Words Amicia de Moubray Photographs Philip Jury
Leather craftsman Philip Jury of Finch is a supreme example of how the digital age has created innovative new ways of earning a living.
From a workshop, albeit a beautifully handcrafted one, Philip Jury makes both exquisite handcrafted leather items and videos in which he teaches the art of working with leather. His videos (a few are free to be seen on YouTube, but the majority are available by subscription only) have a growing international following. ‘They are particularly popular in Indonesia and Singapore,’ he says.
But Philip didn’t set out in life to be immersed in the world of leather. He studied carpentry and joinery at the College of North East London. It was there that he learned to appreciate the joy of working with hand tools. On leaving he got a job he hated on a building site. This was followed by a spell in Canada. It was while he was living there that he discovered his true vocation when making a leather sheath for an outdoor knife.
Returning to England, he worked as a prison officer at Maidstone Prison for a year. But in his spare time, he continued to experiment with making leather items, avidly reading old manuals and books to expand his knowledge of techniques. ‘That’s when I really started learning. For example, I remember one book explained how to make a Gladstone bag using techniques you no longer hear about.’
Eventually, he decided to make a workshop at the bottom of his garden on the outskirts of Faversham. ‘I cleared six tons of soil to level the site.’ Being an inventive sort of chap, he had the inspired idea to recycle wooden pharmaceutical pallets being jettisoned by a local hospital. The result is a handsome workshop containing a workbench and an impressive range of meticulously arranged tools. Everywhere you look order reigns. This precision is characteristic of Philip’s beautifully wrought but understated leatherwork. Not for him the bold show-off label beloved by all the big brands. A discreet ‘Finch’ is stamped, usually on the inside, of all his wares.
A superb attention to detail and top quality leather are characteristic of his designs. Everything is lovingly stitched by hand. ‘Hand-stitching lasts so much longer than machine stitching.’ They have a timeless classic quality. But be warned, there is a lengthy waiting list for bespoke items, such is the demand for Finch goods. Philip won’t disclose the whereabouts of his tannery, which also supplies Chanel and Dunhill among other famous names, merely saying ‘it’s not too far from here.’
It is fascinating to learn from him that a country’s leather goods are closely intertwined with their eating habits. For example, the soft leather beloved by the French and Italians is a result of their love of eating veal. The English adore eating beef, which explains the long tradition of fine sturdy saddle leather in this country plus the fact that the damp climate makes it necessary to have fully waxed leather sturdy enough to withstand the rigours of the weather.
In due course, Philip resigned from the prison, taking a part-time job in security, and embarked on a career making exquisite leather goods. It quickly became apparent that there is a voracious demand for people keen to learn the requisite skills to work in leather. As an experiment, Philip made a teaching video filmed in his beloved workshop. He hasn’t looked back and has given up the part-time job. He offers eight video courses on different kinds of techniques, including how to select leathers, how to cut, how to glue and how to stitch (£9.99 per month). ‘I found it surprising to discover how much I enjoy teaching.’ The videos are time consuming to make as he does every aspect himself, but they are proving extremely popular and he has a devoted following all over the world, thanks largely to Instagram (@finchengland).
‘In an age when you can turn on your heating in Kent when you are sitting on the other side of the world, I believe part of us has a yearning to escape from the realities of tech. A lot of people have very high- stress jobs and find making something with their hands very therapeutic and relaxing.’
Philip also offers one-to-one tuition courses in his workshop, such as how to hand stitch. Courses can either be a day (8 hours costs £229) or half a day (£149), tailored to the individual. A great Christmas present idea.