This sepia photograph shows part of the tanning process for turning skins and hides into leather. Here, the skins have been laid out to dry and hung on racks probably in the Westbrook area of Godalming.
A variety of different skins were brought into the tanning factories of Godalming. Some would be from locally grown sheep, goats, cattle, rabbits and hares, others could be imported - such as deer skins from China. The skins went through a number of processes. Tanning often involved immersing them in vats containing a solution of oak bark. This bark (and other barks and types of vegetation) contains a substance known as tannin, which preserves and toughens the leather. Westbrook Mill (run by the Pullman family) produced finer leathers for gloves, jackets, drum aprons and chamois leathers and these were worked using cod oil. The picture here probably shows the final part of the drying process at Bleach Meadow, Westbrook.
There were quite a number of leather works in Godalming from the 1700s onwards. Most were situated at or near watermills because of the ready availability of water for washing the skins (an, at times, unpopular practice which could cause serious pollution of watercourses for local users). The Mill Lane leather mill burned down twice during the 1800s but only finally closed in 1953.
Coates, Nigel; Godalming - A Pictorial History (Chichester, Phillimore & Co., 1995)
Head, R E; Godalming in old picture postcards volume 3 (13) , (Zaltbommel/Netherlands:European Library, 1994)
Noyes, Ann (for Shere, Gomshall & Peaslake Local History Society); A Tannery in Gomshall - from the first Elizabeth to the Second (Gomshall:Twiga Books, 1997)
Pugmore, K A in; Local History of Godalming (University of Surrey, Dept. of Educational Studies booklet)
Stidder, Derek; The Watermills of Surrey (Buckingham:Barracuda Books, 1990)
All available for reference in Godalming Local Studies Library.