This week, member of the Leader's Local Bygones Facebook group, Richard Jones, from Gwersyllt, looks at the history of Wrexham Leather Works - J. Meredith Jones and Company later Cambrian Leather Works...


Wrexham Leather Works.

Wrexham Leather Works.


In 1858, tanner J. Meredith Jones and financier Charles Rocke went into partnership and bought the Cambrian Leather Works in Salop Road.

They gradually expanded the business from employing three people to several hundred, and replaced hand operations with mechanisation, mostly invented by Jones himself.

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The company was renowned for its first quality roller leather, and to protect its business registered a trade mark which used the Prince of Wales feathers.

In 1870 alterations to the spinning process led to a medium-quality roller leather being produced, which was known as the 'J&R' brand. In 1880 low grade leather could be used so the 'W' brand was introduced.

Jones and Rocke also manufactured calf and Persian rollers, fancy leather for boots, bags, purses, portmanteaux, book binding, hat and caps, calf and kid gloves and chamois leather.


Wrexham Leather Works.

Wrexham Leather Works.


They were also wool merchants, spun wool yarns and worsteds, and established five fell mongering establishments in various parts of Wales and with their own warehouses in London, Leicester, Birmingham and Manchester. The roller leather was distributed through Lancashire dealers.

1888 was a significant year for the company, the partnership of Jones and Rocke was dissolved, with Rocke moving to the London area to join his sons to form Rocke and Sons, Colonial Merchants.

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Jones was joined by his sons Frank Meredith and Alfred Seymour, both of whom had served their apprenticeships in leather manufacturing.

The company was henceforth known as J. Meredith Jones & Sons, the name it retained until the leather works finally closed in 1975.

The new partnership decided to concentrate on the manufacture of roller leather, as the demand was increasing and by 1893 it was estimated there were 90,000,000 spindles in use worldwide, with 42,000,000 of those in Britain, setting up a demand for 756,000 sheep skins to be converted to roller leather each year.


Wrexham Leather Works.

Wrexham Leather Works.


On June 14, 1892 J. Meredith Jones died but his sons continued the business, introducing innovations into the manufacturing process.

This was the first leather works to have its own research laboratory and A. Seymour Jones had a national reputation from his books and papers as an expert in his field. His book, Roller Leather for Cotton Spinning: Its Use and Abuse, was published in 1893.

By the 1930s the Jones brothers had retired and the company suffered badly in the depression, closing in 1934.

During the Second World War the leather works was used as a sugar store and BBC monitoring station, such that when Gomshall Industries purchased the site and reopened the works in 1946, the buildings were in a dreadful condition.


Wrexham Leather Works.

Wrexham Leather Works.


The plant was gradually modernised and the company sourced its hides from UK, New Zealand, Australia and South America. It specialised in very soft leather, such as chamois, which sold well in the USA.

One of its biggest orders for this period was over 1,000,000 skins for binding the 11th edition of Encyclopaedia Britannica. In 1968/69 annual sales topped £2million and the works produced more than 10 million square feet of leather each year.

One particular innovation was the development of Chamoiselle and Diamelle leather, which was used in the fashion industry and was a key material used for 'hot pants' in the late 1960s.

The business was sold to the Garner Group of tanneries in 1972. It was the sale of the Chamoiselle and Diamelle trade marks in 1973 which seemed to have led to the firm's demise. The Cambrian works was closed down in March 1975 and is now a retail and industrial park.