Press Release

January 2009



Bowled Over by Big Christmas Frieze!

On a recent inter-Christmas and New Year visit to my local Denton branch of Morrisons in Greater Manchester to buy those little items that you always forget, in my case “Fresh Fish” and “Hard Boiled Eggs and Nuts”, I was amazed to see a Bowler Hat and a Beaver on the external walls of the Supermarket.

Morrison’s Denton Superstore, Saxon Street, Greater Manchester

The explanation for their existence I found in the foyer of the store, in the form a caption under a photograph of the historic building, apparently the building was erected on the site of a former hat factory.

The Booth and Moore’s Hat Factory

Built in 1862 the building was carefully dismantled in 2003 to allow the re-use of as much of the original terracotta works as possible. The spheres are featured on the top of each brick column on the pedestrian gateway at the corner of Hyde Road and Saxon Street, The friezes incorporating a bowler hat and a beaver (beaver fur being used in the production of felt hats) have been rebuilt into the external walls facing Saxon Street, and the rosettes are installed on the piers internally on the check out mall.

The terracotta bowler and beaver friezes above can be seen between
the ground and first floor windows of Booth and Moore's Hat Factory below

This revelation set me thinking about the history of hat manufature in the Denton area of Greater Manchester as a whole and what I discovered was a real eye opener.

Hat industry in Denton

Felt hatting was recorded in Denton as early as 1702 and Denton gained supremacy in the hatting industry towards the end of the 19th century. The increasing importance of Denton and Haughton as centres of felt hat production is demonstrated by the increase of manufacturers in the area: in 1800 there were 4 hatting firms in Denton and Haughton, but by 1825 there were 25 manufacturers, making it the third largest hat making centre in the north west. By 1840, 24,000 felt hats were produced in Denton a week.

At its peak in the Edwardian period, Denton’s felt hat industry was the largest felt hat manufacturing centre in Britain; there were 36 firms directly involved in the felt hat making industry. In 1907 the majority of the16,428,000 felt hats made in England (worth 2,068,000) were made in Denton and Stockport. In 1921, the working population of Denton was 9,653 with about 41% of those people in occupations related to the hatting industry. The last hat factory in Denton closed in 1980.

Bowler Hat Trimming at Wilsons Hat Factory

Hats were made for home consumption and for export. The well-known saying, “If you want to get ahead, get a hat” arose in Denton and, needless to say, anyone attending for a job interview not wearing a hat was quickly shown the door. Similarly, until the early 20th century, anyone entering a Denton shop without a hat would receive much cursing. The term, “mad as a hatter” also arose in Denton because the mercury was used in the felting process led to mercury poisoning.

Why is it called a bowler?

The bowler hat was designed by the hatters James and George Lock of Mr. Lock of St. James's Street, a firm founded in 1676 and still in business. Originally called the 'Iron Hat' (a sort of early hard safety hat), the Locks sent their design to the hatmakers Thomas and William Bowler at their works in Southwark

Thomas Bowler (1826 - 1893) and his uncle, William Bowler (1808 - 1878) were both hatters born in Denton. They moved to London around 1840 and were involved in the development of and became the first makers of the hat which bears their name.

So to some up, the Boys Bowlers could well have originated from the North West of England in the small Lancashire Town which is a stones throw from the Sailors Beware Tent 262 head quarters in Hyde.

As I wandered out of the store with my puchases, which had now grown to included  a couple of litres of “Pure Mountian Water” I imagined how the area must have looked and sounded during those halsien days of bowler hat manufacturing on this historic site.