The idea for the unique Museum of Leathercraft dates back to post WW2 years when an aspiring designer John W. Waterer and Dr. Claude Spiers decided to create an institution which will pursue Waterer’s principal aim “the preservation and encouragement of high standards of craftsmanship and design” in the leather industries. Later on, in 1946, the same year the inspirational book by John W. Waterer “Leather in Life, Art and Industry” was published, the Museum of Leathercraft was officially founded. The mission of this establishment was, and still is, to form and maintain a museum for the accumulation of leather and leather related objects, encourage good craftsmanship and design in leather, and interest in its use and to educate those entering and working in the leather trades while growing and maintaining a research library and spreading information on leather by means of articles, lectures, and exhibitions.
John Waterer became a leading designer of contemporary luggage and leather goods, developing an enviable senior management career in Barrow, Hepburn and Gale and S. Clarke & Co. His thriving passion for state-of-the-art design, technical craft, and the history and development of leather helped him to rise to the levels of excellence and provided him with long-lasting recognition within the leather industry. That drive for leather also helped him to become a pioneer in leather conservation. Waterer in collaboration with Dr. Claude Spiers managed to attract contributions from different trusts and benefactors and, with their help, collect several hundred valuable pieces for their newly founded Museum. Apart from the Museum of Leathercraft John W. Waterer was the inspiration behind the creation of the Leather Conservation Centre, also based on the University campus of Northampton.
After changing several locations Museum of Leathercraft found its home in 1978 when it was finally relocated in Northampton, which seemed logical having in mind that the town of Northampton established a leading position within the leather and footwear industries.
After all of this time, and what seemed like an endless battle with the Trustees of the Museum of Leathercraft, finally in 2013. the trustees were successful in a grant application ‘Museum of Leathercraft Goes Public’ joint funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and The Company of Leathersellers’. The project secured the funds and an application was granted for a full-time Collections and Engagement Officer. The appointment of Philip Warner was made in May 2014, which encouraged other projects like the developing of “Cultural Centre” in Northampton and organizing better storage and needed display space.
The hardly composed collection consists of 5000+ items that can take you through several centuries, cultures and crafts, explaining and portraying the development and improvement of leathercraft from all over the world. In this extensive collection, you will see different items in terms of clothing, luggage, footwear, furs, furniture, sedan chairs, saddlery, drinking vessels, toys, sporting equipment and even a leather coracle. These items showcase examples of social history, war and conflict, art, transport, sports and pastimes as well as fashion and design. The collection also contains over 2000 books, periodicals, slides, photographs and other valuable material for you to investigate.
Through the years there were a couple of significant collections that were acquired or set up in the Museum of Leathercraft:
The most important is certainly the Waterer-Spiers Collection which was set up in the year of 1977. following the death of both of the Museums founders. The goal of this collection is to honor and uphold the memory of John W Waterer and Dr. Claude Spiers. The collection consists of different jewelry pieces and arguably possess the most interesting leather items ever made such as the Bird Mask made by Justin Capp or the leather male torso Commissioned by the Museum of Leathercraft from Patrick Whitaker and Kier Malem.
Or the Twin Head Leather sculpture “Untitled” and “Head” sculpture made by Mandy Havers, dated 1984 and 1990 purchased for the Waterer Spiers Collection.
Another important collection is the “Kite” collection which was put together by Head of Furniture, Textiles and Fashion, at Victoria and Albert Museum and its namesake Mrs. Marion Kite. The collection includes over 300 items of clothing and jewelry which makes it the largest and arguably the most significant collection of historic fur garments in the world.
A selection of items is displayed at the Museum which is open to the public (under restricted hours) from April to October each year to honor the agreement from 2007. with the Northampton Borough Council (NBC) to house the whole collection at Abington Park Museum, and solidify the partnership of those two institutions.