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The Lost Tan-yard at Lambridge, Bath

Contemporary maps and newspapers provide strong evidence that there was an active tan-yard at Lambridge, Bath in the 18th and early 19th centuries. The tan-yard must have closed by the time the original cottages in Lambridge Street were built (in and after 1817). Today, nothing remains of the tan-yard, and its axes are covered by the 20th-century housing of no. 4 and of nos. 5–27 Lambridge Street.


There is good evidence that in the 18th and early 19th centuries there was an active tan-yard at Lambridge. Part of this tan-yard lay by the turnpiked London Road (the modern A4) about 1½ miles east of Bath, and occupied some 3 acres. Contemporary maps show one axis of the tan-yard was on the east side of the present Lambridge Street (at the rear of the present no. 14 Lambridge). The other, larger, axis would have extended eastward behind no. 15 Lambridge and towards the Lam Brook. The tan-yard must have closed and lost its tan-pits by the time the original cottages in Lambridge Street were built (in and after 1817). Today, nothing remains of the tan-yard. The 20th-century housing of no. 4 and of nos. 5–27 Lambridge Street lies on the axes of the original tan-yard.

Between 1773 and 1858, the Sturge family were currying (leather dressing) on the adjacent land of Lambridge Meads. The Sturges were not tanners per se, and at least latterly the leather they used was prepared in London and elsewhere.

This article presents the evidence and the conjectures.

Evidence of an 18th-century tan-yard at Lambridge

Leather was an important natural product, made from animal hides or skins, and used for harnesses, straps, belts, cases, shoes, workmen’s aprons, etc. Typically, a tannery would not be located within population centres such as large towns, as the noxious smells associated with tanning would cause distress to significant numbers of residents and visitors.

For much of the 18th century Lambridge was an ideal location for a tannery, being in a predominantly agricultural land, but only some 1½ miles from the markets and shops of Bath. There was also a good supply of water available from the nearby Lam Brook. Being adjacent to the well-maintained London Road (turnpiked by 1707), the Lambridge tan-yard was very convenient for the delivery of untreated hides and bark, and the removal of finished products.

Many questions can be asked about this tan-yard: 1) where was it; 2) when did it exist; 3) what buildings and facilities were associated with it; 4) who owned and worked there at particular times; 5) how big was the business; and finally, 6) when did it cease business and why?

Newspaper advertisements from the 18th and 19th centuries

The evidence for the tan-yard at Lambridge comes in part from newspaper advertisements. In the first advertisement1 in August 1794 (Figure 1, below), Lot 2 mentions a tan-yard with bark mill in Bath, together with a dwelling house and small tenement leased to William Ansell, tanner. The Walcot rate books show William Ansell was a ratepayer in Lambridge from 1794–98. The net rent arising out of the tan-yard and bark mill was £168 per year. The commodious dwelling house referred to in Lot 1, occupied by William (and Benjamin) Montague, must be Montague House (or no. 15 Lambridge). Lot 3, the net rent of £20 per annum, was secured on a dwelling house and land (contiguous with lots 1 and 2) and leased to Young Sturge. Thus, Sturge’s land and associated mill buildings were separate from the original tan-yard and bark mill. Being adjacent to no. 15 Lambridge, the original tan-yard can only have been behind the present no. 14 Lambridge.

Figure 1. Advertisement from the Bath Chronicle (1794).

The second advertisement2, from 1814, shown in Figure 2, is more specific and names the occupier as John Naish (described elsewhere as an eminent tanner). It mentions a dwelling house fronting the turnpike road at Lambridge, with facilities including water. It also specifies tan-pits, bark mills (plural), a bark barn, scouring houses, drying sheds, offices and outbuildings.

Figure 2. Advertisement from the Bath Chronicle (1814).

The third advertisement, from the Bristol Times and Mirror for 19 February 18143, is for the sale (or letting) of a tan-yard and bark watermill fronting the London Road at Lambridge, with a 15-year lease expiring in September 1828. (If the original lease was for 90 or 100 years, this would imply it was first dated either 1738 or 1728.) The tan-yard has an ample stream of water, includes a bark watermill, and is capable of tanning about 70 hides a week. At this date, the tan-yard, associated buildings and dwelling house comprise a substantial “about 3 acres”. The last paragraph of the advertisement implies the tan-yard and/or house may not have been in good and substantial repair in 1814.

