Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Sir John Taylor's Top Hat

When we lived in Manchester in the 80s, my Dad was a partner in a law firm called John Taylor & Co. The firm's founder, John Taylor, had written the definitive technical book about contracts for buying woven cloth. He gave many lectures on the subject, and was knighted "for political and public services in Blackburn" (Supplement to the London Gazette, 11 May 1937). In case you are wondering, that is the same Blackburn, Lancashire as in the song, and that's where John Taylor was from, and where he originally started the firm. He had an original approach to practice development, arranging to work on the morning shift in a textile mill before going into the office, which is why he understood things like how many faults per square inch you could customarily have before cloth became 'seconds'. He died in his 90s, without retiring, perhaps a decade before Dad joined the firm.

As the textile industry completed its decline, the firm merged with another one and the offices of John Taylor & Co were cleared out. My Dad felt very sad about the loss of the firm's history and brand, which had been very well known and respected for generations. He rescued some things that would otherwise have been thrown away; a few documents, I think, that didn't mean much any more, and Sir John Taylor's top hat.

It still lives in its original box.

The leather box is in very good condition; the largest strap is worn and flaking, and the handle is worn, but all the buckles undo quite easily with no stiffness.

The box is lined with deep pink velvet, and the hat has some tissue paper inside.

On removing the paper, I discover that Sir John's bow-tie has also been preserved. My Dad thinks that a top-hat and bow tie may have been required wear at the Cotton Exchange, so it would make perfect sense for Sir John to keep them at the office. And when he eventually died, there they stayed. The Cotton Exchange was where the weavers and spinners went to make deals with the Liverpool merchants, and was probably the reason why the firm opened an office in Manchester after beginning in Blackburn.

The maker's label reads:
Hatters to H.M. the King
1 Old Bond Street, W.

However, in the top, not only Scotts' name is given, but also the name of Alfred Pellett Ltd of Manchester. So perhaps Sir John was measured for the hat in Manchester by Pellett, and the hat ordered from London, or even manufactured or finished in Manchester by Pellett as some sort of licensee for the Scotts brand. Of course he could have ordered the hat in London - we know for sure that he went there at least once, to be knighted - but in that case I don't see why it would have Pellett's name. At any rate, the initials JT have been added, proudly embossed in gold. I suppose Scotts offered some personalisation as part of their service.

I also don't see any dates here. Scotts as a company existed at least from 1890 to 1963, and the words "The King" only make sense between January 1901, when Queen Victoria died, and the present Queen's coronation in 1953.

Finally, I lift out the hat.

I suppose that the material is silk velvet. I'm curious about how it's made. I particularly admire the top; the circular nap seems to have grown that way, like the crown of an animal's head. There are no visible seams.

The raised edges of the brim are beautifully done. In this picture you can also see the only sign of damage. The hat has certainly been worn a fair amount, but perhaps it was reserved for special business - remembering that it was left in the firm's offices, not at Sir John's home.

I also admire the box, and how it's perfectly adapted to the shape of the hat.

The only thing I have done is gently lift off a little dust with a microfibre cloth. Otherwise I have touched it as little as possible and put it back in the box.

If you know anything about the manufacture of top hats in London or Manchester by Scotts, Pellett, or anyone else, I'd be interested to hear it in the comments or by email at the usual address.
1 This is probably the right citation: "The KING has been graciously pleased, on the occasion of His Majesty's Coronation, to signify his intention of conferring the Honour of Knighthood upon the following: — ... John Taylor, Esq. For political and public services in Blackburn." That's a bit vague, I was expecting "services to the textile industry". I'm curious as to what the 'political services' were - it might or might not mean that he served in some public office in Blackburn, perhaps as a councillor. In the next issue, 15th June 1937, we see him travelling to Buckingham Palace to receive his honour. The Gazette search is pretty good once you get the hang of it.

1 comment:

TwoToTango said...

What a lovely peek into a completely vanished time.
And how wonderful that such a beautiful thing was not unceremoniously thrown away!