Hats Off! (And On)

Lock Hatter Cara/Andrea here,

It's summer season here in the States, and we're all thinking of beaches and sun  . . . which got me thinking about hats. Now,
Army hatwhen we historical authors dress our Regency heroes for daily life, sunny or otherwise, only the best will do—boots by Hoby, coats by Weston, pistols by Manton . . . and, of course, hats by Lock & Co.

Lock 4On my last trip to London, I spent a lot of time strolling along St. James’s Street, which for any Regency aficionado, is pure bliss. Many of the famous shops of the era are still there, including  Lock & Co. which is located at No. 6, sitting cheek to jowl with another legendary purveyor of gentlemanly staples—Berry Brothers and Rudd, the famous wine and spirits merchants. Part of No. 6 is still called “The Kiln” because a noted maker of ceramic figurines worked there before James Lock bought his freehold in 1764. (Another arcane but fun fact is that the emporium was built on the site of an old real tennis court constructed for Charles I.) Other neighbors are Truefitt and Hill for men’s grooming essentials, and White’s, the quintessential gentleman’s club.

Lock 2Lock and Co. has a long and colorful history, as befits the oldest hat emporium in the world. (It’s also one of the oldest family-owned businesses.) And its illustrious client list includes Sir Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Princess Kate.

It was founded in 1676, when the Locks, a prosperous merchant family, moved to the western part of London after the Great Plague and Fire of 1666. They took up the freehold lese of seven houses on St. James’s Street, near St. James’s Palace—which to this day has remained the official royal residence of the sovereign of Great Britain, though Buckingham Palace has been used by the Royal family since Queen Victoria took up residence in 1837.) Their neighbor was Robert Davis, a hatter, and the two tradesmen families worked side by side for many years.

Nelson's hat 2n 1747, James Lock, the grandson of the original Lock patriarch was apprenticed to the Davis clan to learn the trade. As the Davis patriarch had no son, James was groomed to take over the business, and dutifully married Davis’s daughter. During the Seven Years War, he earned a reputation as an excellent military hatter—the officers of many regiments were responsible for purchasing their own supplies.

Nelson's hat 3Men of the Lock family served in the Grenadier Guards during the Peninsular War. But perhaps the most famous snippet from the store’s history during the Napoleonic Wars involves Admiral Horatio Nelson. He designed a special seagoing hat to his own specifications—including a fold-down eyepatch for his bad eye—and placed an order for it with Lock & Co., providing a detailed sketch and notes for them to follow. Alas, it was never picked up, as Nelson and Victory sailed to the Battle of Trafalgar before he returned to England. (A facsimile is on display in the store, along with a copy of the instructions.)

Family history gets a little complicated during the next century, with financial troubles and lawsuits threatening the emporium’s existence. Suffice it to say, the problems were ironed out and today, there are still seven Lock family members involved with the company. Recently, when one of them was asked if the shop would ever be put to another use, he indignantly replied, “Pack the place in, d’you mean? After three hundred years? Not bloody likely! If the Duke of Bedford can keep his family chateau in business we can do the same for ours!”

Lock 3Here are some of my favorite "hat history" highlights from the Lock & Co. website:

The Bowler Hat
The Bowler, or more properly the Coke hat, was first made by Lock and Co. in 1850 for William Coke, who wanted a stout hat for gamekeepers that would withstand knocks from overhanging tree branches. (Its crown is hardened by numerous layers of shellac.) He also insisted its brim be small, so as not to catch in the wind and be blown off. Legend has it that Coke jumped up and down on the “Bowler” (the name of the actual hatter who fashioned it for Lock) and when he couldn’t crush it announced he was satisfied.

BoaterThe Straw Boater

The Boater is patterned after the hats issued to naval midshipmen in the late nineteenth century, though the naval hats were floppier and designed for sun protection.

The Trilby
The Trilby is named after the female heroine in a novel by George du Maurier, which was serialized in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine. Made of soft felt, it became very popular in the early twentieth century as men adopted a more casual, modern look.

