Station: [5] What’s on Display at the Bark Mill Museum – and what’s Vanished

The large-scale photographs on the walls provide a record of the tanning trade and show what hard work it was. You see tanners hunched over the de-fleshing beam, working on a wet piece of leather, removing the top layer, or epidermis, and the bottom, subcutaneous layer. Tanners had sophisticated tools that made their hard work easier. The de-fleshing beam even became the special emblem of the craft. The prepared skin would be spread across the beam, and any remaining scraps of fat and flesh were scraped off with the de-hairing blade and the de-fleshing knife, a scraper and a scudding knife. Those are the tools you see hanging on the wall next to the photographs.

The heavy finishing table in the middle of the room originally stood in the tanner's house on the village square and was brought to the Bark Mill from there. It was used to dress the leather. The table top is made of slate and about eight centimetres thick – over three inches. This was where the hard leather was trimmed, assessed for quality, weighed and measured before being sold. Soft leather was given an additional treatment with hard soap and fish oil, and made supple with what’s known as a graining board, or a pommel – a wooden tool with a curved, cork-lined base and an upright handle. The finishing touches were added by the tanner using a burnisher, which might be made of glass, and which was used to polish leather for linings or aprons.

This building was once full of deafening noise – at a level we very rarely experience today. There was the rush of the water, the creaking of the mill wheel, the grinding and squeaking of all the many gears that interlocked to drive the machinery – it all made an ear-splitting racket!

Equally unimaginable for us today is the filth and stench – and the rats that tended to multiply in the vicinity of every tannery. So when the trade vanished from Leustetten, people had mixed feelings. They regretted that a once important, highly successful and profitable trade was no longer being practised in a place where it had a long tradition. But they were also relieved that a major source of environmental pollution had disappeared, along with the noise, the stench and the vermin.

All depictions: © Gemeinde Fricklingen