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The story of British leather

The story of British leather
11 January 2018

The National Leather Collection looks to U3A groups across the country for help researching its diverse collection of artefacts and information.

The National Leather Collection (NLC) was founded in 1946, to be the national repository for items and information on the topic of leather.  NLC ( are arguably the largest and most diverse resource on the subject of Leather in the world – with a collection of over 5,000 unique items and library of over 3,000 volumes on the subject.  In 2014, NLC received Lottery funding to get new premises in Northampton, and to become a virtual museum.  Their aim is to create a new kind of establishment, where people can experience the breadth of the collection, but also the skills of working with leather.  One with a popular appeal.  A place that will educate, as well as entertain.

They are offering a unique chance for everyone to be involved in developing a national museum collection by people writing, researching and or curating items from afar, to do so.

Northampton U3A’s involvement with the National Leather Collection started when members of the leathercraft activity group became volunteers helping to sort through and catalogue the 800 plus boxes of objects.  These ranged from fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls and 2,000 year old leather undergarments to thousands of leather artefacts via Samuel Pepys’ wallet, boots, shoes, buckets, books, and more.

More U3A groups became involved.  Next were the Microscope users group, closely followed by the Photography group.  All three groups were involved in the museum’s first open day in February 2017.

The microscopy group have sorted and labelled over 300 slides which were part of the collection and will be photographing them to make them available on-line.

One of U3A Northampton’s local history groups has visited the NLC and is looking to develop ways to assist them to research and capture information about the collection exhibits and the leather industry, which formed the mainstay of Northampton’s economy for many years.

The experiences and skills of people who spent their working lives in the leather industry needs to be recorded before it is lost.  U3As are ideally suited to assist the NLC, because of their interest in learning and the broad base of skills and experience.  You don’t have to be in Northamptonshire to assist with this national project, as information is being digitised to make it available to as wide a base of interested people as possible, via the internet.  Already NLC have volunteers around the UK and overseas.

So where could your U3A interest group help and participate with NLC in a shared learning project?  NLC have suggested examples of areas for collaboration.

  • Did your town have a tannery, saddlery, book bindery, etc working with leather?
  • How was leather used in your local traditional industry – mining, ship building, weaving?
  • Genealogy groups could you research the people who were influential in the past to the leather industry?
  • Are you interested in Fashion? NLC has the V&A’s furs/leather collection and needs to develop their understanding of this.
  • Do you have a fascination with a sport where leather products feature – Baseball (mitts), Rugby (balls), etc. Would you like to see what the collection has, and curate a local / national exhibition focussed on use of leather over the years in your sport?

The opportunities are endless, and with over 400,000 members U3A should be in a position to both deepen their learning experience as well as assist a developing national museum.  Just get in touch via the NLC website.

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