Currier To Saddler To Badger To Peace And Quiet. 28th February

Walsall Town Basin to C&RT Operational Mooring, Walsall

This week is Real Bread Week, I’ve been meaning to get a sour dough starter going again after my few failed attempts before Christmas, so this week I was determined to get one going again. I’d stocked up on Sorghum flour a while ago, so I decided to use this as a base. Some research brought me to yet another guide to making a sour dough starter. They are all pretty similar ingredients wise, but some have you stirring several times a day, others feed once a day, others three times a day, some with the help of grapes, others red cabbage.

I decided to follow Fresh is Real as the loaf of bread Chantel makes at the end of it looked really tasty and involves no eggs, so might be a little bit less like cooked batter, hopefully we’ll see! I decided to add a leaf from a red cabbage to help kick start it, these have natural yeasts on their leaves. I’ve also bought myself a set of cups so that I can add my ingredients by volume rather than weight, along with a bigger jar.

I’ll keep you posted as to how it goes through photos, like I do with TV signal thumbs up/down/sideways. First photo from this morning at the end of todays post.

The Leather Museum

Windy and sleety this morning so we headed up to The Leather Museum just a short walk past Tescos. Housed in a Victorian factory the museum opened in 1988 after being renovated by the council. It follows the towns story from a small market town to an internationally renowned saddle making centre.

Saddle

Here in Walsall, the town of a hundred trades, saddlers and harness makers had excellent supplies of horse bits, stirrups and buckles. During the 19th Century the demand for saddlery grew enormously. In 1801 there were 29 saddle and harness makers, a hundred years later this had risen to 6830. During the 1st WW huge quantities of saddles were made in this factory for the army. Then cars took over and many of the saddlers had to diversify,here they took to making hand bags supplying Marks and Spencers.

Part of the workshop display

The area was plagued with the aftermath of mining for limestone and subsidence meant that most of the surrounding buildings had to be demolished. But the museum buildings were deemed to be fine examples of Victorian Industrial Architecture so the mines underneath the buildings were pumped full of concrete.

Colourful

We arrived shortly after a coach party, they were being shown round which might have been interesting to be with a guide, but we could take our time instead. A room full of skins, large small, pig, cow, goat, alligator. Some soft, some thick and stiff, others embossed to look like snake skin. Yellow, black, brown.

The real thing and imitation

Skins need to be processed to stop them from rotting, tanning. Oil, oak bark, smoke, bone marrow even brains have been used for this process in the past. The softer the leather the more smelly the process seemed to be, using pigeon droppings and dog excrement! Once tanned it is taken by Curriers and worked with tools to make it into all types of leather. Thick, thin, stretchy, shiney all sorts.

Different patterns and textures

Modernisation was brought in, chrome salts were used to speed up the tanning of the hide meaning it took days rather than months to react. Splitting machines were used cutting down on the amount of leather that was wasted.

Spikey spur

Leather workers then took over, working the hides into saddles and harnesses, attaching stirrups, stuffing saddles with wool and straw. In 1922 unions came to an agreement with the factory owners with regards to pay, no one had even thought of the Gender pay gap then and children worked along side their parents helping to keep the costs down.

Thats quite a Gender pay gap

By 1900 the economic boom had brought great wealth to the town, the population grew and factories were built on the back of lucrative army contracts. But with the invention of motorised transport brought this to an end.The government sold off it’s ex-army stock flooding the market with cheap goods. The factories needed to diversify.

Goggles
Eeeeww!

By 1931 light leather goods were being made, purses, wallets and accessories. Some of these companies still make goods in the town today. Launer and Ettinger hold Royal Warrants for their luxury items, the Queen owns over 200 Launer handbags. The cheapest handbag on their website £750, a clutch bag, but the majority are well over £1000 if not £2000.

Ornate locks
The smallest of padlocks

The Museum also has exhibits of other goods made in Walsall. Locks, metal tea sets, light switches.

Also quite a timely exhibit on Spanish flu when 500 million were infected world wide. We wondered if Formamint was still available.

A leather makers workshop was filled with wooden clamps that would hold the leather together so that it could be sewn, a stirrup used to keep them closed. There were stamp machines similar to those in the Jewelry Quarter and saddles in various states of completion.

A clamp with stirrup to keep it tight shut

The chap who’d been in the shop asked us if we wanted to make a keyring, he’d get someone to show us. But we weren’t bothered, unless a keyring has a float on it it’s not much use to us and I’m reluctant to give Tilly her own set of keys!

Stamps
A Tilly keyring

An interesting museum, just a shame that there were no volunteers about today to do demonstrations.

Cottons
Saddles in the making

A quick look around the charity shops I’d missed yesterday on my costume hunt. It’s really hard to know if something should be bought at this stage, would I just be settling for something that would do, or wasting money when something much better shows itself in weeks to come. I bought nothing and joined Mick in Tescos for some food supplies.

Stamping out leather shapes

We successfully made it back to the boat without falling into the basin. There are signs everywhere warning of deep water. Last October four people walked straight into the water on three occasions. To our knowledge there are no ladders and no life buoys in view.

Don’t be stupid and fall in

The basin is quite a nice place to be, but Bar 10 does play music outside. It’s no where near as annoying as the car show room in Oldbury but we decided to move with it being Friday night. Just before Walsall Junction we’d seen a pontoon on the off side. A sign pointed to one end suggesting it was for the use of C&RT operational boats, but in small print it invited us to moor there if empty after 5pm. So we took them up on their offer, no access to land but that was fine, we’d be away from Friday night drinkers and music.

0 locks, 0.26 miles, 1 wind, lots of wind, 1 museum, 7000 leather workers, 200 handbags for the Queen, 1 canvas one for me, 1 sleety day, 7th April production meeting, 0 costumes, 1 pack of sausages, 3 packs of blueberries, 1 joint of lamb, 1 very bored cat, 5pm free, 1 Jorge on his way!

Day 1 morning.

Sorghum floor, water and a red cabbage leaf.

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