In the 1840s the London hatters Lock & Co had been commissioned by a customer to design a close-fitting, low-crowned hat to protect his gamekeeper’s heads. The hats of the day, which were top hats, were too easily knocked off by low-slung tree branches; the hats would also – in an ideal world – protect the gamekeepers should they be attacked by poachers. The first such hat was sold on 17 December 1849.
Lock & Co outsourced the hat problem to London hat makers Thomas and William Bowler; they got their solution as well as a name for the headgear that has lasted since then. Lock & Co, who purport to be the world’s oldest hat-making company, were founded in 1676 in St James’s Street, where they remain to this day.
St James’s Street takes its name from an 11th-century asylum dedicated to St James (the patron saint of Spain). According to the London historian’s go-to font of knowledge, John Stow, it was founded “by the citizens of London, before the time of any man’s memory, for fourteen sisters, that were leprous, living chastely and honestly in divine service”.The hospital, as was often the case, fell into the hands of Henry VIII who built a palace there.