Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District by Alan Clark launched this Saturday

Prolific Shoalhaven historical author Alan Clark with the cover of his latest book Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District.
Prolific Shoalhaven historical author Alan Clark with the cover of his latest book Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District.

The third book in a wonderful local history series, Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District, will be launched this Saturday, November 30.

Written by local historical author Alan Clark and Peter Bindon, the book completes Mr Clark's series on the Blacksmiths and the Coachmen of the Nowra District.

Again Alan, with the help of Mr Bindon, has opened the door on an incredible chapter of Shoalhaven's history.

The local saddlery was often a place where men congregated to discuss the weather, sport and other matters of world importance; while children came to sit on saddles, just to see how it felt, and perhaps imagine how they would handle a galloping horse.

With these distractions, the saddlers as they started out in the trade would develop an ability to talk while they continued to work and concentrate on the job at hand.

It was useful for the saddler to understand the problems faced by the man on the land, so that he could design equipment to meet a need.

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"While I am experienced at researching and profiling people from all walks of life, my knowledge of saddlery is negligible," Mr Clark said.

"The nearest I had come to trades involving leather was through my father who worked as a boot repairer for half a century.

"So I was grateful when Peter Bindon agreed to assist in this project, for he was the last in the family line to work in this field, and has an extensive knowledge.

"He was also able to provide anecdotes such as the time a circus big-top was damaged by a wind-storm at Berry.

"It was brought to Bindons who took the sewing machine out onto the footpath outside the Junction Street shop, and friends helped feed the canvas through the machine as it was sewn back together."

There are some wonderful stories in the book, including James Armstrong, who was an important saddler at Nowra, after working at Terara where he had suffered heavy losses in the big floods of 1860 and 1870.

However he did not come to Nowra until 1885, and Leong's Chinese Restaurant remains as a reminder of that time.

Maurice Marcus was another who had worked in that flood-ravaged township.

Marcus taught the trade to his nephew, James Howitt whose career at Nowra lasted half a century, well past the heyday of the saddler.

He worked at Nowra until shortly before his death in 1941, training several other notable saddlers, and of course he played cricket against the Englishmen in 1885.

One of Howitt's apprentices was Alf Brodie, an ambitious young man who went into business himself before his 21st birthday.

Apart from the shop, Brodie immersed himself in public life and was a livewire alderman on Nowra Municipal Council; only to suddenly leave the district.

The cover of Alan Clark's latest book Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District.

The cover of Alan Clark's latest book Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District.

His time at Nowra was well documented, while it had been more challenging with some others who did not advertise in the newspapers and apparently had sufficient business to support their families.

James Maxwell worked for some years on his own at Kangaroo Valley.

Looking at a succession plan, he taught the trade to his Lidbetter stepsons, and Arthur subsequently moved to Berry in 1924, and that family continued in the main street for more than half a century.

"I'm delighted to include two saddlers still working in the trade," Mr Clark said.

"Ian Lancaster and Paul Bradshaw - while their paths in the trade have been vastly different, they have both enjoyed success, with some of their work being shown here.

"Some families who conducted saddleries, like the Bindons, were around for generations, while others worked in the district for only a short time.

"Descendants and relatives are usually hard to find, and they rarely know a lot about the subjects profiled in this book.

"One exception was the Lidbetter family of Berry, which was inspired by Mary (wife of Tom) who to generations was the "Berry historian", and she had naturally put down details of the family in her town.

"Although there were few in the kindred trade, tanneries have also been included in this publication, acknowledging the role they played in preparing leather for the saddlers and others."

Mr Clark paid credit to the Berry and Kangaroo Valley historical societies for their willing assistance, and to the committee of Shoalhaven Historical Society for its continuing support and patience as his project came to fruition.

"This completes a series on occupations that were crucial to the pioneers who used horses for transport and in their daily work," he said.

Saddlers and Tanners of the Nowra District will be launched this Saturday, November 30 at the Nowra Museum from 2pm by John Bennett OAM.

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This story Third book in Shoalhaven history series set to saddle up first appeared on South Coast Register.