2018 is going to be a very exciting year for Owen Barry as it is our 70th anniversary and we are planning some great events to celebrate and commemorate our history and this landmark.
We have come a long way in 70 years, but I would like to talk about the early days and the skills we still use that have been inherent in our staff since the beginning and form what all OB products look like today.
Owen, our founder, was the youngest of three sons; all of whom were encouraged to join the family business here at The Tanyard in Street, Somerset.
Kenneth, his eldest brother was taught the fellmongering of the hides and pelts, that is, he was taught in the cleaning and stabilising of the skins as they arrived from the abattoir.
Cyril the middle brother was taught the tanning, dying and dressing of these pelts.
Owen being the youngest was taught how to manufacture from these skins. However, in those days (1935) the company didn’t have the cutting or manufacturing skills necessary to teach him, so Owen was sent away to be taught.....all the way to Yeovil!
He was indentured to a Glove Master in Yeovil – Mr Edwin Robbins, there Owen was taught the trade of table cutting fine leather gloves, pre WW11 I guess every lady and gentleman wore gloves.
Cutting an exquisite, well-fitting pair of leather or lambskin gloves is a very skilled occupation.
There are many skills the gloving apprentice must learn; using the shears & tools, knowing about different types of leather, and the weight of the skin, where to put the thinner parts and where to use the heavier parts, obviously avoiding defect is crucial and getting the best yield from the skins – all of these are important.
But the most difficult skill and now a dying trade (both in the UK and globally) is the skill that the glove wearer cannot see, but can only appreciate when trying on perfectly cut leather gloves – and that is “burying” the leather.
An apprentice cutter would be taught over his 7-year term, how to bury the perfect amount of “stretch” into the palm and body of a glove; this stretch is achieved with a laborious combination of measuring, pulling the skins both length ways and width ways, trimming, remeasuring and starting again, until the “trank”, the leather block has been stretched and trimmed to provide a sublime accurate fit, then the same process would start over with the “fourchettes” i.e. finger sides, and then thumbs, even the thumb would have a specific amount of stretch in the pipe compared to the ball of the thumb!
All this tailoring would ensure that the gloves expanded in the correct areas to fit the wearers hand beautifully, like a second skin with no flabby bit’s or loose leather, hence the saying “fit like a glove” – because in those days gloves really did fit and compliment an outfit, they weren’t just pulled on like paddles to keep your hands warm in chilly weather.
So how do those old glove cutting skills serve us today, especially as exquisite gloves no longer feature in an average wardrobe? Well, at OB we still use the principles every day, we have the patience and knowledge to understand how to handle leather and sheepskin properly, to ensure the right part of the skin is used for the right area of the product, in fact we still have cutters on the bench today who know how to “bury” leather; as mentioned earlier these skills are not ones you can necessarily notice outwardly, but they are qualities that you can undoubtedly appreciate when handling an Owen Barry product.
Back to our heritage - anybody who has had an OB factory tour might remember that Owen was called up to serve and wasn’t released from his apprenticeship until it’s completion after the war, some 11 years later, in 1946.
From Mr Robbins tutelage, Owen briefly worked for Drapers of Glastonbury, leaving at the age of 28 to start our company with his uncle Harold and brother Cyril in 1948 – ahhhh yes 70 years ago.
Where have those 70 years gone? But to quote the Bard “the past was our prologue” we are now looking forward to the next 70 years.
Have a great New Year we will catch up in 2018 xx
Photos: Upper right - Owen Barry is in the middle as a glove cutting apprentice.
Bottom left - I believe this is the old cutting room at Edwin Robbins from Yeovil