The History of Thomas Ware & Sons

The Ware Family

Prior to joining the leather trade, the Ware family who gave us their name came from farming stock in Woodbury, Devon. However, through the course of the nineteenth century they turned their hands to tanning. In 1856 Thomas Ware acquired the local Woodbury and Gilbrook tanneries and his brother, Edward, followed in his footsteps with the Invicta Leather Works in Salisbury in 1862. Several years later they purchased the large Clift House Estate in south Bristol, home to an operational tannery since 1840.

Clift House, Bristol in the 1840s

“This work is based on data provided through www.VisionofBritain.org.uk and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth”.

Younger brothers John and Henry  joined the firm and the Ware brand went from strength to strength. They built a reputation as specialists in sole leather, and the name of Ware quickly became one of the best known in the leather trade.

As a result of this success, the family decided to divide responsibility for the different properties. In 1882 Edward took charge of Salisbury, and Henry adopted Woodbury. Meanwhile Thomas, John, and Thomas’s son Wallace carried on the rapidly growing Bristol business. Unfortunately Thomas fell victim to an influenza epidemic and passed away in March 1890, leaving the business in Wallace’s hands. Later that year Wallace incorporated the company into his father’s name and we became Thomas Ware & Sons. Ltd.

The Brearley Era

1929 saw a 19 year old Yorkshire apprentice, Douglas Brearley, move to Bristol and join the firm. He worked his way through the ranks and by 1940 he had earned a seat on the board for his efforts. Douglas led TWS through a highly successful period in our history and helped ensure we continued trading into the new millennium. He remained part of the business until 2002 when after 73 years of service he took a well-earned retirement.

Douglas A Brearley

Douglas A. Brearley at his desk in the tannery office. Alistair still sits at it today.

Under Douglas’s watchful eye, his sons, Andrew and Marcus Brearley, embraced the family trade. They learnt their craft on site in Bristol and at the National Leathersellers College in London. Then as Douglas began to ease off, they were appointed joint Managing Directors in 1977. After a number of years Andrew moved on to run a new venture, Kenton Leather Products, manufacturing leather goods. He retained his seat on the TWS board and continued to support and champion our development until he passed away in August 2020.

Into the 21st Century

Meanwhile Marcus continued as Director, putting the building blocks in place for the company’s modernisation into the 21st century. He was supported by Douglas, and likewise by the next Brearley generation when his son joined the company in 1996. Like his father and grandfather, Alistair studied Leather Technology and worked his way through the different departments of the tannery. Together they faced a challenging time in TWS’s history. An increase in foreign competition led to a significant decline in our traditional markets and potential disaster for the company.

Alistair and Marcus Brearley

Alistair and Marcus Brearley

In order to survive we had to adapt. Marcus instigated a change of direction with an expansion of our product range and growing focus on exports. This marked an up turn in our fortunes, and although Marcus sadly passed away in 2012, we have, as a team, taken giant strides. We now sell many more niche products and in to countries all over the globe.

Alistair took on the role of Managing Director and continues to lead the evolution of TWS. He has driven an expansion of our product range beyond soles and equestrian to include more specialist niche leathers. Whilst our diverse customer base is primarily business to business, it now includes leather for anything from cue tips, to flooring, to cricket balls, to high-end fashion goods.

The future’s bright

With this great heritage we have now reached over 175 years of age and remain the biggest of the traditional leather tanneries.

Our philosophy is simple; success is based on customer satisfaction, from product quality and from traditional expertise.

These values combine with a passion for what we do and a committed staff, many of whom have been with us for decades, to ensure Thomas Ware & Sons Ltd will be producing premium leather long into the future.