Wednesday, 10 February 2016

The not so nice side of hat making at the Stockport Hat Works Museum

We were at the Hat Works Museum in Stockport recently.  

It is spread over three floors, showcases a range of fashion and utility wear as well as headdresses from around the world.

And because Stockport along with Denton were centres for the manufacture of hats the museum offers up the story of the industry in the north west and of the working lives of the people who made the hats.

These include some wonderful short videos where the people engaged in the business talk about their work along with the harsh conditions and a little of the community spirit, which is not surprising given that whole generations of some families worked alongside each other.

They worked together, and lived beside each other in the small terraced houses in the shadow of the factories.

For a product which looked so elegant and could cost a lot of money, the fashion hat no less than the traditional bowler, and homburg were made at a severe price to the health of the workers.

In the wet room the material was worked in a mix of warm water and diluted acid, while in the dry room the dust and detritus from the fur had to be brushed out of the hair each evening before leaving work.

It was a place where one woman “hated everyday of the four years I spent there,” while another reflected on the danger of hats that span off machines at terrifying speeds.

And yet more than one commented on the fact that it had been a “decent way to make a modest living.”

That said it was an industry which pretty much came to a fairly sudden end.  For this was no slow lingering decline.  In just a few short decades what had provided employment for many shrank to just a few factories.

Now there are various explanations but for those you will have to visit the museum "which takes 
you on a journey through the history of Stockport’s once thriving hatting industry.

The museum is home to a recreated hat factory with some 20 fully restored working Victorian-style machines and a fantastic collection of over 400 hats from around the world.”*

Pictures; the working floor of the museum from the collection of Andrew Simpson

*Hat Works Museum

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