Carter Sinclair Hillyer

title.none: Carlisle, Cameron, and Mould, Craft, Industry and Everyday Life (Carter Sinclair Hillyer)

identifier.other: baj9928.0601.011 06.01.11

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Carter Sinclair Hillyer, University of Mississippi,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2006

identifier.citation: Carlisle, Ian, Esther Cameron and Quita Mould. Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. Series: The Archaeology of York, vol. 17 fasc. 16. York: Council for British Archaeology, 2003. Pp. viii, 364. ISBN: $50.00 1-902771-36-2.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 06.01.11

Carlisle, Ian, Esther Cameron and Quita Mould. Craft, Industry and Everyday Life: Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York. Series: The Archaeology of York, vol. 17 fasc. 16. York: Council for British Archaeology, 2003. Pp. viii, 364. ISBN: $50.00 1-902771-36-2.

Reviewed by:

Carter Sinclair Hillyer
University of Mississippi

Perhaps there was an old saying among early medieval Londoners that went something like this: "Never judge an Anglo-Scandinavian from York until you walk a mile in his boots." Now it may be possible to recreate the opportunity of gaining such an insight by utilizing information found in this book.

The text provides an in-depth report of the archeological discoveries of leather objects found in York during excavations from the 1970s up to 1999. Most of the items discussed were located at the excavation site known as 16-22 Coppergate. Although leather usually decomposes in the earth, the York excavations provided an abundance of leather goods:

The remains of a large number of these items havebeen found at York, along with waste material fromboth the processing of hides and the production ofartifacts. All were preserved by the unusual anoxicburial environment. The leather described here spansa range of 600 years and provides an insight intoone of York's principal trades during the Anglo-Scandinavian and medieval periods. (3185)

The first section of the book begins with a discussion of the sites and their dating. The various items found range from the Roman era to the late medieval and helped researchers to determine the archeological development of the area. Items found in the 16-22 Coppergate and adjacent sites included shoe parts, scabbards, sheaths, straps, and leather waste. The conservation practices used in an attempt to preserve and restore the items are also discussed at length and describe the success or failure of various techniques of preservation.

The "Craft and Industry" section provides essays by the book's authors and others which review previously known evidence combined with evidence from the more recent excavations. Information covers the trades involved in the leather industry (tanners, tawers or whitawayers, shoemakers or cordwainers, girdlers, beltmakers, purse makers, sheathers, harness-makers, bottle makers, parchment makers, scabbard makers, shield makers, saddlers, bookbinders and cofferers (makers of leather covered traveling trunks). Researchers discuss the methods of tanning and working various leathers based on the evidence from the found items, including iron tools such as knives, creasers, awls, shears, wooden handles, and lasts. The essays on shoe construction in this section explain the three major methods of making shoes (a single piece of leather construction, turnshoe construction, and welted construction). The discussion on shoe making is then seamlessly threaded and tied up with information on the materials and methods of stitching. Discussions of scabbard and sheath making, decoration, and different types of leather conclude the Craft and Industry section. Perhaps the most biting remarks are reserved for the analysis of decorative techniques: some artifacts, such as waste leather and the suspension flap of a knife sheath, revealed marks made by human teeth. This prompted some incisive research with new leather which suggests that the marks "were the result of some aspect of the production of leather goods; which aspect has yet to be established" (3265). Such gaps, or indentations, in the archeological record leave much for researchers to ruminate on.

The "Everyday Life" section succeeds as the most interesting part of the book. All aspects of shoemaking are discussed extensively with many illustrations and photographs. The changes of styles and construction techniques from the ninth century to the fifteenth century are expertly explained. The specimens found in York are then compared with other examples of such work found in other areas of Europe. The discussion of the scabbard and knife sheath leatherwork follows the same method of presentation.

While not exactly a page-turner, Leather and Leatherworking in Anglo-Scandinavian and Medieval York is a very well written and well-edited book that will of great use to anyone interested in this subject. The work contains a wealth of information regarding all aspects of small leather goods made from the Anglo-Scandinavian to late medieval times. The maps, illustrations, photographs, and documentary notes are excellent. This book will be of great value to anyone who wants to better understand the lives of people who lived between 850 and 1500. The book will be of particular use to historians writing about the everyday life of medieval individuals. Such a book would also be useful to a historical novelist who wanted to provide some historical verisimilitude to his or her characters. Perhaps the modern leatherworker might make him/herself an accurately reproduced pair of ninth century shoes, walk a mile, and gain a rather pedestrian but unique impression of life in the Middle Ages.