J. & F.J. Baker is a place steeped in history and tradition, the last practitioner of a very British craft, and pretty much unique worldwide. From its location in a small town in rural Devon with a 20-person team it produces a material of the utmost luxury, in demand from the most exclusive brands and makers globally. That material is the highest quality, oak bark tanned leather made lovingly using age-old techniques in a tannery run by sixth and seventh generation tanners.
Pictured: Andrew Parr
INTEGRITY AND RESPECT FOR THE METHOD, HONED BY GENERATIONS OF EXPERTS
Locally-sourced bovine hides are treated on site over a fifteen-month period – the longest of any tanning process – using only natural and sustainable ingredients. Everything used is British and part of a circular approach. The end result is beautiful full grain aniline leather that is made into high-value items including shoes, bags, equestrian accessories and other luxury goods.
Colours are subtle and discreet, never bright or vulgar; light, mid and dark browns and tans that bring out the full, natural, tactile beauty of a material that ages like a fine wine, developing a character and patina, unique to each item.
Indeed, the painstaking process of making leather in this way is not dissimilar to creating an outstanding vintage wine or cold-pressed virgin olive oil – there are no short cuts, no compromises. This integrity and respect for the method, honed by generations of experts, means that J. & F.J. Baker oak bark tanned leather will always be better than anyone else’s.
Andrew Parr belongs to that rarified breed of connoisseurs whose knowledge and instinct for their craft is second to none. He describes the best oak bark tanned leather as ‘smiling’ when made into a case or bag. He can tell in an instant, simply by the fold, the grain, the glow and the weight of a leather item if it is tanned by J. & F.J. Baker.
He talks with pride of how the family business continues to make the leather that goes into the boots worn by the Horse Guards outside Buckingham Palace to specifications that pre-date the battle of Waterloo. A material that is sword-proof, with the grain side worn inside, so that any hack mark can be boned and removed from the outer.
AS THE WORLD STARTS TO REDISCOVER AND APPRECIATE TRADITIONAL, SUSTAINABLE WAYS OF MAKING J. & F.J. BAKER ARE NOW AT THE VANGUARD
Photo by www.otzilondon.com
Brands that buy from Andrew know that they can rely on the tannery to advise and get involved if required, at any point in the subsequent making, such is their knowledge of how their leather responds and performs.
The Parr family takes pride in their sustainable practices, using hides that are locally sourced, by-products of the Devon beef industry that is on their doorstep. The bark comes from coppiced British oak that is sustainably harvested and left to grow back from the same plant. Quarried Derbyshire lime and water are used at the dehairing stage and once completed, the lime is spread on local fields where cattle graze. The bark that is left from the tanning process is dried and allowed to decompose over a three-year period until it becomes a peat-like material, sold to local gardeners.
As the world starts to rediscover and appreciate traditional, sustainable ways of producing, businesses like J. & F.J. Baker that used to feel left behind are now at the vanguard. A history lesson that is now teaching and inspiring future generations.