Before I learnt the names of these men, who served as Deacons at Tabor Chapel (Dinas) in about 1912, I became fascinated by their hats. Did their choice of headgear tell us anything about the individuals beneath? John Stephenson of Lock and Co.* , who is an Oxfam supporter and immensely knowledgeable, helped me investigate.
From the left:
Captain James Harries is wearing a ‘yachting cap’ of the sort that Kaiser Wilhelm wore when he went yachting at Cowes. These caps were often made of corduroy but it looks as if Captain Harries’ cap was made of ‘melton’ – a heavy woollen fabric that would have been dyed navy blue; the same cloth was used to make a sailor’s ‘pea coat’.
Stephen George is wearing a felt hat with a turned up brim – similar to a Homburg, (popular after the prince of Wales’ visit to Bad Homburg in the 1890s) – made of rabbit fur and stiffened with shellac dissolved in water.
George Davies is wearing a bowler. The first bowler was made by Lock’s for the Earl of Leicester who was looking for practical headgear for his gamekeepers at Holkham Hall. The gamekeepers had been wearing top-hats that would get knocked off by low branches as they went about their work. So, at his request, round about 1850, Lock’s came up with a better design. It was made of rabbit fur and stiffened with shellac dissolved in alcohol. The Earl tested it by jumping on the hat – and it met with his approval.
Dan George is wearing an old fashioned flat brimmed felt hat. This hat became popular late 18th/early 19th century and replaced the the three cornered hats that had been worn (with wigs) until that time. But in 1795 Pitt the younger (Prime Minister of the day and a customer of the 3rd James Lock) imposed a tax of a guinea a year (collected by the hatters themselves) on wig powder, and this proved quite an incentive to abandon wigs and develop a style of hat for the un-wigged head; the cocked hat died a death and the round hat became very popular.
Evan Evans’ bowler hat has an unusually round crown and is lower than average. Maybe because he himself was quite a short man – shorter in the photo than Captain James who is standing on the step below him. According to John Stephenson his hatter would have advised him on a hat to suit his stature.
Captain James’ bowler hat is taller – but looks as if it’s a poor fit. It shouldn’t just be perching on the top of his head.
So, can you tell anything about a man from his hat? Maybe you can. What do you think?
* Lock and Co is the oldest hat shop in the world and has been run by the same family since 1676. It belongs to a small exclusive group of 9 ‘tercentenarian’ businesses in the UK, the oldest of which is a Butcher’s in Bridport, Dorset, that was founded in 1515. And while we are on this side-track you might like to know that there is a vineyard in France that has been run by the same family for 1000 years and a shrine-maker in Japan whose family business was established in 575.