Luton is the beating heart of the hat making industry in England. There were over 400 hat factories in Luton during the 1800s, with the majority of them making straw hats. The level of production was astounding – at one stage, in the 1930s, we were producing over 70 million hats each year! Only 9 factories are still active today but it’s legacy lives on.
Our collection is the most complete in the world and spans 500 years, including over 1000 pieces of headwear, 4000 material examples, machinery, tools and rare items collected from hat factories. We’re proud to bring these items together to create a collection of national significance. It tells the story of hat workers, fashion, trade, the hat making industry in Great Britain and it’s links across the globe.
Our Hat Research Centre is dedicated to the research and study of headwear and the hat industry, containing a remarkable collection of objects and paper archive. The Centre is free to use, but by appointment only.
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