The Rise and Demise of the Leather Tanning Industry in Crieff & Strathearn in the 18th and 19th Centuries

How Tanning Developed in Crieff

Tanning in the Strathearn  area had been carried out for many years and was known as  “ peat moss tanning " . The hides were immersed in a peat hole and left to allow the tannin from the peat to seep into them thus producing a primitive sort of leather . This method began to die out towards the end of the 18th century . As a result of the Jacobite Uprising in 1745 , the Commissioners of the Forfeited Estates had taken over the lands of the Drummond Family ( Duke of Perth ) who were feudal superiors to much of the land in and about Crieff including the Barony of Milnab to the west of the town In 1782  , a saddler called David Blair , was encouraged to come to Crieff by the Commissioners to establish a tan works . He was given £300 by them plus some four and half acres of ground in the East Meadow and erected thereon a building and constructed the tanning pits . I believe the locus of this was to the north east of the Town Green where the Somerfield/Coop supermarket now operates and in or around Meadow Lane next to the old Drill Hall and what was an old distillery building. His business flourished and in 1790 , he engaged a tanner from Edinburgh . His name wasThomas Wright and he acted as an assistant to Blair . When Blair died and left his business and property to his wife Elizabeth , Wright rented the tan yard from her on a twenty one year lease . Unfortunately Mrs Blair seemed to have been a real fire brand with a strong temper . She fell out with Wright who relinquished his occupancy of the tan yard . He  joined up with another tanning firm in the town trading as James McVean and Company .This company were the successors to D Smith and Company who had in 1789 feued some ground in Milnab Street and erected their tannery . In 1791 , they rented Blair’s tan yard and Thomas Wright was appointed manager of both . In 1792 he was made a partner in the company .

The rapid developments did not suit the loud mouthed and belligerent Mrs Elizabeth Blair . She raised an action in the Court of Session in Edinburgh against Thomas Wright claiming for non payment of rent and breach of contract . She lost the case but continued in public to bad mouth both Wright and his fellow partners .Enough was enough and the Company raised in 1801 , an action against her for slander. Justice prevailed when the action proved successful .

Some three years later in 1804 Thomas Wright introduced his son John, a boy of only twelve years into the business . ( John had born circa 1792 in Crieff ) The young lad was adept at learning the trade and he and his father worked together for nearly forty years . The tannery was situated in Milnab Street or as it was referred to then , Tannery Street . Most of the original buildings were demolished to make way for the flats that stand there now . One original building does however remain and is owned by Gordon Motors and currently used as store ( see below ) .

In 1828 , father and son erected a new and larger tan yard , slightly to the west of the original which was sold to one of his partners , David Arnot for £ 1299 . In 1837 Thomas Wright continued to expand his business interests . In 1799 Andrew Bayne had as recorded in Porteous History of Crieff ( Edinburgh: 1912 ) built a tan yard at Croftnappock to the east of the town . There is at present a Crofnappock Place set amidst an immediate post war housing development . The original place of that name I believe was located on what is now Leadenflower Court at the south end of Ramsay Street . It was described in the 1863 Ordnance Survey map of Crieff as “ Pittenzie Tannery “. This old tannery was demolished about 1990 to make way for the present co- ownership housing development. Bayne sold it in 1817 to John Philips , writer /
lawyer  in Crieff who in turn sold it , in 1837 , to John Wright .

 In 1841, Thomas Wright became sole proprietor of both Milnab Street tan yards . The extent of the businesses can be seen by looking at the 1864 OS ( the first produced )  extract below .

John Wright died in 1846 leaving the business to his son John .John Wright who had started in the business at the tender age of twelve now had the whole tanning industry of Crieff in his own hands . He enlarged and improved the tan yards in 1848 . At this time he found that he had no need for the old tannery in The Meadows and he terminated his lease. For a while they were worked by David Scrimgeour but this ended in the 1880s .  The buildings had entirely disappeared by the end of the 19th century .

The Wright business was flourishing and the company developed into Perth where the tan yard at Bridgend was managed by two of John’s siblings .Sadly they died at an early age . The reputation of the company was now high throughout the land on account of the high quality of its products . Wright appeared to have been a generous man and it was quoted locally “ no deserving appeal for help was ever unheeded “ . He acquired great wealth and built for himself a substantial house of some ten rooms to the east of the West Kirk – the local Chapel of Ease . The house was called originally Viewbank House . This was changed later to Greenbank and thence Rockclyffe . It became laterally a boarding house for Morrison’s Academy (  Knox House ) . John died there on 29th June 1865 aged 72 years of heart disease . According to Porteous in his History of Crieff “ he left a large fortune of about £180 000 to his sister Margaret " .This incredibly was about £10 million in modern parlance !

Margaret had married John McDougall . He and his brother Hugh had started life in a modest way and worked themselves through university . They came to Crieff and ran a school in the Bridgend area of the town . John held a school in North Bridgend in an old barn . When they graduated the brothers entered the Free Church of Scotland – a strong force in those far off days . Hugh became a Minister in the Milton Free Church in Glasgow whilst John was ordained in the Chapelsade Free Church  in Dundee .Shortly after this he married Margaret . With her vast inheritance , John retired from the ministry and purchased the estate of Orchil between Braco and Crieff and built a large mansion .On the death of Grace , sister of Margaret , more money flowed to the McDougalls. When his brother Hugh died all his money passed to John .

John McDougall was a good bloke but devoid of business acumen . He invested badly . His investment in the to fail City of Glasgow Bank was disastrous . Things went badly . He sold Orchil and the the tan yards in in both Crieff and Perth . Shortly before his death he sold Croftnappock and a small house in Milnab Street . In a short period , all the substantial assets left by John Wright had been dissipated . Sadly the Wright saga  had been drawn to a sad end .

Croftnappock Tannery in Leadenflower
The site of the old tannery is now Leadenflower Court – flats which were developed by Hillcrest Housing Association some years ago  . Local business man George McOmish kindly explained  to me what was rtevealed prior  to the demolition of the existing buildings .
The tanning pits were located adjacent to Ramsay Street opposite Croft Cottage . They were constructed with 9” x 2” pine timber battens and there were remains of oak wood chips at the base . Scottish Natuaral Heritage examined the site at this stage .

John Wright

( as described in Macara’s “ Crieff: Its Traditions and Characters” Published in 1881 )

John Wright was one of the most industrious , upright and successful men of the district . He commenced business in his father’s tanworks when twelve years of age . Two of his brothers afterwards also became connected with the works  , but in the course of years they dropped off the scene , and John was left sole master of the celebrated establishment .Things continued to prosper with him , and he died in 1865 , aged seventy three , reputed to be worth far beyond £100 000 . He was much respected , and those who were favoured with his intimate  acquaintanceship knew how worthily he deserved it . He was tall and of stern and commanding appearance  , possessed a warm and sympathetic heart , and preferred to do his alms without ostentation . Any shoemaker , or other customer , however humble  , who acted in an , straightforward manner  , always found him to be a friend  . If they found difficulties in the way , such as sickness, accidents  , or other  cause which they could not foresee nor prevent , and which made the needful short on settling days , he heeded not if he had faith in their integrity . He took what they offered and they got what they desired , without comment .





  1. Royal quality post. I want to know about tanning for me. Have you another site about it like tanoholic com, plz share.
    Thank you


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