Stockport, Greater Manchester: Hat Works

How could I not visit the “UK’s only museum dedicated to the hatting industry, hats, and headwear”?! So after leaving Manchester, we headed straight for Stockport to see Hat Works (passing a McVitie’s factory en route, though I sadly couldn’t find evidence of a factory shop. I was hoping to obtain a sack of defective caramel digestives that had been rejected due to having too much caramel or something). Apparently there is parking right around the corner from Hat Works, which we noticed belatedly after parking in a garage halfway across town. But no harm done, we needed the exercise anyway (including the hike up a giant set of steps, because Stockport is hilly) after eating grilled cheese for breakfast for the second day in a row.

  

I’m a bit confused as to what Hat Works’ official admission policy is, because the website states that admission is £5, but the woman at the desk didn’t charge us anything. They do offer guided tours, so perhaps the admission fee only applies to those? Anyway, I’d just assume you have to pay the fiver, and then you’ll be pleasantly surprised like we were if you don’t. We had to drive back to London before rush hour, so we did not have time for a 90 minute tour, and opted to just wander by ourselves instead. The museum is spread out over two levels (both located below the floor that you enter on), and is much bigger than I was expecting based on some of the reviews.

  

The exhibition level is where all the hats are, and it was a delightful array of headgear indeed (though seriously, why would a clown have a hat with a skeleton inside? Clowns are creeps). The lighting was pretty dim for conservation reasons, but as promised, our eyes did eventually adjust, so it was easier to see all the splendid hats, which even included some worn by celebrities (if you consider Fred Dibnah and Ainsley Harriott celebrities, that is (in fairness, they did have one of Judi Dench’s hats too, I’m just not a big Judi Dench fan.)). I quite liked the ones shaped like things, like cauliflowers and cakes, though I’m not sure how they’d look on.

  

Happily, I did get to see how I would look in a variety of other hats, because they had an amazing hat dress-up corner. I confess that a large factor in my deciding to visit the museum was my love for trying on hats, since I figured they’d have to have at least a couple out for that purpose. It was way more than a couple – there was a whole shelved wall full of hats, probably thirty different ones! I’m sure they were intended for children, but we were the only people visiting the museum, and frankly, some of the hats were on shelves that a child would have struggled to reach (even I struggled with the topmost ones), so I think they really wanted me to be able to take full advantage. Best hat corner ever!

  

I also really enjoyed the displays curated by various staff members at their partner museums, and I loved the one guest curator’s idea of having a “hats and cats” museum instead (the sample stuffed cat wearing a hat was pretty great, though I strongly suspect real cats would be not so enthused about hats). All the vintage hat ads were cool too, and may have inspired me to start wearing the cloche I acquired a few years back, but have never worn out of the house because I fear unruly youths will mock me and snatch it off my head.

  

The floor underneath the hatstravaganza contained old hat factory machinery (the building is housed in an old factory, though I wasn’t real clear on whether it was actually a hat factory. I think it may have just been a cotton mill). This is where the guided tour would have paid off, because tour groups are allowed access into a couple special areas that we weren’t, and got way more information about the machinery than what was provided on the signs (judging by the group that was going through while we were there), but to be honest, my interest in hat manufacturing is nowhere near as great as my interest in looking at and trying on unusual hats, so I was content with just reading the signage.

  

There was also a mock-up of an old hatter’s cottage, which was pretty depressing, and perhaps authentically cold, as well as some information about the history of hat makers (not enough info about them going mad from mercury poisoning, but there was a bit). Basically, like everyone else who was working class in Victorian Britain, they had grim lives, with the added benefit of potential insanity, and male hatters were incredibly resentful of female hatters because they drove wages down. By this point it was already cutting it close for us getting back home at a reasonable hour, so I didn’t spend as much time in here as I probably should have, but the hat exhibition floor was definitely my preferred floor anyway, and I had ample time to look at that.

