One of the most famous tanneries in England was Connolly Leather Limited. Founded in 1878, Connolly supplied most of the leather for the British car industry, including Aston Martin, Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Jaguar and Rover as well as models from other countries, such as Ferrari, Maserati, Lincoln or Lexus. Usually luxury car makers don’t mention who manufactured the leather interior but they made an exception with Connolly because it had such a strong brand identity. Today companies making leather for the luxury car industry don't receive such a credit.
Connolly was famous during the period when vegetable tanned leather was used extensively. The seats in the British House of Commons are upholstered with Connolly leather, as are the seats in the vehicles used by the Royal Family. The coach used by Edward VII at his coronation in 1902 had been saddled by Connolly. Connolly leather was also used in the French Concorde.
Connolly leather in the Honda Prelude SN convertible. Connolly leather in the Audi V8 Classic Line.
Connolly leather in a Lancia of the early sixties (photo Patrick Wagner).
Unfortunately Connolly made some poor decisions when trying to enter the American market, So, in 2002, after more than 120-years of supplying luxury leather, the company had to close, with debts believed to in the region of 24 million euros.
In the late 1990’s Connolly started venturing out in sales of Luxury leather goods like selling driving gloves and other accessories from a retail unit based in Grosvenor Crescent Mews, London (behind the famous Lanesborough Hotel opposite Hyde Park). This it seems was to be the last venture Connolly entered before their sad demise in early 2000’s.
Connolly leather today
The fourth generation presenting Connolly leather on the classic car show in Paris February 2018.
Connollising - Connollised
In addition to the core business of selling leather, Connolly had a successful sideline of cleaning and care products for leather (the famous Hide Food) as well as leather colours. From this time, the expression ‘Connollising’ was used in association with cleaning, maintaining and renewing the leather colour. Some used the expression only for leather cleaning and care, while others applied it to just the colouring treatment. In fact, any conserving or repair treatment, except replacing the leather, falls under the term ‘Connollising’ and the treated leather is considered to have been ‘Connollised’. Since the company closed, the term ‘Connollising’ is slowly falling out of use. Only the famous Hide Food care kit is still sold.
Leather cleaning, leather care and leather repair products have changed in the last 20 years. There was a radical change from the solvent based leather colours of the time of Connolly, to the more sensitive and greener water based pigment colours of today. Vegetable-tanned leather is rarely used in today's cars as chrome tanning and synthetic tanning are the main tanning methods.
Mark Slade from Benchmark Leather Renovation
Mark Slade is an ex-amployee at Connolly’s main base in Colliers Wood, London and was employed between the late 1980’s and mid 1990’s when the company was in its prime. Mark was deployed in a small department called the Renovations Department which was set up to deal with minor leather problems for Connolly customers. A typical day would involve doing some repair work and recolouring leather either at Connolly’s or on-site. It was here were Mark honed his skills in repairing leather and during this time Connolly ended up carrying out maintenance work for the House of Lords and House of Commons.
Mark and his colleagues would carry cases of items filled with their equipment and repair materials and would often travel using public transport to visit their customers. When they reached their customers premises, they would usually be asked ‘Are you here to Connollise the leather’? This later morphed into the term your leather has been ‘Connolilsed’.
In the subsequent years, Mark left Connolly and setup Benchmark Leather Renovation, which today has built up a very good reputation. Mark currently does a lot of work for private customers but also restores leather in a lot of exclusive classic cars for manufacturers.
Modern cleaning, colour repair and maintenance
Further brands of tanneries of car leather
Apart from Connolly, leather manufacturers have rarely been able to publish their own brand in the car. Poltrona Frau from Italy and Bridge of Weir from Scotland are exceptions.
Bridge of Weir for SAAB.
Poltrona Frau for Alfa Romeo.