World of leather is new theme for Wandle exhibition

The Wandle Industrial Museum proudly unveiled a new exhibition entitled “Our Leather Industries” on Saturday with museum chairman Fr David Pennells doing the honours.

The centrepiece of the show is a Moroccan skin that exhibited at The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, in 1851 at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park.

The exhibition explores some of the history of leather production near the Wandle River and London – with nods to boot repairing businesses and harness and saddlery manufacturing.

It focuses on two brothers, John Joseph and Samuel Connolly, who fitted out war horses in the Boer War and the First World War and the seating for the Coronation coach of Edward VII in 1902, as well as some early car seats.

They were awarded a gold medal for quality at the Paris Exhibition of 1900. Between the wars, demand for leather for automobiles grew as did fine leather for the fashion industry.

In the Second World War, they made flying suits and helmets, and seats for fighter planes and also (back to their origins) boots for the troops.  The Wimbledon site (as they would refer to it) was where all the finishing processes were carried out.

Hides would arrive from Denmark and Sweden via Williamson’s Tannery in Canterbury, which the firm Connolly’s bought in 1963.

Alison Cousins, of the Wandle Industrial Museum and Fr. David Pennells, opening “Our Leather Industries” exhibition (Picture: Auriel Glanville)

A celebration cake was cut by Fr. Pennells and Joyce Bellamy, MBE, a local historian. They were joined by John Hawks and Nicholas Hart, trustees of the Wandle Industrial Museum.

The cake, with the morocco skin design on top, was made by Clare Alder of Willow Bough Tea Rooms.

Alison Cousins, of the Wandle Industrial Museum, said: “We were delighted to see so many people at our next “Leather” exhibition, volunteers, members, trustees, dignitaries, people from other organisations and local people”

The exhibition runs for a year and the opening times for the Wandle Industrial Museum are: Wednesday 1-4pm, Sunday 2-5pm. It is at the Vestry Hall Annexe, London Road, Mitcham.  Tel. No: 020 8648 0127 Email:

Pictured top: Fr David Pennells, Joyce Bellamy, John Hawks and Nicholas Hart, cutting the celebration cake (Picture: Auriel Glanville)

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