The most leading and world-famous tannery ever in England was Connolly Leather Limited, founded in 1878 and located in Stour Street (on the south side of the River Stour) in Canterbury Kent England.
Connolly Leather supplied much of its leather hide production during the golden years to the British automotive industry such as : Jaguar, Aston Martin, Rolls Royce and Bentley as well as top foreign brands such as Ferrari and Maserati. These luxury car brands never mentioned the names of their leather interior suppliers, but for the Connolly brand, they all gladly made an exception. This was because it was an exceptional, high-quality brand and considered an icon. In the 1950s and 1960s, they had a weekly production of 10,000 hides, 85% of which went to the automotive industry.
See further below for the full story.
Connolly Leather was known and famous throughout the world, the leather was selected for private jets, yachts and even aircraft such as Concorde, among others. But also for the interior of the British House of Commons and the interiors -including the seats of vehicles- used by the Royal Family. The company was even awarded the 'Royal Warrant' for England's most prestigious tannery by Queen Elizabeth in person in 1940. As already mentioned, this tannery had been supplying the leather for British automobiles such as Jaguar and Daimler, among others, for decades. Car brands that were also driven by members of the Royal Family.
Connolly was very famous at the time for its tanning processes and was widely sought after in the market. However, it was not only the original tanning process that was so important. But in the 75 years of the company's existence, it had also built up enormous know-how in the field of traditional processing, craftsmanship with old techniques and methods such as the use of dyes, oils and fats. All this know-how and craftsmanship gave the leather its beautiful appearance and high quality level, along with an exclusive and particularly pleasant leather smell.
Perhaps the most important step in the production process was the selection when purchasing the hides. Connolly therefore selected their hides with great attention to quality and origin. As a result, most of the hides were purchased in Scandinavia. The reason for this was that the quality of these hides was much better than those from other European or South American countries (with many mosquitoes). The Scandinavian cattle were mostly indoors given the harsh weather. The northern European climate then provided less trouble from insects. As a result, there were far fewer bites in the hides such as hornet bites or larvae damage.
Farms that avoided barbed wire for their cattle were clearly preferred by Connolly. Hides were also selected by age in each case. Older cattle tend to be larger and thus have more leather damage, but also a different structure. These hides are drier and the pores absorb less moisture and the grain is also different in structure and therefore has less suppleness. This selection was very important to ultimately achieve the 'Shine' that was desirable and for which Connolly Leather Ltd had become so famous. Connolly's selection process consisted of no less than 12 inspections for quality, source and age, among others, before the hides were finally given the guarantee stamp 'approved' for the tanning process.
The article Vaumol ® 8482 was most commonly used for top automotive brands, including the Jaguar MK2. This article was a unique combination of essential oils and aroma. The final result gave the leather a unique deep patina combined with a prodigious grain, which ultimately gave a characterful and naturally transparent appearance. For Vaumol, they used 2 layers of colour coatings consisting of a first layer of a cellulose-based colour that was spread by hand over the stretched hide, followed by a second layer applied with a paint gun. The finish of this particular leather was very special and people called it "The Luxon -Antigue treatment". The secret behind has never been revealed. All we know is that it involved the use of, among other things, patented colour liquids, which were brushed in manually to accentuate the grain of the leather. This was one of the most recognisable and exclusive features of Connolly Leather.
The great method, which had been used for half a century, was changed by Connolly around 1970. Partly due to the demise of the British car industry in those years and the influence of other countries such as America and Japan. Huge cuts had to be made in all components and, of course, therefore, in the cost of the leather interior of each car. Because of this crisis, Connolly changed their long-standing strategy and switched in their production to partly water-based new processes and combined them. Also, hides were now purchased from other European countries, sacrificing on quality. This process also changed the typical identity of all the Connolly Leather and gave it a completely different character and less luxurious look. This was particularly evident on the seat and back surfaces of the car seats from now on.
In the '80s-'90s, after more than a century of supplying top British and European brands- Connolly decided to enter the mass market in America and opened a large branch in Detroit. It was decided to also supply leather for interiors and car seats for Ford and General Motors. The cut-throat prices, driven up by American suppliers and manufacturers, had no place or understanding for the high-quality and expensive way Connolly produced its leather and so it became a continuous price war to keep this market. The US market definitely did not have the know-how in terms of leather tanning at Connolly level. Incidentally, an exception was the company Horween Leather, which was somewhat similar to Connolly Leather, but only in terms of tanning horse leather.
In 2000, the US venture came to an end and 2 years later, shortly after that, it even meant the closure of the company and thus the end of an era of Connolly tradition. In the process, one was left with a debt of about 24 million pounds. This demise of a true legend with a centuries-old tanning tradition as well as a unique products unfortunately meant that the gates had to close and 65 employees were made redundant. Meanwhile, the beautiful old buildings in Stour Street are partly converted into flats so that something of Connolly's history still is preserved.