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A Brief History Of The Leather Industry In Bridge Of Weir

In 1870, Andrew Muirhead, a Glasgow leather manufacturer who resided in Lochwinnoch, purchased a recently vacated tannery at Burngill, Bridge of Weir which became the Gryffe Tannery. The tannery was run by Andrew's eldest son James and his brother Roland.

In 1905 Andrew's youngest son, Arthur, founded Bridge of Weir Leather Company, a tannery located at Clydesdale Works which was formerly a blanket mill.

Gryffe Tannery specialised in pigskins and horse hides for the saddlery and harness trades whilst Bridge of Weir Leather Company produced a variety of leathers including sheepskins, pigskins and reptiles! It was for the production of cattlehides however that Bridge of Weir leather became famous. The hides were tanned and finished for upholstery purposes and used in buses, trams, railway carriages, cars, ships and on furniture, all of which were manufactured in the Glasgow area. One of the early customers was the Ford Motor Company which used Bridge of Weir leather in the Model T from 1911. Some of the famous ships to have been fitted out in Bridge of Weir leather include the Queen Mary, Queen Elizabeth, QE2, Lusitania and the Royal Yacht Britannia. British Airways also specified Bridge of Weir leather in Concorde for many years.

In 1934 Arthur Muirhead purchased the Calico Printing Works on Kilbarchan Road and a third leather company, National Chrome Tanning Company, was founded. National Chrome Tanning Company and Bridge of Weir Leather Company co-existed on the site and produced leathers for the footwear industry.

Arthur's three sons Ramsay, Wilbur and Earl ran the businesses for many years with Ramsay and Earl based at Clydesdale Works whilst Wilbur ran the footwear leather operation at Locher Works on the Kilbarchan Road. In 1957 both Arthur and his eldest son Ramsay died. Thereafter, Bridge of Weir Leather Company specialised in car and furniture leather although pigskins for the leathergoods and saddlery industries as well as leather grips for golf clubs and sports rackets were produced up till the early nineteen eighties.

With Wilbur Muirhead as its first Chairman, Scottish Tanning Industries Ltd was established in 1965, the result of a merger of several independent tanners and leather manufacturers in the West of Scotland. Amongst these were W J & W Lang Ltd of Seedhill, Paisley and W & J Martin Ltd of Baltic Street, Glasgow. The business of W & J Martin Ltd relocated from Glasgow to Bridge of Weir in the mid nineteen sixties to a purpose built factory first called Baltic Works, situated adjacent to Locher Works on the Kilbarchan Road. A few years later the 'original' family firm of Andrew Muirhead & Son Ltd., located in Dunn Street, Bridgeton, joined the STI Group. Meanwhile the Gryffe Tannery remained independent and was subsequently purchased by an English based group of leather manufacturers who ran it for a few years before closing it in the early nineteen eighties. The buildings were subsequently demolished and the site is now occupied by C H Bull & Sons.

W & J Martin Ltd, manufacturers of shoe upper leather, closed down in 1982 and Baltic Works remained unused for the following ten years. National Chrome Tanning Co. Ltd also produced shoe shoe upper leather but faced difficult times as shoe manufacturing had been moving to lower cost countries.

In the early nineteen nineties the manufacture of shoe upper leather ceased and was replaced by car upholstery leather. National Chrome Tanning Company stopped making finished leather, changed its name to NCT Leather Ltd and concentrated on tanning. Bridge of Weir Leather Company expanded into Baltic Works

2005 was a significant year: Clydesdale Works was sold for residential housing following the relocation of all of Bridge of Weir Leather Company’s manufacturing facilities to Baltic Works; Bridge of Weir Leather Company celebrated its centenary; and Scottish Tanning Industries Ltd changed its name to Scottish Leather Group Ltd. The Group employs c.500 people, more than half of whom work in Bridge of Weir.

Bridge of Weir Leather today is an internationally well known brand name in the furniture, interior design and automotive industries. Today the Company exports 90% of its production to 36 countries and supplies leather to companies such as Volvo, Saab, Aston Martin, Mercedes, Renault, Honda, Mitsubishi, TWR, McLaren Cars, British Airways, KLM, Cathay Pacific, Malaysia Airlines and many more. Bridge of Weir leather is also used in the British Library, the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, Glasgow City Chambers and countless other public buildings and famous hotels around the world. The Company has won three Queen's Awards for export achievement in 1985, 1996 and 2000. The business today remains privately owned and its success is due to the commitment of the generations of employees many of whom were born and bred in Bridge of Weir.

We are indebted to Jonathan Muirhead, Chairman of Scottish Leather Group Ltd., who supplied the above interesting article.

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