is very simple; to make the archive publicly accessible for the first time by creating an online resource that can be accessed by all.

One of the many ways in which funding from Nenescape has allowed us to do this, is by expanding our volunteering opportunities. We have been able to recruit six new volunteers for the project itself, with others working remotely on specific archival research projects such as transcribing the Oliver Baker manuscripts. With our newly upgraded online storage and scanning facilities, we are able to continue to support volunteers living as far away as Australia in their voluntary work. Most of all, we have been given this wonderful opportunity to engage the people of Northamptonshire with their local history, and this unique resource.

James, a project volunteer, says “I have a passion for anything historical. Reading and recording the file contents is an interesting way of understanding the development of leather throughout the ages. I’m enjoying helping to make this archive easily accessible.”

The project’s progress is being chronicled under #storyofleather, and we’d like to encourage everyone to follow @museumofleather and @nationalleathercollection on twitter for regular updates. If you would like to get involved, please email to enquire about current volunteering opportunities and donations of archival material.