Preferred Tanning to Butchering - 1948
Rotund and jovial William Aldridge, who sorts and cuts the hides and skins for dipping at the Company’s tannery at Leicester, is as cheerful as he looks in the accompanying picture, but he is one of those men who regards his own life a of no interest to others and although he is now just over fifty years of age, declares he has had no exciting or interesting experiences. Like most of the workers at the tannery, he has spent nearly the whole of his working days in the tanning business, but unlike most of the others, who were born and bred in or around Leicester, William Aldridge came originally from Bedford and his first job in life was in the butchering trade but when still a young man he decided to change from the edible part of the animal to its hide and, he says, he has never regretted the change.
His job now is by no means a light one and it calls for considerable experience. When the hides are delivered at the tannery he has to go through them all and sort them into different grades for the types of leather into which they will eventually be made such as linings, light box sandal leather, drumstuffing and, of course, calf. There are other grades or types, of course, but these are the main ones with which he is concerned.
The sorted hides he puts up on the bench in front of him and he goes through them again cutting each one in two, ready for dipping and splitting, with a razor sharp knife and it is here that he found his early butchering training useful for it taught him how to sharpen a knife and how to keep it sharp. To see him standing at his bench slicing through a hide makes one think he has an easy task, but try your hand at it and you will soon discover that it wants more than a sharp knife to make a clean, straight cut. It is the knack of holding the knife and knowing just how to cut and get a straight, even edge that is the secret of William’s job - the secret that comes with years of experience. In that respect it is interesting to note that he has now been working at the same tannery since 1920 but he says conditions there today are better than they have ever been and he, like his fellow workers, is anxious to pay tribute to all British Bata has done to improve the working conditions of the men since it took over.