Figure 3. Advertisement from the Bristol Times and Mirror 19 February 1814.

Map evidence of the Lambridge tan-yard

The best indication of the location of the tan-yard is in the Harcourt Masters Map of 17954 (Figure 4, below). This shows five substantial road-side houses on the London Road – corresponding to nos. 11, 12, 13 and 14 Lambridge (with Lambridge Street separating nos. ). A long building or shed (indicated in red) is evident at the rear of no. 14 Lambridge and parallel with Lambridge Street. The outline of this building suggests it is commercial rather than domestic, and it is compatible with a shed perhaps some 90 ft long and 20 ft wide, probably containing tan- and lime-pits. Three smaller structures are shown nearby, whose function is not known. 

Figure 4. Detail of Lambridge area from Harcourt Masters Map of 1795 – roads coloured yellow, proposed tan-yard in red.

So far, the only clue to the build date of the Lambridge tan-yard comes from Thorpe’s Map of 17425, shown in Figure 5, below. This has a linear structure on the east side of the present Lambridge Street, fronting the London Road. Its position matches the proposed tan-pit shed behind no. 14 Lambridge, depicted later by Harcourt Masters in his maps of 17954 and 1786/76.

Figure 5. Thorpe Map (1742) – roads and structures in Lambridge.

However, an enclosure (marked in red) rather than the putative tan-pit shed is shown in field 214 of Thorpe’s Map of 17407 (Figure 6), so the build date for the tan-yard could have been 1740–42. This Lambridge tan-yard might have been a replacement for an earlier tan-yard in Walcot Street8. Later, the southerly end of this field 214 became the site of a) nos. 14 and 15 Lambridge, and of b) the 14 original cottages of Lambridge Street (of which no. 14 Lambridge Street was the largest and most southerly).

Figure 6. Detail of Lambridge from Thorpe Map (1740) – roads are coloured yellow, with the site of tan-yard in red.

The 1841 Tithe map9, shown below in Figure 7, provides more details of Lambridge and the surrounding areas. By this date, the proposed tan-pit shed with its associated structures at the rear of no. 14 Lambridge has gone. However, superimposing the tan-yard structures of the 1795 map onto the 1841 map suggests that the cottages of the original nos. 1–14 Lambridge Street were built over the northerly axis of the previous tan-yard.

Now tan-yards were commonly L-shaped, so the missing part of the yard (and the crucial connections for water supply) can only have been behind no. 15 Lambridge. This area is not shown on the 1795 map, but is shown on the 1841 Tithe map.

This eastward extension of the tan-yard would clearly account for a significant part of the missing acreage, and seems likely to have been the site of other tan-yard structures, particularly a manual bark mill, a bark barn and scouring houses.

Figure 7. Tithe Map 1841 – wider Lambridge area (courtesy of Somerset Heritage Services).

Where was the water supply for the tan-yard?

There is no information on this matter in maps before 1841. Figure 8, below, shows two possibilities in terms of this 1841 map: 

  1. A direct connection by conduit to the Lam Brook some 208 ft away. Indeed, there is a dotted line which might be such a conduit. This appears to run north-eastward from tithe structure 88 (behind no. 15 Lambridge and part of the proposed tan-yard) to an apparent bridge over the Lam Brook. (The possibility of it being a path seems less likely, as it does not continue over the brook.) 
  2. An indirect connection is also suggested by Figure 8, which shows a clear conduit from the mill brook to Larkhall, but with a spur running to the rear of nos. 10/11 Lambridge Street. If this spur was extant when the tan-yard was in business, then it might have provided the main water supply. (The original function of the main conduit may have been to supply the brewery opposite the Larkhall Inn, which would have needed copious supplies of water.)

Marked in red is another structure of interest. This is by the Lam Brook and close to the possible direct conduit referred to in 1). This structure may have been a conduit house controlling the water supply to the now defunct tan-yard, as it is too close to the brook to have been suitable for a dwelling or storage house. Otherwise the build date and function of this structure by the brook are unknown. 