Milky_Way_blue_sSome of the couture creations of the present store are truly works of art, but I confess, I never wear a hat except for sun protection—and then it tends to be a very mundane baseball cap. What about you? Are hats part of your wardrobe? Do you wear them as a fashion statement, or are you like me and wear one for purely practical reasons. Do you have any favorite hat style from history? I love the military-style shakos with ostrich plumes that a Regency heroine would wear for riding.

Raising A Glass To Research!

Too-Wicked-to-Wed_2FINALCara/Andrea here,

Bb-3Researching the little details that add color and texture to a story is one of my favorite parts of writing a book. I’m one of those peculiar people who can hours in a museum examining the gold-threaded stitching on a military uniform or the get down on hands and knees to study the shape of a tea cabinet leg. Most of the things I learn never actually end up in the story. But reading about various subjects—or better yet, seeing objects and places in real life—help me, er, drink in the ambiance of the era.

Sometimes literally. Yes, research can be intoxicating!

Bb-11Too Wicked To WED, my new book, which came out last week, has a number of scenes set in a gaming hell. Now, last week I talked about cards. (The history of them, not how to gamble away your family fortune in a single night. I do draw the line just how far I’ll go to experience authenticity.) So it seemed only natural to take a look at the other staple of a gaming hell—wines and spirits!

"Let us have wine and women, mirth and laughter . . .” —Lord Byron

Bb1 Bb-9We all know our Regency bucks of the ton liked to tipple. Brandy, port, claret were among the favorites, And when talking about Regency drinking, one name comes to mind—Berry Brothers, the quintessential purveyor of spirits to anyone who was anyone. So during a recent trip to London, I decided to take a stroll down St, James’s Street and pay a call at Number Three.

Bb-12You have only to look at the outside of the shop to know you are seeing something special. It’s been in the very same spot since its founding in 1698. Notice the low sloping shape of the building? That’s because it was originally a part of Henry VIII’s tennis court. Another thing that may catch your eye is the sign of the coffee mill hanging above the front door. It, too, has an interesting history, for you see, the business was originally opened by the Widow Bourne (hmm, any relation, Joanna?) as a grocer’s shop named the Coffee Mill.

Bb-8The business was passed down through the family and by 1768 was a major supplier of coffee to the fashionable coffee houses and clubs—White’s and Boodles among them. Being on that date, they already began a unique tradition that lasted until the early twentieth century. The Bb-7charming fellow who showed me around the present-day Berry Brothers explained that scales large enough to weigh a person were not household items in the aristocratic townhouses of London. And so, many of the gentlemen of the time began stopping by to weigh themselves on the huge coffee scale in the main room. (It is still there today.) The weights were duly recorded in a ledger, and it apparently became a fashionable tradition. Many gentlemen came regularly for their entire lives. (Public weighings, with the exact number inscribed in a book that anyone could peruse? Honestly—only a man could have come up with THAT idea.) The thick ledgers are still on shelf, and Byron and Beau Brummell are among the illustrious names that can be found Bb-2within their dusty morocco-bound covers.
 The shop began selling wine to King George III, and its trade soon began to outpace coffee
sales. It was in 1803 that the first Berry—sixteen-year-old George—set foot on the hallowed floors. A distant relative of the Widow, he worked diligently to learn the business and the rest, as they say is history.

Bb-6Many wonderful pieces of art and memorabilia decorated the walls of Berry Brothers (Mr. Rudd was added right after WWI.) One of my favorites is a “certificate of loss” from White Star Lines, apologizing for the sinking of 69 cases of the company’s wine when the titanic went down. And of course, there are some marvelous old vintages on display as well. (As a sidenote, the shop still sells coffee, though few people are aware of it.)  After this delightful stroll through history, I left the premises extremely happy (and entirely sober—I promise!)

Bb-10So do you have a favorite shop that is steeped in history? Or getting into the “spirit” of  wines, have you ever had a memorable wine or port? I once tasted a 1938 port and an 1898 Madeira that were sublime. Lastly—how about a drink or punch recipe for the upcoming holidays. I’ll be giving away a signed copy of TOO WICKED TO WED to one randomly selected person who leaves a comment between now and Saturday evening!