Tannery Square

Since I wrote about Woodhouse Ridge a week or so ago, we have really embraced our preparation for walking the full Dales Way.  We have no idea when this is likely to happen, given the current Coronavirus situation but it is giving us a good incentive to increase the length and frequency of our walks.

Meanwood Tannery plaque

We pass the old Meanwood Tannery each day on our way to and from the park. This was originally a corn mill powered by the water of Meanwood Beck for the monks of Kirkstall Abbey from 1230.   I’m not sure where that date comes from but the Abbey was founded around 1152, so it is likely that the corn mill was some time after that.  I also don’t really understand why the monks would travel two miles to Meanwood to mill their corn when the River Aire is right next to the Abbey?  Perhaps there is insufficient gradient for the river water to power a mill?  No doubt some local medievalist might be able to tell me. The mill’s presence is reflected in the road name close by ‘Monk Bridge Road’.

The mill was in operation till the late 1700’s and in 1857 a tannery was built there by the father of the famous Yorkshire brewer Sam Smith, who originally came from Meanwood.  I can only thank goodness that it is no longer a tannery.  Tanning is the curing and treatment of animal hides (skins) to produce leather. It is a notoriously smelly industry that involves some very unpleasant chemicals including lime and in some cases the skins were softened by beating dung into them. If you really want to know more check out the wikipedia entry on tanning.   

Tanning continued till 1911 when it became a fellmongers. I had no idea what this was and it’s not a great improvement on tanning. Fellmongery is the treatment of animal skins in preparation for tanning, so just as dangerous and smelly! The comments attached to this local history site from men who worked there right up till the late 20th Century are fascinating and alarming.

Meanwood Tannery
Source Historic England Archive.N ref: 465143

On the corner is a blue plaque with a brief citation. “The monks of Kirkstall Abbey had a water corn mill here in 1230. Milling continued until 1785 when Thomas Martin used the mill for paper-making. In 1857 Samuel Smith built this fine tannery. From 1911 to 1994 it was used as a fellmongery. “

The building has now been totally refurbished and is now set of flats that look very nice.  The date over the arch shows 1857 and has Sam Smith’s initials bracketing it.   


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