  

The gift shop sells, as you might expect, a variety of hats for men and women, though I declined to purchase one on this occasion, since I already own that cloche that I’m not wearing. I did get a postcard of what was allegedly the Duke of Wellington’s hat from Waterloo (the big feathery thing) which is also on display inside the museum (see below). I was pleasantly surprised that the museum was so much larger and hattier than I was expecting, and even if I had to pay £5, I would have been quite content with what I got to see in return, because it really was an excellent hat museum (as well it might be, if it’s the only one in Britain). 4/5 for the Hat Works, and it’s not the only museum in Stockport – I might have to go back some day to tour the old air raid shelter (and investigate the biscuit factory further – I want those defective extra caramelly digestives that may or may not exist)!

  

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10 comments

  1. Delectable visit! It’s on my list for my maidinbritain blog site (which follows you). I now need to dash back to read your People’s History Museum visit – one of my favourite places and where I was inspired for my Little Matchgirl retold story 2 Christmases ago – the museum said they will stock it in their shop if I get it printed/published.
    Thanks for this, anyway I love your attitude and also share the unworn cloche hat issue! Mine’s brown too and I have nothing smart and brown in terms of outerwear.
    [Here are the links in case you fancy reading the story – it’s in 2 parts] https://wp.me/p2vL4D-HW https://wp.me/p2vL4D-IF

    1. Nice story! I’m fascinated (and horrified) by phossy jaw, and all the other old occupational hazards of working with toxic chemicals (like mercury too, of course!). My cloche is black, so it goes with everything and I have no excuse not to wear it, really, except for fear of humiliation, but I tried on a blue one a few weeks ago at a 1920s exhibition, and I think I liked it even better (though this time I didn’t buy it, because I know what happened with the black one).

  2. I have such an affinity for hats! —so thank you for this post. I so often take selfies of myself wearing a hat of my Thing. I especially like the photo where the light fixtures look like hats on the photos on the wall. Thanks again for this post thst started my day

  3. When I saw your title I was sure there would be pictures of you wearing a variety of hats and you haven’t disappointed me! Your cloche sounds lovely, i’m sure your worries are unfounded.

    1. I guess I’m technically wearing a hat in every picture I appear in, since I went in wearing my own hat, but yes, glad I didn’t disappoint! There are even more pictures of me trying on hats that didn’t make it into the post, but I thought people might want to see the museum in addition to me in silly hats. There is a picture of me in a cloche (though not the one that I own) in an upcoming post, so I guess you can judge for yourself then, but I do admittedly have a lot of worries about lovely items of clothing that I own. I also have a really gorgeous long coat that looks very much like something a 1920s movie star would wear, and I’ve still only worn it around the house because I’m scared if I wear it outside, something will happen to it, when in fact it’s probably in more danger of being eaten by moths inside my flat.

      1. It is very cold, but I certainly don’t wear anything that classy to sit around my house! I’m wearing a thing called a Snug Rug over my pajamas at the moment, which is like a generic Snuggie, i.e. a blanket with armholes.

  4. I don’t know what’s happened to me as I’ve gotten older, but I realize I really need more cats in hats in my life – so I would have heartily seconded that guest curator’s suggestion. The two on display (especially the fuzzy one in the green fedora) prove that even the best hat can only be elevated in this way. Regardless, this looks like a super fun museum. I really enjoy the photos of you in that enormous red hat (the name of the style is on the tip of my tongue, but I just can’t get it) and the monkey one. I wish they’d had a second cauliflower sample for trying on – I think it’d be quite fetching.
    That one sign with the quote from the steampunk fan made me laugh. I guess it was meant to refer to the hats in the ad above it, but the pairing with the knitted-hood thingy seems funny. Though maybe those are considered steampunk too (?) – I’m afraid I haven’t really kept up on the fashions.

    1. I really wish Walter Potter’s museum was still around, because from everything I’ve heard, that essentially was just a museum of cats (and squirrels, and mice) in hats (and clothing!) arranged into amusing tableaux. So if someone wants to recreate just the cats and hats part, I’m there!
      I don’t know what that giant red hat is called either, and I went to the hat museum! I wish they had a cauliflower hat too – now I’ll never be able to commit to one, since I don’t know how it looks.
      I was confused by the steampunk sign too when I was there, because of the knight-looking guy next to it, but he is also featured in the ad above with the other Victorian hats, so maybe it is steampunk!? I guess anything goes if you attach some gears and goggles. Actually, if I’m remembering correctly, the hood may have been intended for polar exploration, which would be pretty cool!

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