the tradesman to justify a fine. A typical entry reads: ‘the
jurors say that John Colyn is a tanner who takes advantage of his
art against the terms of the statute. Therefore he is in mercy –
3d’. In the fifteenth century fines were of 2d., 3d.
or 4d. By the second half of the sixteenth century Tudor
inflation had pushed the usual fine to 6d., with some of 8d.
or even a shilling. The fines are often the only evidence as to
who was a tanner and in which borough. As the same formula was
used year after year, it is clear that generally the fines imposed
on tanners were in the nature of licences to work. The size of the
fine was probably related to the size of the business and its
prosperity. From 1463 to 1472 John Colyn of Roughway paid four 2d.
fines and one 3d. fine. In the three years 1473-75 he
appears as John Colyn ‘senior’ paying 4d. a year. He
presumably died that year because in 1475/6 plain John Colyn, his
son, paid a fine of 2d. The business must have contracted
following the death of John Colyn (snr). The fine assessment would
depend on the local knowledge of the affeerors, or assessors, who
were elected by the court jurors. The fines were paid to the lord
of the manor and were one of his sources of revenue. Sadly, the
records of fines do not provide details of the tanner’s
employees. In Wrotham, tanneries were probably small family
affairs with sons following fathers into the trade with few
servants being employed.
Regulation of the Tanning Industry
The earliest acts relating to tanning were from the time of
Richard II.4 Legislation of Henry VI in 1422 sought to
prevent the defective tanning of hides.5 There were
later confirmations and additions by Henry VII, Elizabeth and
James I, ordering the separation of the various leather trades. A
tanner was not to be also a currier, leather cutter or shoemaker.
Acts of Elizabeth and James I forbade tanners to be butchers or
butchers to be tanners.6
There was also a division between the tanned hides of
the tanners and the lighter, softer leather of the tawyers. The
tanners produced ‘red’ leather from hides soaked in tannin
solution. The tawyers preserved the skins of almost every other
type of animal using alum, egg yolks, oil and flour to produce
white leather – hence their name of whit-tawyers.
In 1509 tanners were forbidden to tan sheepskin,
which was the province of the tawyers, and tanners were only
allowed to sell ‘red’ leather.7 Throughout the
sixteenth century there were acts forbidding the export of
leather, and regulations about when and where leather could be
sold. In 1532 Leadenhall Market was declared to be the market for
leather in London with a system of searchers and the sealing of
hides to denote their quality.8 For every 10 hides
certified searchers were to receive one penny. The penalty for
marking hides improperly or for