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Published: October 7th 2018
Woolly says – I sat gazing out of the window at the grey clouds watching the raindrops compete on the glass to see who could arrive at the bottom first, it was a bleak day. I shuffled towards the door collecting my raincoat on the way, I sighed, hopefully Jo had found something exciting to do for the day, it was unlikely given her capabilities but I could live in hope!
My small friend seemed to have a large case of the winter blues even though we had only just entered the autumn months. Having finished editing our fourth book he seemed at a loss as to how to fill his time, something I would need to work on and maybe discuss during the day. Woolly says – I sat in the car watching the windscreen wipers moving backwards and forwards and found a comforting rhythm in their pace. With only a short drive it shouldn’t have taken us long although if you added on the getting lost in the town centre and then failing to find a car park it’s amazing how many hours can pass! Walsall is a small town within
the West Midlands and is easily missed as a tourist destination, it is however famous the world over for its production of leather goods. The Walsall Leather Museum had opened in 1988 in an old Victorian factory to allow visitors to find out about the rise of a small market town that grew into an international saddle making centre. At its peak in the 1900’s approximately 10,000 people were employed locally in preparing leather, and making saddles, horse bridles and related leather items. Today only 40 or so manufacturers still survive these do however have amongst them some Royal Warrant holders. Hardly surprizing as our Queen is well known for her love of all things horsey.
Having finally parked and checked my bag for snacks we crossed the road and entered the museum. Woolly says – A lovely lady called Dawn welcomed us and must have immediately realised my need for a warm drink and a snack as she bustled into action with providing hot fluids and a choice of biscuits to munch on. Having hoovered up every crumb and finished slurping my drink I felt ready for the tour to commence.
The first section of the exhibit provided us with the historical aspects of the trade as well as the Royal warrant that had been granted as well as a strange looking mirror that was being held aloft by a bear, I sized him up and realising that he was unlikely to try eating me without dropping his load I trotted past him with a cheery wave. Passing into the next area I noticed a large poster on the wall giving the destinations for the goods that had once been made here, I chuckled to myself as I noted several countries that we had recently visited but listed using their old names, Ceylon and Burma are no more.
He seemed to be enjoying himself and having wandered around the tanning room where the animal hides would have been treated we took the wooden steps to the first floor. Woolly says – Displays of handbags, cases and leatherwork were everywhere, most intriguing was a show case of decorative spurs which looked as though they could do some serious damage to a horse’s flanks, luckily no one has ever thought of riding mammoths! The
next room seemed to hold a strange variety of exhibits, an item known a the ‘Hand of Glory’ which according to legend had been cut off from a hanged man and made into a candle holder, anyone who saw the candle burning would fall into a deep sleep which would allow thieves to rob them. I shivered slightly and moved on. The first leather workshop was filled with rolls of the hides and held cutting and sewing machines that would have fashioned belts and saddles, the smell was overwhelming and I wondered how the pescatarian amongst us felt about inhaling the strong odour.
Not a problem, in fact the smell reminded me of the years that I spent riding and the smell of the tack hanging in the stable blocks. Woolly says – Piles of leather suitcases filled the next section, beautifully made and all ready to use, I’ve always fancied a leather suitcase for my journeys as used in several travel shows that I enjoy (Travel Man…… 48 hours in…. and Travels with my Father), they look so much better than a backpack, more elegant, just like me! The last area
proved to be the most fascinating, having admired a huge range of stamps that were used to emboss and decorate the products, a lovely man with the coolest shoes I have ever seen told us all about the different hides used. I’ve heard of cow, crocodile and snake being made into goods but who knew that ostrich was also very popular, although catching them must have taken a bit of cunning. As he explained what each machine was used for whether is be stitching, splitting the leather or decorating it seemed that the trade was much more involved than I had first thought. Having imparted his wisdom, the nice gent then embarked on a quiz of guess the animal, I gave correct answer one after another while Jo failed to get any of the questions right, she obviously didn’t have her listening ears on!
It was actually quite hard identifying the animal hide and whether is was real or manmade, it was however very interesting and educational. Having thanked our host and allowed my small friend a look round the onsite shop it was time to head back. Woolly says – Another
weeks outing completed and the thought of spending day after day looking out of the window had little appeal until we could venture forth on our next trip, I sighed.
It seemed to a good time to mention an idea that I had. Woolly says – A book launch! A real one?! Hmmm that would take a lot of planning, I’d need a new outfit, I’d need to practice my autograph and only 6 weeks to get it all done it, I’d better get started!
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