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A Potted History of J Hewit & Sons Ltd
The company of J Hewit & Sons Ltd. is a family run business now in at least its seventh generation. The business can be traced back using street directories to 1806 (when Hugh Hewat was running a shoemakers shop in Edinburgh), however we believe that that the business began trading at least ten years earlier.
|Thomas Hewit||Janet Hewit||David Hewit||George Lawson|
This business ran for at least the next 20 years with Hugh having partnerships with various other shoemakers. In 1824 his son Thomas expanded the business by opening a leather warehouse. On Thomas's death in 1849, his second wife Janet continued running the business for her three sons, the oldest of whom was only 19 at the time, hence the company name J. Hewit & Sons. The leather merchant side of the business, later called "The Boot and Shoe Department" continued to run until 1966 by which time independent shoemakers had become a dying trade.
In 1865 a tannery in the heart of old Edinburgh was rented to expand the business, and this building was purchased three years later. Despite several major fires, the company carried on using this tannery until 1969 when it was decided to consolidate into the one building at Currie on the outskirts of Edinburgh.
In 1886, at the International Exhibition in Edinburgh, the Company was awarded a Prize Medal for 'Excellence of Manufacture of Coloured Leathers'
It is not known exactly when J Hewit & Sons expanded into supplying the bookbinding trade, however with the predominance of publishing in Edinburgh one can only assume that this was fairly soon after the tannery was started. What is certain is that this had occurred by the year 1889 as this advertisement appeared in THE BOOKBINDER in July of that year.
David Hewit (the last of the three sons) died in August 1887, and since none of the sons had any family, George Lawson, Thomas Hewit's grandson from his first marriage bought the business from the trustees. To help finance the purchase, the property in London was sold three years later. George Lawson's two sons (Russell and Hewit Lawson) both joined the business in the early 1900's, and in 1913, the Currie premises were purchased to enable the business to expand.
In the same year, the Scottish Pigskin Tanners Federation was formed. This organisation acted as a buying cartel for the purchase of Ayrshire pigskins, with each member having a set percentage of the kill. J Hewit & Sons was not initially a member, although it is obvious from the actions of George Lawson that they wished to be members. George Lawson, in an article published in February 1914 stated that he was convinced of the claims of pigskin for hard wear and beauty of finish and that he intended to make a speciality of this leather. For the next four years they purchased pigskins by paying 10% over the market rate, until in 1917 they were admitted with a 19% allocation of the kill. Pigskins, in the form of Jewel (aniline glazed) and Fulmar (spotted), mainly for the leathergoods market, have since become a significant part of the business.
In a further advert in 1915 it was stated that J Hewit & Sons were well known as buying brokers at the Edinburgh hide markets, and in the addition as tanners and dressers of sumac and bark calf, goats, skivers, roans and pigskins. "No effort is spared by the firm to cater well for the bookbinding, case-making, fancy and kindred trades."
In 1948 the company bought over a London bookbinding supplies company by the name of A. Warren, to consolidate the bookbinding sundries business. This company was well established and was the first company to sell bookcloth in London. It had exclusive rights to the Winterbottom range of Bookcloths.
In the same year George Barlee, the nephew of Russell and Hewit Lawson joined the business, and was the driving force in the modernisation of the two tanneries, and later their merging into the site at Currie. For the previous eighty years, most of the tanning had occurred in pits (the traditional method until this century), the introduction of drums not only speeded up the processes, but also reduced the space necessary to tan the leather. George was also responsible for a major export drive, and nowadays the tannery exports to over 50 countries.
In 1975, due to our history in supplying the Royal Library in Windsor Castle, the Company was granted the Royal Warrant of Appointment to Her Majesty the Queen as 'Manufacturers of Leather'.
George Barlee retired in 1993, and the business is now run by Roger Barlee and David Lanning. In December 1998, the company were delighted to announce that they had purchased the World rights to manufacture, market and sell Bowdens Book Headbands.
In 2006, Roger's wife Caroline joined the company as Financial Controller
In August 2010, the company relocated to their current address in Livingston.