The likely position of the channels for waste water from the tan-yard is not known. 

Figure 8. Tithe Map of 1841 – details of London Road, Lambridge Street and Gloucester Road (roads in yellow, Lam Brook in blue). Tithe structures 135-133 are nos. 11 to 13 Lambridge and 87 and 86 are nos. 14 and 15 Lambridge.

Bark mills

The 1794 reference1 to a bark mill (singular) is likely to have been manual. However, the 1814 Bath Chronicle advertisement2 refers to bark mills (plural) and the Bristol Times and Mirror advertisement from the same year3 specifically cites a bark watermill. A manual mill would have been on the tan-yard land, but where was the bark watermill? Stuart Burroughs, of the Museum of Bath at Work, has pointed out (personal communication) that the bark watermill most likely utilised the watermill and associated gearing located on Sturge’s land (rather than on Naish’s land). Such commercial co-operation between close neighbours with complementary business interests is entirely plausible, and would not have been forbidden by the Leather Act of 1563.  

Tax and Rate book records

The land tax record for 179511 is shown in Figure 9. This shows separate entries for Young Sturge paying 2s 6d (for his leather mill), James Hooper paying 3s 10d (for no. 15 Lambridge), and John Knapp, a tanner, also paying 3s 10d (presumably for both no. 14 Lambridge and the tan-yard). The sequence continues west with Sarah Evill paying 2s (for no. 13 Lambridge). 

Figure 9. Assessed Land Tax (1798), Walcot outpart – a composite of two successive pages for Lambridge.

Similarly, the sequence of names in the rate books for Walcot confirms the position of the tan-yard. This is illustrated by the data for 1801, shown in Figure 10, below. Here, after no. 15 Lambridge (occupied by James Hooper), there is a property (“late Knapp”) paying £1, then follows the tan-yard also “late Knapp” with a rate of £1 10s. The size of this rate, which is significantly greater than that paid by Mrs Evill (for no. 13 Lambridge) is compatible with a property of substantial area.

Other contemporary rate books (not illustrated here) show a similar picture, with the Lambridge tan-yard and Sturge’s house and leather mill as separate entities. The tan-yard regularly co-locates with entries for no. 14 Lambridge.

Figure 10. Walcot Poor rate book for July 1801, page 20.

Who started and owned the tan-yard and who worked there?

If the Lambridge tan-yard was built around 1742, then nothing is known about who started it or who worked there until perhaps 20 December 1770, when the apprentice duty records show one John Naish12 paid duty for an apprentice, Robert Lawson. Naish’s address was given as “Bath”, which might or might not have been in Lambridge. Again, in 1773, John Naish paid duty for apprentice James Stibbs, and in 1778 John and Francis Naish of Walcot paid for their apprentice Jonas Seldon.

In 1784 John Naish and James Stibbs, tanners in Lambridge dissolved their partnership13, with Naish continuing the business. John Naish then went into partnership with Benjamin Mountague (a merchant and though proprietor of the tan-yard probably not an active tanner). By March 179114 this tanning partnership was also dissolved, and Naish’s house and contents were offered for sale around that time (presumably no. 14 Lambridge) perhaps consequent on his move to Bathwick. Benjamin Mountague went bankrupt in September 1792. John Naish (now a horse dealer) died in 181315 aged 66, and was buried at Flax Bourton (his birthplace). A contemporary newspaper in 1813 described him as an “eminent tanner” and formerly proprietor of a tan-yard at Lambridge. His properties in Lambridge were then sold3, 2.

From 1784–98 William Ansell paid rates on the tan-yard, with William Knapp paying the tan-yard rate from 1800. However, from 1803 James Hooper (presumably Snr) was paying rates for the tan-yard and presumably employing a working tanner. Latterly, Nicholas Cross, a tanner (1768–1815), lived nearby at no. 9 Lambridge Place, and may have worked at the tan-yard. It is often not clear in rate books which James Hooper is paying the rate, but for 1805 Jas. Hooper (presumably Snr) was paying rates for “yard” and separately for a house, presumably no. 15 Lambridge, while Jas. Hooper, Jnr is listed as paying rates for presumably no. 14. (The latter may have moved to Richmond House, Walcot after that date.)

