John’s Retirement, A New Chapter

John’s Retirement, A New Chapter

February 08, 2022

 John Hagger, founder of Tanner Bates is moving on, set to begin his well earned retirement at the end of the month, leaving Tanner Bates in the very capable, expert hands of the the dedicated team: Rick, Ella, Matt & Will, who between them have more than 15 years experience working at Tanner Bates and many more years working and making in the leather industry.
Expect to see exciting new designs & developments from TB HQ!
 - - -
Now, a few words from John, Mr Tanner Bates himself:
Half a working life in leather – where did that go??
To start a new work direction in middle age is such an exciting prospect. At the age of 45 I realised I wasn’t too old to start over again and went to Walsall to start my college training as a saddler and bridle maker. I wasn’t “horsey” but it was the traditional leather working skills and the town of Walsall, so steeped in the culture, that I was so captivated by. I trained alongside and was taught by people who had been in the industry for generations.
Leaving college and moving back south I soon realised there was no career path as such for me to slot into. I found my way into Waldorf education – an extraordinary system for young people that reveres the ability of craft and hand work to embed practical, intellectual and spiritual skills. As part of that teaching I had to learn where the leather itself came from. This led me on a new journey. I spent 2 years on a self styled practical study investigating how to make leather. I got lots of help from the library at the Walsall Leather Museum and from Andrew Parr 5th generation owner of Baker's Tannery in Devon.
 Shoulder bag made from road kill hare skin
I really enjoyed combining the refined saddlery making skills with the rustic rawness of primitively tanned road kill squirrel, fox and deerskins.
 Road kill roe deer journal
After moving to Devon I discovered Baker's Tannery in Colyton, East Devon. They tan their hides with oak bark from the Lake District in huge underground pits, after which the hides are hand finished. It’s a process that takes almost 2 years and is a far cry from the automated factory production of modern world tanneries. Their leather is made in the old way and exactly suited my need for a more primitively produced leather.
The hides are processed with the minimum of treatments so that the distance between animal skin and finished product is as short as possible, so that there can be no mistake that this product was cut from the skin of an animal. Baker's oak bark tanned leather worked perfectly as the raw material for my belts, stationery and bags.
I was over brimming with creative ideas combining inspired designs with exceptional and unusual leather with random markings. I started with a Christmas market stall and then craft shows. Very few people were working with leather in those days so I sailed through the selection processes.
I rented a 500sq ft workshop on the Dartington Estate and hired 17 year old Will as an apprentice. Now, I can't believe it, but it’s almost 20 years later – 20 really busy and fun years.
I am grateful for my team of dedicated and enthusiastic Tanner Bates leather craftspeople and for the UK leather network of makers, tanneries and suppliers. Also, and without whom it wouldn’t have worked - thanks to our dedicated customers - from that first local supporter who looked at my motley array of miserable exhibits on that first Christmas market stall and bought a journal.  Thank you to you all who made this journey a joy!
Bucket bag made from Dartmoor red deer with partially decomposed roe deer front pocket and deer antler closure

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