So after getting absolutely drenched at the Chestnut Centre last Saturday, me and my friend Stu were contemplating where to spend the afternoon that would preferably be indoors. I was pretty cold and wet at this point! As we drove back through Disley towards Didsbury, Stu spotted a sign for a Hat Museum which I got slightly over – excited about as I love anything textiles related and thought it would be quite interesting; if not a bit random.
So off we went in search of the Hat Works. The building housing the museum is an old mill with the words ‘Hat Museum’ emblazoned on the side of the mill’s chimney; something that can be seen on the train when passing through the town and apparently a famous landmark in Stockport!
We arrived at the museum a little late and missed the last guided tour which was disappointing but it did mean we had free admission. The museum is split into three levels with level one hosting hat displays in The Gallery and the temporary exhibitions area which featured hats from designers such as Vivienne Westwood and other couture milliners. Unfortunately I can’t post any of the photos from the couture section due to copyright which is a shame as there were some unusual and ‘way out’ hats including one that looked like a lettuce! Something that every girl needs in their wardrobe; or maybe not!
The main collection in The Gallery displays British hats from the 1930’s to the 1970’s and with over 250 hats on display there was lots to keep us interested from bowler hats and trilbies to small scale hats used for advertising. Alongside The Gallery is the ‘Hatting Info Lounge’ which features short films to watch.
At ground level was where I found the most fascinating part of the museum. The first area of this level was set up to show early hat making and included full scale models of machines such as a bow garret; used for preparing fur for felting and a planking kettle; used for turning fur into felt. The planking kettle would be used by hatters to dip ‘fur hoods’ into a solution of hot water and sulphuric acid and then rolled with a hatter’s pin to shrink and thicken the felt ready to be shaped later.
In the next part of the ground level was a room made to represent a hatter’s cottage, similar to something I had seen at Quarry Bank Mill last year. Simple and small it wasn’t much to write home about but I’m pretty sure people were living in worse conditions elsewhere; so hatter’s were probably very grateful for their quaint little cottages. Next to this and in the rest of the ground floor was the machinery gallery which including machines for making the wooden hat blocks used for forming as well as the machine press used for shaping hats into bowler hats, top hats etc. I found this all really intriguing as it’s not something you really question; how hats are made; but it was interesting to find out how it is actually done.
To complete the level was a reconstruction of William White’s haberdashery store, a small wares shop where many outworkers from Christy’s hat factory would buy needles, threads and trims to finish off the hats at home. I loved this part as I work in a textiles and haberdashery company so it is always fun to see how the same type of store would have been set up years ago.
When I told my family and friends that I had visited the Hat Museum their first reaction was to laugh and I suppose it does sound like quite a weird subject to have based a museum on but I found it really compelling. The skills used to make the hats and the history of an industry that is pretty much lost now was engaging and made for a really enjoyable afternoon. Somewhere I would definitely recommend for others to visit if they are ever in the area.