As judged by the bequests in his will, James Hooper, Snr, J.P. of Walcot (1739–July 1808) was wealthy. He may have acquired land title to the tan-yard, and to nos. 14 and 15 Lambridge around 1793. Curiously, John Naish re-emerges briefly as the rate-payer for the tan-yard in the Walcot rate book for 1813, the year of his death.

James Hooper, Snr lived at no. 15 Lambridge until his death in 1808, when his wife Rebecca (née Biggs) and children stayed on until her death in 1816. The unmarried children headed by William Hooper then moved to nearby Lambridge House (which James Hooper had also owned).

By his will, James Hooper, Snr left his house no. 15 Lambridge and tan-yard, subject to conditions, to his second son, James Hooper, Jnr (possibly a hatter). Title to the land of Lambridge Street was acquired at an unknown date before 1817 16, 17 by John Hooper (1768–?) (of Hatt Farm, in Box parish, and later of Rudgeside, Corsham), the eldest son of James Hooper, Snr. John Hooper is named in only one year (1811) as paying the poor rate on the tan-yard and dwelling house (no. 14 Lambridge); presumably he moved later to a nearby part of Wiltshire.

Why and when did the Lambridge tan-yard cease operation?

One advertisement3 suggested the tan-yard was not in good condition in 1814 – perhaps from low or non-use, and by 1841 no trace of the tan-yard remained. Instead, the Tithe map now shows some cottages on the east side of Lambridge Street (tithe structures 29 and 30–36 in Figures 7 and 8) lying on the site of the former tan-yard.

The tan-yard will have had high cost overheads – particularly for labour and for bark. Also, the net rent was high, at £168 per annum in 1794 (Figure 1). However, I suggest economic factors were not the principal factor in the closure of the Lambridge tan-yard, as the Twerton tannery continued operating until later in the century. Consequently, the main impetus for closure was probably hostility from nearby inhabitants who found the noxious smells of a tannery and its associated ??? unacceptable.

Finally, in 197218, new houses nos. 5–27 Lambridge Street were built on the sites of the original 1817/1820 cottages of nos. 1–14 Lambridge Street, the neighbouring potato store and the land at the rear. This finally obliterated any traces of both axes of the former tan-yard.

The role of the Sturge family

As noted above, contemporary rate books and land tax records before 1820 confirm the separate identity of the Lambridge tan-yard and Sturge’s leather mill. The latter must date from after 1773 when a Young Sturge (c. 1730–1816) took a 1,000-year lease on the land of Lambridge Meads19.

However, the question arises as to whether the Sturge family also had a formal tannery on their land after 1773. This issue arose from a newspaper article on a fire in 1908 at the Bath flour mill20: “—The mill in olden days was the scene of a thriving tannery, employing 40 hands, carried on by the Sturge family—“.

However, and crucially, until the repeal of the Leather Tax in England, the trades of tanner and currier (or leather dresser) were separately taxed and could not be combined. Thus, before 1830, the Sturge family would not have lawfully undertaken tanning activities in addition to their leather dressing. Further, most descriptions of the Sturge men in the 19th century (e.g. Gye’s Bath Directory for 1819) describe them variously as woolstaplers or fellmongers or leather dressers, but not as tanners. However, Gye’s Bath Directory for 1824 under Gloucester Road, included the incorrect description “Sturge – tanner” , though in a later legal deed of 183521 the brothers Young Sturge and Henry Sturge were again separately (and correctly) described as leather dressers. These brothers were grandsons of the original Young Sturge, Snr, by the latter’s second son, Henry Sturge (1765–1858).

Consequently, I suggest references to tanners or a tannery at Lambridge Mill are misleading, and perhaps reflect a common confusion on the differences between the complementary trades of tanners and curriers.

