BUILDERS are busy at the former tannery in Holt as developers work to breathe new life into a site that as once famous all over the world.

Frank Holmes, 70, remembers when there was barely a square foot of the five acre plot not teeming with activity. He joined the staff at J&T Beaven’s Holt tannery in July 1968 as a bookkeeper and 51 years later is still there a company secretary.

The Beaven family has been there since Christopher Beaven first bought the land in 1758. The firm transported wool from the Duke of Beaufort’s estate at Badminton to treat and grade it before sending it to Yorkshire.

The firm introduced its tannery and began making rough leather gloves for farmers and housemaids. In 1870 a wealthy customer saw the cheap leather gloves being made and asked for some, but made from the top quality chamois. When he left them on the hall table of his smart London club, fellow members demanded their own.

At its peak the firm employed around 600 people, processing around 1,500 dozen sheepskins a week to process chamois leathers and leather for gloves, book covers, and wallets to name but a few uses. Besides providing employment for generations of families, it owned and let 50 cottages in the area, provided allotments and organised social events.

In 1970 J&T Beaven merged with another major producer and between then and 1995 it had two more owners as the industry contracted. But the firm was still teetering on collapse when Belgian Guy Colle saved it late that year.

In 2008 Nick Kirkham and Alix Paiver bought part of the site and launched Glove Factory Studios in 2010. Guy began talking to developers and met Matt Aitkenhead and Ben Lang, owners of Stonewood Partnerships in Tormarton. They have begun work on converting the historic stone and brick buildings into offices, studios, workshops and services for up to 100 tenants and building 44 new houses and flats around them.

J&T Beaven’s headquarters will stay in the same listed building, maintaining a link with the founding family, which pleases Frank. He said “The Beaven family were like the squires of the manor. They loved the village.”