James Lock

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Hat couture

Lock & Co., 6 St James’s Street, SW1


Vintage headwear, mostly military
Lock­’s have a small selec­tion of vin­tage head­wear on a shelf above the sales counter

In 1676 Robert Davis, a hat­ter from Bish­ops­gate, leased five hous­es on the west side of St James’s Street and set up shop in one of them, draw­ing emi­nent cus­tomers from the new­ly fash­ion­able cof­fee shops near­by and from the Court of St James’s. James Lock entered into an appren­tice­ship at the hat­ters in 1747 and sub­se­quent­ly mar­ried into the Davis fam­i­ly. He inher­it­ed the busi­ness in 1759 and six years lat­er acquired new premis­es across the road at 6 St James’s Street, where the firm remains today and in which indi­rect descen­dants of Robert Davis and James Lock are still part­ners.

Not only do Lock and Co. sell a lot of tweed caps and bowler hats, they actu­al­ly orig­i­nat­ed them, one way or anoth­er. The woollen cloth used for the caps was orig­i­nal­ly called ‘tweel’, the Scots form of ’twill’, but when the man­u­fac­tur­er sent a con­sign­ment to Lock­’s, in 1826, the name was bad­ly writ­ten and mis­read, and as the cloth was made on the banks of the Riv­er Tweed, ‘tweed’ was accord­ing­ly adopt­ed.

The bowler hat was cre­at­ed by Lock & Co. in response to a request from a Nor­folk-based cus­tomer, William Coke, whose tall rid­ing hat was too fre­quent­ly swept off by over­hang­ing branch­es. There’s dis­agree­ment about the ori­gin of the word ‘bowler’: some author­i­ties give the cred­it to the hat’s design­er, sup­pos­ed­ly one John Bowler, oth­ers to the sup­pli­ers of the felt, said to have been Thomas and William Bowler. Lock­’s pre­fer to call the bowler hat a ‘Coke’.

Like near­by Fox’s (as it’s now called), Lock­’s were one of Win­ston Churchill’s favourite sup­pli­ers, and they made his dis­tinc­tive ‘chim­ney-pot’ hats to his own spec­i­fi­ca­tion.

In Churchill’s day the com­pa­ny was famous­ly con­ser­v­a­tive in all its ways of doing busi­ness, keep­ing long­hand ledgers and appar­ent­ly being ‘dis­creet­ly offend­ed’ if a cus­tomer offered to pay in cash. Lock­’s oper­ate in a more 21st-cen­tu­ry way now (even main­tain­ing a Face­book page) but they still sell all the tra­di­tion­al styles of hat – for both men and women – plus some cou­ture millinery and a range of hip­per head­gear called the Lock & Roll col­lec­tion. A small sec­tion at the rear of the store is named the Coun­try Room, because its stock con­sists almost entire­ly of flat, tweed caps.

Sad­ly, the shop does­n’t have the space to dis­play much in the way of mem­o­ra­bil­ia; there’s just a sin­gle shelf of vin­tage hats, caps and hel­mets – most­ly mil­i­tary – above the sales counter, out of reach and with­out any kind of descrip­tive labelling.
A customer at Lock's, wearing a burgundy trilby

James Lock & Co. Ltd, 6 St. James’s Street, London SW1A 1EF
Phone: 020 7930 8874
Website: www.lockhatters.co.uk
Open: Monday–Friday 9.00am–5.30pm; Saturday 9.30am–5.00pm
Nearest station: Green Park (Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines)
NearbyJJ Fox

 


A Welsh Baronet and MP entered the shop of Lock & Lincoln, in St James’s Street, to purchase a hat. The foreman could not find one sufficiently large for the Baronet’s head, and stated that he only knew one person whose head was so large.

“Who is that person?” asked the indignant Welshman.

The foreman replied, “It is no other than the great minister, Sir Robert Peel.”

“Oh! oh!” exclaimed Taffy, “You make hats for that Radical, do you? Well, then, it shall never be said that you have sold me a hat. I have a horror of such men as your great ministers.” And the baronet left the shop in dudgeon, much to the wonder and astonishment of the hatter.

Rees Howell Gronow, Captain Gronow’s Last Recollections, 1866