The Leather Market and London Leather Exchange
The leather trade had operated in Bermondsey for centuries, references are made to it in the fourteenth century. There had been a skin markets at Bankside but this and the dealing activities at Leadenhall had been outgrown and so in 1832-33 the principal tanners of Bermondsey erected under their control the Leathermarket on Weston Street. As this combined trading and warehousing at one location near the major tanneries it was beneficial to them all and they raised between them some £50,000 for this purpose as a proprietoral holding. The building was of two rows with a central courtyard incorporating some older warehouses. Behind them, was the trading area which was a covered yet otherwise open terrace, in a U shape, allowing the traders to keep dry but allowing fresh air to circulate over their wares. The tanners, curriers and leathersellers came together in the fifty ‘bays’ or sales stalls to trade their skins and hides. This part was destroyed in the Blitz of 1941. In 1878 they added the grand ‘London Leather Hide & Wool Exchange’ next to it, including their private Gentlemen’s Club on the first floor. This was the scene of considerable social activities of the proprietors of the tanneries and membership was of great status, similar to that of other commercial exchanges in Victorian London. The Exchange closed in 1912.
The new Leather Warehouse and Skin Market of 1833 on Weston Street
A moving light in developing this, as of so much more in Bermondsey, was Colonel Samuel Bourne Bevington (always ‘Sam’, 1832 - 1907), a member of one of the oldest and most important local Tanners families. A great benefactor of the area; he set up the Voluntary Reserve Battalion (Territorials) of the Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment providing the equipment, uniforms and the Drill Hall opposite his factory, Neckinger Mills, in 1884, hence his Colonelcy. This facility remained until 2012 when the Bevington Trustees did not renew the lease because of the site’s value for residential development. Furthermore, the Civil Parish Vestry Hall was instituted by him in 1880 (the later borough Town Hall, Blitzed in 1941). He also paid for the original public library, both on Spa Road, opened 1891, now a community centre.
He was Master of the Leathersellers Company 1897-98 and presented a very fine silver cup, by CR Ashbee, to mark his year but also promoted a more important tie with Bermondsey and the City as discussed below in regard to training. When the new Metropolitan Boroughs of London County were created Col Sam became the new Borough of Bermondsey’s first Mayor in 1900, serving two terms. Always generous, in his last year in office entertained 400 of his staff and their families to a day trip, meals and sports day at his estate in Sevenoaks. There is a full size statue of him on Tooley Street, opposite the old Grammar School, wearing his Mayoral robes and the fine chain and badge of office he commissioned and donated which is still worn by the Mayor of Southwark.
The links on the Chain spell out 'B-E-R-M-O-N-D-S-E-Y'.
The Leathersellers Mastership was also held by Sir Samuel Barrow in 1931-32, Sir James Wilson Garnar 1948-49, Hugh Palliser Barrow 1957-58, Charles Douglas Scriven 1961-62 and James Geoffrey Bevington 1970-71. These family names still appear on the roll of Livery and Masters of the Company but from this period any local connections evaporate because of the closure, sale, merger or relocation of the original businesses.
The London Leather Exchange 1878
The Tanners Company of Bermondsey
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Statue on Tooley Street