A fellmonger was a dealer in hides or skins, particularly sheepskins, who might also prepare skins for tanning. The name is derived from the Old English ‘fell’ meaning skins and ‘monger’ meaning dealer. Fellmongery is one of the oldest professions in the world and since ancient times, man has used the skins of animals to clothe himself, and for making domestic articles.
Today the term has become restricted to the person or the operator of the machinery which removes sheep's wool or the hair of other animals from hides in preparation for tanning. The process of fellmongering has to be done quickly after the animal is slaughtered to prevent the hides from decaying before tanning can begin. First they are trimmed of all unwanted pieces like legs, neck and tail then soaked in water to allow the skin tissues to distend. Next, a sodium sulfide solution is applied to the skin side of the fleece. The sodium sulphide soaks through the skin and destroys the follicles of the wool roots so that the fellmonger can then separate the wool from the skins. The wool is washed and dried. The skins are then soaked in a stronger solution of sodium sulphide and lime for 21 hours to remove small clumps of wool missed by the puller and to break down some internal proteins within the skin. The next process is called deliming: the skins are soaked in a solution of water and ammonium sulfate. This is to remove all the sodium sulphide from the skin and degraded proteins. The next process is the bating which is to remove any remaining protein from the surface.
Historically, fellmongers belonged to a guild or company which had their own rites and by-laws to regulate the quality of the skins, workmanship, treatment of apprentices and trading rights.
- Dorrington, Eric (January–February 2000). "Developing a Living History Character". Orders of the day (The Sealed Knot Ltd) 32 (1). Archived from the original on 22 February 2005. Retrieved 1 March 2010.
- "Fellmongers Company - History and Heritage". The Company of Fellmongers of Richmond, Yorkshire. Retrieved 1 March 2010.