Company Profile: Axminster 3 – Hide the Sheepskins

    150 150 Daniel Fountain
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    Not the fleece you understand, the whole sheepskin. The process is a bit shocking to be honest – I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the floor in the works didn’t date back to the monks making vellum for writing on as a part of their ecclesiastical occupation – it is after all next to Buckfast Abbey, and vellum was used by the monks to record our history from the dark ages onwards (If you want the story of England I can whole heartedly recommend Bernard Cornwell’s series on King Alfred). The processes are, unbelievably, positively medieval.The West Country once employed 5,000 people in producing sheepskin and sheepskin products but poor management has led to the total collapse of the industry, and Devonia too would have gone without the support of parent company Axminster. It now remains the last tannery producing sheepskin products in England, producing hides and sheepskin rugs for use in (amongst others) Rolls Royce and Bentley cars. Better known of course as Volkswagen and BMW.

    Many wool buyers are now buying their fleeces as futures, sometimes buying and storing 3 years production as the price is chased up by Chinese buyers. Where a fleece once cost 70 pence to take off a sheep’s back and earned a farmer perhaps twenty pence, now a fleece fetches some £8 as prices soar. A tanned woolskin fetches around £60 upwards. The UK sheep herd is around 40 million animals, 17 million being slaughtered for meat each year. Storage of fleeces is full of risk as pests can easily destroy the value. For hides salting immediately after slaughter is required to prevent flies etc. breeding on the skins – hence the green colour as sheepskins arrive at the tannery from the slaughterhouse. The UK is always going to be one of the top 15 world sheep economies because of climate and topography.

    I can already hear you going yuck. Bear with me there is more to come…

    Daniel Fountain / 31.05.2012

    Editor, Hotel Designs


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