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Our Story







  • Joseph Clayton was born in 1820 in the Peak Forest, Derbyshire. We know nothing of his early life and precious little of his early career as a tanner.  We know that he founded Joseph Clayton & Sons Ltd around 1840 in the vicinity of the existing tannery today and was engaged in producing high quality leather for shoes and boot soles & harness.

    Vast quantities were required at this time, for the growing towns & cities of England were filling with horse drawn vehicles of every kind.  The arrival of the railways swelled the demand for leather for window fasteners, upholstery etc., and new factories and mills required miles of leather belting to carry the power from term engines to the machines.
    The tanning industry was becoming hard pressed to keep up with demand for leather and Joseph Clayton soon found himself at such a pitch that he was able to open a second works in an area called Horsecroft, later to be called Clayton Street.

  • Joseph Clayton died in 1889 leaving his two sons, Joseph Edward and John Morton to become partners in the company and pave the way for the future. They stayed faithful to the traditional oak bark tanning methods until more modern methods came along and the company was beginning to expand.  The original tannery was eventually closed down leaving Clayton Street to be expanded until they eventually had 420 pits for tanning.

    By 1890, 100 employees were working at Clayton Street, 50 of whom were curriers producing the harness leather that Clayton is still renowned for today.  The General Omnibus Company of London was one of Joseph Clayton’s largest customers supplying all the leather for the horse buses.–

  • 16th June 1913, Claytons suffered a catastrophic fire and nearly burned to the ground.  This was not the end for the company and with character resilience they set about their work to clear up the mess, working with the local tanners to fulfil orders and gradually the company rose from the ashes.

    WW1 proved to be something of a lifeline to the company. The tannery was not completely rebuilt, but Claytons were able to set about manufacturing large quantities of chrome tanned leather harness leather to help with the war effort.




  • By the end of 1925, Joseph Clayton’s sons had retired and the ownership and shareholding of the company was passed to a group of local businessmen. A young Harold Birkin aged 16 was employed as office boy and by 1927 was promoted to office manager. He also began to travel around the country selling the leather and soon rose through the ranks of the company to become manager of the company.  The dark days of recession descended and sales dwindled.  It was at this stage that Harold Birkin decided that it was time to export.  He began trips to the USA and established sales which were the survival of the company.

  • Harold Birkin retired from the company in 1979.  Prior to his retirement Harold’s two sons, Barrie & Roger had taken over the running of the company as General Manager and Sales Manager respectively.  As their father did, the two sons also gave their entire working lives to the company retiring in the early 90’s

    The shareholders agreement that was in place since the formation of the company has meant that it has passed down through the 4 founding family groups giving great continuity and a sense that it’s still at heart a family business.

    Being a small traditional tannery, today we continue to offer a diverse range of leathers for many different market types that are processed the traditional way in pits or alternatively in drums or a combination of both pit and drum and by using a variety of tanning techniques

    Market types served include leathers for industrial use, equestrian and saddlery, footwear, cricket balls, luxury leather goods, fashion accessories, collars and leads for animals, historical re-enactment clothing and accessories, hobbies and craftwork, archery accessories, military clothing and accessories, Ministry of Defence contracts, musical instruments, sport and leather accessories in general, for interior design, marine and boat accessories, orthopaedic use and interior design.

  • Today the Company is run by a young enthusiastic team with a workforce of 25+, many of which have served the company for many years.

    The company is managed by a board of directors made up of four operational executive directors and three extremely experienced non-executive directors led by Executive Chairman Ian T Walker, who joined the board at the end of 2013.

    The Company has had to diversify and re-build itself many times in its history due to general progress of life and invention, the decline of heavy (thick) material use, change of consumer taste and disasters such as fire and flood.

    Joseph gradually grew his business, based on his personal principles and tradition, by offering quality products, a friendly service, trust and respect for his customers, suppliers and employees. Today we believe that our business has been and is maintained by using the same principles and tradition that he used all those years ago.  As we move towards our second millennium in business we retain the belief in producing the best leather using the finest materials available.






Clayton’s Technical Director appointed President of SLTC for terms 2018/19 and 2019/20

Clayton’s Technical Director appointed President of SLTC for terms 2018/19 and 2019/20   The Technical Director of Clayton & Sons, Matthew Abbott, accepted Presidency of the Society of Leather Technologists and Chemists. After spending the last year as the Society’s Vice President, Matthew was asked to take the role of President for the term 2018/19 […]


Award-winning Singaporean designer wants to promote British leather.

Award-winning Singaporean designer wants to promote British leather. This year the ‘Design a Bag Online’ competition run by APLF and Fashion Access gave the prospective winner the opportunity to spend a month in Milan with top designers and leathercraft workers. This opportunity doesn’t come around often and the winner would have come up against some […]