Select Skinner Miscellany

Here are some Skinner stories and accounts over the years:

Skinner as an Occupation

Skynners or skinners were clearly men in the business of selling rawhide to others who would turn them into leather.  Though a man could acquire one of these names by simply developing some skill in taking the skin off a carcass, it is far more probable that a man would have to be clearly associated with that process for some time to acquire the name permanently.

The animals were usually slaughtered on the farms by a butcher and skinned by a skinner; then the hides were sold to the tanners or barkers. Over the years, all these occupations became surnames.  Sometimes middlemen would try to set themselves up here, but they never really succeeded

The Worshipful Company of Skinners

The Worshipful Company of Skinners was one of the great medieval trade guilds.  It was originally an association for those engaged in the trade of skins and furs.   Their guild was first recognized by Edward III in 1327 and was confirmed by Henry VI in 1438.  That the Skinners rose from people who worked with hides was reflected in their motto, sanguis et vulnera, which is Latin for "blood and wounds."

Under an order issued by the Lord Mayor of London in 1484, the company ranked either in sixth or seventh place in the order of the “Twelve Great City Livery Companies.”  The Skinners were normally sixth in the order of precedence in even numbered years and at seven in odd numbered years.  Some think that the expression “at sixes and sevens” came from this situation.

The company evolved into an educational and charitable institution, supporting schools such as the Tonbridge School in Kent and the Skinners’ Academy in Hackney, London.  William Herbert wrote a history of the company in 1837 and the Skinners’ Company, as it is now called, is still around today. 

Skinner from Skene in Scotland

In Clifford Sims’ 1962 book The Origin and Signification of Scottish Surnames, the following reference was made to the Skinner name.

"Some derive their names as well as their arms from some considerable action, and thus a son of Struan Robertson, for killing a wolf in Stocket forest in Athole, in the king's presence, with a dirk, received the name of Skene, which signifies a dirk. 

Ian Grimble wrote in Scottish Clans and Tartans that this event took place in the 11th century and that "the Skenes were an exceptionally early sept of Clan Donnchaidh, long before it adopted the name of Robertson."

In other references I've come across, the knife is referred to as a sgain dhu which means "black dirk."  This is a small, bone-handled knife traditionally carried in the top of the Scotsman's sock. It was sometimes the weapon of choice for a quick slit of an Englishman's throat after the carrying of swords and other weapons were banned in Scotland.

According to other reports of the story above, the Scottish king was hunting with several others when a wolf attacked the party.  The Scotsman in question drew his skaen dhu, grappled with the wild creature at the risk of his own neck, and dispatched the beast.  The king honored the hero by naming him "Robertson of the Sgain Dhu." The family carried the appellation forward into succeeding generations and it eventually became the Skinner name we know today."

Captain William Skinner of the 94th Regiment

Captain William Skinner took part in the capture in 1761 of Dominica in the West Indies under Lord Rollo.  But he drowned on August 27th of the same year at Coulehault off the coast of Dominica.

He had married in 1753 at a very young age to Hester, the daughter of Colin Lawder of Berwick-upon-Tweed.  Tradition relates that the combined age of the bride and bridegroom did not exceed thirty.

A contemporary Percival Stockdale wrote of them: 

“Miss Hester Lawder was afterwards married to Mr. Skinner who, at the time of their marriage, was an ensign.  He was one of the most hospitable of men.  He was polite to me when I was a lieutenant in the Welsh fusiliers and in the year 1756 at Gibraltar.  And I can never forget the universal admiration which did homage to Miss Lawder’s charms in the Governor’s garden at the convent.”

Three children were the result of this marriage - William Campbell Skinner, Captain of the Royal Engineers; Thomas Skinner, Colonel of the Royal Engineers; and Margaret, who married the Right Honorable Sir Evan Nepean, Baronet.

Charles Clement Skinner, Lighthouse Keeper

The Marshall Point Lighthouse was situated on a rocky ledge at the tip of the St. George Peninsula in Maine.  Charles Clement Skinner, a Civil War veteran, was its keeper from 1874 to 1919. He lived at the station with his wife and six children.  He died in 1932. 

In his logs, Skinner noted many strandings of both man and beast in the area of the station.  On October 28, 1884 he wrote:

“A fin-back whale stranded on Mosquito Point last night.  Sixty-seven feet in length.”

And on February 10, 1886:

“Steamer Cambridge was wrecked on Old Man Ledge at 4:45 AM.  Passengers and crew were all saved and landed on Allen Island where they were taken off by Steamer Dallas this forenoon and taken to Rockland.” 

He made the following journal entry in June 1895:

“Heavy thunder showers passed over here at one o’clock this morning. The dwelling house at this station was struck by lightning and one chimney, the roof, one window, and three rooms badly shattered, lightning entered from rooms besides the cellar.  No one was seriously injured.”

His daughter, Eula Kelley, was born in the first keeper's house in 1891 and lived until 1993, spending her last years in a cottage nearby the light station. Her sister, Marion Dalrymple, was born in the new keeper's house in 1895 and lived until 1992. Both sisters attended the opening of the restored keeper's house in 1990.

Millions of Americans have seen Marshall Point Lighthouse, even though they might not know it. The lighthouse’s wooden walkway served as the terminating point in Forrest Gump’s cross-country run “Run, Forrest, Run."

Kayla Skinner in Seattle

Kayla Skinner who died in 2004 at the age of 84 was the matriarch of an old Seattle family and a pillar of local philanthropy.  In 1942 she had married Ned Skinner, a third generation Seattle patriarch who twenty years later was to bring the World’s Fair to Seattle.

Kayla played a central role in the flowering of Seattle's arts scene since that time, serving on numerous boards, lobbying politicians, giving generously herself and asking others to do likewise.

"This was a seminal person in the development of the Seattle arts community," said Peter Donnelly, president of the arts-support group ArtsFund and a longtime friend. "This is one of the architects of our cultural life as we know it today."

Her name won't be quickly forgotten. There's a Kayla Skinner Stairway at McCaw Hall, a Kayla Skinner Board Room at the Tacoma Art Museum, and a Ned and Kayla Skinner Theater at Cornish College of the Arts.  She was a founding member of Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet. She served on the boards of the Seattle Symphony, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Seattle Art Museum and The Empty Space Theatre, among others.

She was a small woman, not much more than five feet tall.  But she attracted attention wherever she went. It was said by an old friend that when she went shopping downtown in the 1950’s she used to stop traffic on Fifth Avenue because people would stop to look at her.  She was a somebody.

Return to Top of Page
Return to Skinner Main Page