Tannery

  • By the early 1840s, Englishman Richard Paxman (written ‘Pexham’ in some documents) a shoemaker by trade, had built a log house and an outbuilding in which he was operating a tannery.1
  • The buildings were on a parcel of land along the north shore of the Humber River, part of George Bolton’s mill site. George Bolton was generous in allowing skilled workers to set up shop and pay for their property as they worked.2
  • In 1845, Richard fulfilled his financial obligations and ownership of the property was transferred to him.3
  • The plentiful supply of hemlock trees in the vicinity provided an ample source of bark that, when dried and ground up, was used in the tanning process that converted raw animal hides into leather
  • Dealing with the hides was a messy, unpleasant job which no doubt polluted the river and fouled the air, but the resulting leather was used to make many early necessities including shoes, boots, saddles, straps, belts, seats, satchels, hats, harnesses and the like 
  • In 1848, Richard sold the tannery business and property to James C. Warbrick.4

As background, James Clarke Warbrick, an early adopter of steam-driven looms in Bradford, UK, gave up his woollen mill in the early 1830s after labour unrest over mechanization.  He then emigrated to Canada with his wife Maria Firth and their family.  For a time, he is thought to have operated a saw mill north of Bolton (Lot 16, NE half, Con 5, Albion).5

Promissory note from Richard Paxman to John Godbolt in ‘Bolton Town’.

Extract from ‘Tremaine’s 1859 Map of Peel County’. Source: Region of Peel Archives

  • The Warbricks built a 1½ storey frame house with roughcast exterior for themselves, their son Joseph and two daughters, Sarah Jane and Maria
  • The house was situated on the hillside slope on the north side of the river and later enlarged with a 2 storey rear addition 
  • Joseph Firth Warbrick is recorded in the 1851 census as the tanner, assisted by a 17 year old Englishman named James Best.  Joseph, then 26 years old, had first operated ‘Warbrick Brothers’ tannery and saddlery in Weston in the mid-1840s. His building there was washed out in a major flood in 1850 at which time he relocated to the tannery property in Bolton.6
  • Under his management, the Bolton tannery grew substantially and developed into a large, lucrative business employing 8 men.  There were other buildings on the property including a large store house, an office as well as housing for employees
  • By 1861, two additional tanners lived on the site: Robert Miligan, his wife Jane and 5 children as well as Gilland Kennedy.  Joseph married Mary Brown Paul of Weston that same year.  By 1871, Joseph Warbrick was employing both Gill Kennedy and Robert Elliott as ‘curriers’ and providing housing for their families.7
  • Robert Elliott, schooled by Samuel Walford in Bolton’s 1842 school, later became a shoe maker.8
  • The tannery operation continued into the 1880s and closed down when the supply of local hemlock bark was exhausted
  • Joseph Firth Warbrick died in 1889

J. F. Warbrick Sr. Photo Credit: ‘Our Bolton Heritage in the United Church’ printed 1951.

Annie McFall and Margaret McFall Warbrick in front of the Warbrick house ‘Maple Terrace’.  Photo taken circa 1938.

A currier is a specialist in the processing of leather hides.  After tanning, the currier applies techniques of dressing, finishing and colouring to the tanned hide to make it strong, flexible and waterproof. The leather is stretched and burnished to produce a uniform thickness and suppleness, and dyeing and other chemical finishes give the leather its desired colour — from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia 

The old wooden dam near the bend in Mill Street. Photo taken prior to 1912. Note the denuded hillside.

Panorama view looking west along the Humber River towards the Queen Street bridge. Photo taken in 1897 by Robertson Matthews.

Humber River looking east from Queen Street North. Photo taken prior to 1912.

  1. Esther Heyes, The Story of Albion, The Bolton Enterprise, Bolton, Ontario, Second printing 1968, pg 237
  2. NOTE: This was the case with cooper Francis McDonald as well as with farmer John Godbolt.
  3. Region of Peel Archives, Index to Deeds ALBION Vol A &B, Lot 9, Con 7 Inst#25329
  4. Index to Deeds, Inst #32310
  5. Ian R. Dalton, document titled ‘The Warbrick Family of Bolton’, November 1990
  6. ibid.
  7. 1861 Census and 1871 Census
  8. Samuel Walford Autobiography, Story of Albion, 1968 edition, pg310