Luton is the beating heart of the hat making industry in England. There were over 500 hat manufacturers 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 10 manufacturers are still active today but we have a total of 15 companies in town linked to the manufacture of hats - designers, material suppliers, bleaching & dyeing and block making. Everything you need to produce a hat can be done in Luton.
Our collection is the most complete in the world and spans 400 years, including over 1,900 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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