Hats the Way I Like a Museum

Member Rating 3 out of 5 by duskmaiden on July 14, 2009

Are you mad as a hatter when it comes to has? Do you feel naked without your beanie, baseball cap or posh wedding hat? I know the ideal place for you. It is Stockport's Hat Works, an award winning attraction which is the only museum dedicated to hats and the hat making industry in Britain.
It is appropriate that the museum is in Stockport. Until very recently the town was one of the predominant industries in the area. At its peak in the 19th century it employed 4737 people and exported 6 million hats per year. The hat making industries have now disappeared but they have left a lasting legacy including the Victorian mill it is housed in which is a grade 2 listed building.

The Hatworks is ultra easy to find. It is right next to the town's bus station. There is an entrance to the museum from the bus station but this is sometimes closed at the weekend. During these times you need to climb a set of steps up to the main entrance on the busy Wellington Road South (A6). It really is easy to find. You can not miss it due to the tall mill chimney with the name of the Hatworls painted on it.

I have been to the Hatworks twice, once with a friend and once with my sister and on both occasions I have had a very pleasant and rewarding visiting experience. The staff at the front desk have always been very helpful. On both times we were handed a black and white plan of the building and a leaflet about the special exhibition. The museum is free (a bonus for parents whose wallets have been stretched to the limit) but there are guided tours that cost £2 per person (a family ticket for two adults and two children is £7)

The museum is quite a small one consisting of three levels. A thorough visits could easily be done in two hours maximum. This is ideal as young minds will not become bored easily and it is fully accessible for wheelchairs and buggies. I would advise you start at the bottom and work your way up but there is no prescriptive route.

The ground floor contains a history of hat making in Stockport. This is the social history part of of the museum,. The display consists of informative panels alongside machinery and replica workshops and a hatter's cottage. This is where the tour comes in handy. During my first visit I was on this level when someone else was taking the tour so got to see the machines working (sneaky I know. I am a canny Scot who can be stingy with my money.!). The second time this floor was static and thus was a bit boring. I am not big on industrial machinery. I have seen too many wording cotton and woolen mills and they often all look the same to me but I did find it interesting seeing how felt hats were made both manually an in a factory. I was fascinated to see the different lasts used to create the different shapes of hats. I was not so interested in the Hatter's Cottage. It was a chance to bring the over used mangle and out door toilet that every museum collection has somehow acquired.

The star floor for me is the second floor. This is the Hat Gallery where 250 hats and other head gear are on show. I like this gallery as it is very accessible on a variety of different levels from experts to children. I have actually already recommended the museum to my friend and her three year old for this reason. You start off with a display about materials used to make hats which is fun as there are feeling drawers with examples of material to touch. Next to this case is a number of innovative hats made from recycled carrier bags. The exhibition continues with hats from around the world, sporting hats, religious hats etc. It's a really good way of displaying the hats as you can talk to children about the different usage of hats and other head gear. There's also a section on hats in entertainment so you can gawp at Ainsley Harriot's chef hatr along with the Cat in the Hat's striped top hat and head gear worn by Danni Minouge (the V and A has her sister's clothes. Stocckport is a bit mundane for Kylie!). The one thing you will not find is really old hats. I think the oldest one I noticed was a Victorian bonnet. There are also a few exhibits which you can not put on your head including a mini car (Ii am not sure why), a yurt (Mongolian felt tent) which is used for story telling and a model of the most famous milliner of all the Mad Hatter and his dear friend Alice.

As I mentioned the museum is very family friendly Both of my visits were on a Saturday and on both afternoons there were a lot of families exploring the collection and trying out the different activities in the special frailty zone including trying on a wide range of hats. There is also a wide range of family events from crafts to story telling in the Yurt.

The presentation is good but not exciting. Most of the hats are in glass cases with smallish labels and interpretation panels. Luckily they provide this information in alternate languages and in larger print for visually impaired people such as myself. Even so I found the books at times difficult to read due to the light. They have solved this by offering torches at reception if required. I like this gallery as it is fairly spacious so you never feel it is too crowded.

The final floor contains the amenities you would find in any half way decent museum. There is the cafe which I tried on my firs visit. If I remember rightly it served the usual selection of good quality drinks and cakes at a reasonable price. They also offer Internet access for a small charge in the cafe. Next to the cafe is the education centre. This can be hired out on Saturdays for childcare's parties. It must be fairly popular as it was in use both times I visited. Finally we have that purveyor of nostalgic postcards, dressing up dolls and pocket money souvenirs which is called the shop. It is quite a small one and most of the merchandise is fairly standard but they do sell some hats produced at the museum alongside some nice hat themed ornaments.

If you are bats about hats do not miss the Hatworks. it is a great way to while away an hour or two and is accessible for young and old.
Stockport Hat Works Museum
Wellington Mill
Stockport, England, SK3 0EU
+44 161 355 7770


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