An account of a council meeting in April 185822 clarifies this matter. There, Mr Mitchell, the City Engineer, said “– At Messrs. Sturge’s mill, the leather was not actually manufactured; the skins were all prepared in London and other places”. Thus, I conclude the Sturge family did not have a formal tannery on their mill site at that time, or indeed earlier. They had a predominantly currying (leather dressing) business in Lambridge, with some of their output sold as finished products at Sturge’s shop in Bath23. Leather dressing at the Sturges’ mill ceased in 1858,22 which was around the time of the death of Young Sturge Snr’s son, Young Sturge, Jnr.

References & notes

  1. Advertisement for the sale of Montague House, rent of tan-yard and bark mill, a tenement leased to William Ansell, tanner, and net rent on a contiguous house leased to Young Sturge, Bath Chronicle, 28 August 1794.
  2. Advertisement for sale or let of valuable tan-yard and premises in Lambridge, Bath Chronicle, 23 June 1814.
  3. Advertisement for sale of lease for 15 years from September 1813 of tan-yard and dwelling house at Lambridge, Bristol Times and Mirror, 5 February 1814.
  4. “Plan of the City of Bath” by C. Harcourt Masters (1795).
  5. An Actual Survey of the City of Bath, in the County of Somerset, and of Five Miles Round” map by Thomas Thorpe (1742). At this time there is a structure in Lambridge Street, and also a house (Lambridge House).
  6. Maps of the Bath turnpike roads” by Charles Harcourt Masters 1786/87.
  7. A Plan of the Parish of Walcot” by Thomas Thorpe (1740), from a later copy at Bath Record Office.
  8. Lease of 2 messuages, a tan-yard & backside in Walcot Street, 21 December 1767, lessee Isaac Parsons, executor in trust of Cornelius Abraham Parsons, Bath Record Office BC/6/2/3/2395.
  9. Tithe Map of Walcot Parish, Somerset” by Cotterells & Cooper (1841) (tithable parts only).
  10. Plan of the City and Borough of the City of Bath” by J. H. Cotterell (1852/3).
  11. Assessed land tax for Somerset – Walcot outpart, pages 119–120.
  12. John Naish was not a unique name in the area. John Naish, the tanner of Lambridge, had a son, also called John Naish, a leather factor in Bristol in the early 1800s and later a tanner, who was declared bankrupt in December 1823 and died in Bristol in 1824. There was another John Naish, a schoolmaster at the time in Bath, who had opened an Academy of Young Gentlemen at 1 Hatfield Place, Wells Road, Bath in 1806.
  13. Dissolution of partnership between John Naish and James Stibbs, tanners in Lambridge, Bath Chronicle, 5 February 1784.
  14. Dissolution of partnership between John Naish and Benjamin Mountague, tanners of Lambridge, Bath Chronicle, 24 March 1791.
  15. Death of Mr John Naish at his house in Bathwick, 12 February 1813, Bath Chronicle, 18 February 1813.
  16. Building lease 22 June 1817 for No. 8 Lambridge Street, Bath. John Hooper, Esq., of Hatt Farm, Box to William Peasey, yeoman of Walcot, BC/6/2/9/2069/1.
  17. Building lease 2 May 1817 for Nos. 10 & 11 Lambridge Street, Bath. John Hooper, Esq., of Hatt Farm, Box to William Deverall, yeoman of Walcot, Bath Record Office BC/6/2/9/2008/1.
  18. Planning application and consent for Nos. 5–27 Lambridge Street (1972), Bath Record Office BC/8/6/8/L/8949-1
  19. 1,000-year lease from 25 March 1771 on R. Y. Sturge’s flour mill, outbuildings, house and pasture, Bath Chronicle 8 June 1871 (lot 38).
  20. Fire at Lambridge mill and past history, Bath Chronicle, 23 January 1908, page 6.
  21. Legal document of 1835 citing Young Sturge, leather dresser and Henry Sturge of Walcot, leather dresser, Bath Record Office 0059/1/3/9.
  22. Report of a Council meeting on sewerage and Sturge’s Mill, Bath Chronicle, 1 April 1858.
  23. Advertisement for Young Sturge’s leather shop in Bath, Bath Chronicle, 29 September 1774.