Hello again people and pooches. Joe the Cocker here. Me and my human must have covered every square inch of ground in Runcorn in the past few months. The lockdown is still in place and the big feller is having big problems getting his useless knee sorted. He needs a new knee so, I suggested he get a complete new leg and have done with it or even two. In fact, why doesn’t he get a full set of four and he could maybe keep up with me! Anyway, he decided to take yours truly on a walk from the front door around the sites of the old tanneries in Runcorn.
In the late 19th and a fair amount 20th century, Runcorn was the centre of the UK tanning industry. Four large tanneries were busy in the town at this time. Highfield, Puritan, Astmoor and Camden utilised the elaborate canal system to transport their goods with all four being built close to the Bridgewater Canal, which was the M6 of its day. There are numerous places with a link to this industry still visible in the town such as Tannery Fields Housing development, Tannery Croft, Tanners pub was on Castlefields and even Runcorn Football Club was known as The Tanners. Runcorn AFC was originally formed as Highfield and Camden Tanneries Recreation Club. My human even thought that Tanners, the tanning salon was linked to the industry, the Muppet!
We set off on a chilly February morning toward our first destination, the site of the Puritan Tannery in Halton Road. We walked onto the hills at Stenhills so that I could have a mooch around and to burn up a bit of Spanner energy. My human laughs at me but, to be honest, I don’t understand why he doesn’t join me. I could smell where squirrels had been hiding. I flushed out a couple of unsuspecting pigeons from the bushes. I found half a tennis ball with green stuff growing on it and I had an attack of the zoomies. All that he did was walk along the path, mumbling as he limped, something about ‘Joe, drop it’, ‘come here’ and ‘get out of there’. He is such a misery and a killjoy.
Sorry, I digress, it was through the hedgerow that we could see the site of the Puritan Tannery. Currently, it is a building site full of half constructed houses. The area was cleared recently of the remaining derelict buildings that were owned by Greencore where pizzas were made. Originally the tannery was known as Boston Tannery and was built in the early 1900s. It was named after Francis Boston who lived in Boston Grange, which is now known as Runcorn Town Hall. It was incorporated in 1926 and renamed Puritan Tannery.
Production continued until 1962 and the company went into liquidation in 1966. The building was purchased by Gardenvale Foods and became known locally as ‘the Lardy’. The lard factory closed in 1974 after a huge fire destroyed most of the buildings.
Puritan Tannery was renowned worldwide for producing hard leather for soles of shoes and boots. The site was built on both sides of Halton Road with the northern side on the Bridgewater Canal and a bridge spanning the road to join the two parts of the factory. The Bridgewater Garden Centre now occupies some of the land on the canal side of the factory. A Blue Plaque is mounted on a wall by the cafe to commemorate the tanning industry in the town.
If you read my blogs regularly, you will know that the big feller likes to sing as he walks. I say sing but, surely means that the singer can carry a tune. Well, not in this case. Today’s ditty was Venus in Furs by Velvet Underground. His dubious link to todays walk is the first line of the song. ‘Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather’, which he bashed out with one or two other lines of this ‘dodgy’ song. He is so irritating!
We continued our journey along Halton Road until we entered Sea Lane and crossed the Bridgewater Canal over Astmoor Bridge. Just over the bridge is Marsh Lane and the site of the Astmoor Tannery. Also, on this lane stood Ivy Cottage, a Grade II listed building that was demolished to make way for industrial development. The tannery opened for production in 1900 and closed 45 years later. It processed up to 6000 hides per week and employed 170 people. The buildings were also demolished to make way for Astmoor Industrial Estate. We had a pootle around the Brindley Road area until we headed to Hardwick Road.
Hardwick Road is the site of the most successful tannery in the town, Highfield Tannery. On Halton Road, at its southern side, it also utilised the Bridgewater Canal as its main transport link. Highfield produced a variety of leather products such as thin leather for car seats and thick leather for briefcases, suitcases and handbags. It also, like Puritan, produced shoe and boot soles.
We continued to walk away the Bridgewater Canal towpath into town. The final tannery, Camden Tannery, was located where St. Paul’s Gardens are nowadays. The Gardens are at the rear of Camden Buildings which has a dilapidated frontage on High Street. The Gardens are actually a car park that serves St. Paul’s Health Centre. The ordinary building was a soapworks, owned by Thomas Hazlehurst. Camden bought it to produce leather goods with the company being sold to Highfield. The building was later converted for use as a Painters and Decorators business by ED Williams. Sadly, the building suffered major fire damage and large parts were demolished.
The frontage of the building is in a run down state with the rear being part derelict. Plans have been drawn to renovate the building and to return it to its former glory. Hopefully, this will be carried out sooner rather than later as the building is an eyesore at present suffering from years of neglect.
One remaining success story from the town’s tannery background is that of the Highfield Male Voice Choir. In 1902 male quartets were formed by workers in the Highfield Tannery. These quarters formed the mass choir, in 1911, as we know it today. The choir has performed in the Royal Albert Hall, Liverpool Philharmonic and the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, to name a few. They have performed worldwide with great success. The choirs emblem shows three tannery workers carrying bends of leather or half animal hides.
Who would have thought that Runcorn was once the biggest producer of leather in the country. There is minimal evidence of the industry ever being in the town. In fact, the only leather outlet nowadays is the Timpson shoe repairing booth in Asda!
It was time to head off homewards. It was only a short hobble and a wobble along the towpath of the Bridgewater Canal but, it took an age. My human was having a right old moan about his left peg. I reminded him to get a new set of four like I have been manufactured with. I can highly recommend it. Till next time!