Lock & Co is the oldest hatters in the world. They’ve been based in the St James’s area of Westminster since 1676 and not surprisingly for a shop that is is over 340 years old, have had an eclectic array of customers.
In the early 1800s Lock & Co made Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson’s signature ‘bicorne’ hats and in September 1805, before sailing for Spain, Nelson settled his bill. This was fortunate for Lock & Co, because after the battle of Trafalgar, Nelson no longer required any hats and was in no position to settle any outstanding debts.
In 1849, the St James’s Street hatters made a small round hat for nobleman Edward Coke’s (pronounced ‘Cook’) gamekeepers, which although officially called ‘the Coke’ became better known as ‘the Bowler’.
In more recent history Lock & Co received Royal Warrants, currently providing hats for both HRH The Duke of Edinburgh and HRH The Prince of Wales. Since the 1990s they have had a ladies floor and provided many of the hats and fascinators seen at the Royal Wedding in 2011. As another Royal Wedding (Harry & Megan) was announced today (to take place in Spring 2018), Lock & Co will no doubt find their services in demand once again.
Lock and Co are also quite understandably proud of the fact that they once received a postcard, simply addressed to ‘the best hat shop in London’.
If you enter Lock & Co, you’ll discover in their back room, framed on the walls, little templates of some very famous heads. In 1852, a machine called a ‘conformateur’ was invented in Paris, which although resembling a torture device, actually accurately measures a person’s head. The contraption is placed on a customer’s head, and a series of pins mark the contours of the head, creating a miniature template 1/6 of the actual size. It is mostly used for hard hats and people wishing to resize an existing hat, as the template can then be placed in to an adjustable block and by moving the pins, be used to reverse the process and recreate the circumference of the customer’s head. If the hard hat is heated, and the block placed inside the rim, it will them mould itself to the exact shape of the head. To get a better idea, watch this video showing how the ‘conformateur’ works’.
What you can see framed here, are these little 1/6 sized head templates, all signed by the customer. Below are just a few examples.
This photo includes Henry Winkler, Michael Palin, Kenneth Branagh and Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery.
Here we have Charles Chaplin, Donald Sinden, Freddie Fox and Hugh Bonneville.
And finally, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Nicolas Cage, Jackie Onassis, Lord Lucan, Cecil Beaton and David Walliams.
In short, if you've ever wondered what shape head some celebrity, politician or Royal had or has, then pop along to Lock & Co and you might find out.
London is full of curiosities, oddities, street antiques, little windows back in time that people pass every day without perhaps even noticing, or certainly registering their significance. Some of these are well known, and almost certainly all written about in one form or another. Below are a just a few I quite like.
Policeman's Hook - Great Newport Street
Secreted away on the side of a building on Great Newport Street (just by Leicester Square Underground Station) close to the busy intersection of St Martin’s Lane, Garrick Street, Long Acre, Cranbourne Street and of course Great Newport Street is a large hook, above which is written ‘Metropolitan Police’. Long before lights controlled the flow of traffic through this busy thoroughfare, a Policeman would stand directing cars, vans and bicycles using nothing but his hands and a sturdy presence. Hot work during those pre-war summers, and so a place to hang a Policeman’s coat was necessary. The story goes that one Policeman had taken to using a handy nail, protruding from the wall during building work. When the work ended and the nail was gone, the impromptu coat hook was sorely missed, so an official one instated.
WWII stretchers up-cycled as fences
During the Blitzkrieg attacks of WWII, mass civilian casualties were anticipated and therefore numerous A.R.Ps (Air Raid Precautions) were put in to place. One such action was to make loads of sturdy metal stretchers which could also easily be quickly washed down (gas attacks were a real danger too) if contaminated or bloodied. It would seem that a great many of these were taking up valuable space after the war, combined (I’m guessing) with the fact that many fences and railings had been melted down for the war effort. The stretchers became fences themselves. A few examples survive around ex local authority buildings, particularly in east or south-east London. The photo shows such a fence around the Dog Kennel Hill estate, east Dulwich.
WWII Blackout signs
Keeping on the WWII theme, there are still a few old ‘ghost signs’ directing people during the air raids of the 1940s to underground shelters, particularly around residential streets in Westminster. It is well known that thousands of Londoners huddled together deep below ground on Underground platforms, or even railway lines. American talk show host, Jerry Springer was born in Highgate Underground station in 1944, whilst it was being used as a shelter. During the ‘Blitz’, another A.R.P was to enforce ‘Blackouts’, ensuring that no light escaped from buildings or streets at night, and therefore making them harder to identify from enemy planes flying over head. Strict blackout regulations were enforced by wardens and those flaunting the rules would face penalties. Although the darkness made it difficult for German bombers to spot their targets, it also made it difficult for civilians to get around. White stripes were painted on kerbstones to try and make them more visible. The above sign which survives from this period reads ‘PUBLIC SHELTERS IN VAULTS UNDER PAVEMENTS IN THIS STREET’.
As you wander around London, you might pass what looks like a green shed on the side of the road, and either wonder what it is for, or not give it a second thought. The chances are, it’s a Cabmen’s Shelter. People started hiring horses and carriages to take the around the place in the 17th century, which was eventually regulated in a taxi service. The famous black cabs in London today are still officially called ‘Hackney Carriages’. If you were a cab driver, stopping to go to the toilet or grab some food was problematic as you’d need to get (and probably pay) someone to keep an eye on your horse and carriage. So, in 1875, these little huts started being erected, allowing cabmen to duck inside and get out of the rain. Horses could be tied to the bar running around the edge of the shelter, under the watchful gaze of the cabman and someone inside made and sold food. The chimney was for the wood burning stove. By 1914, 61 of these shelters had been built. Only 13 remain, but as they have Grade II Listed status, hopefully won’t be disappearing anytime soon. The shelter pictured can be found on Northumberland Avenue close to Embankment Underground Station and serves refreshments to the public, although most of the ones still in use are solely for licensed cab drivers who have ‘the knowledge’.
Bowl Of Chalk
Bowl Of Chalk based shenanigans.