Tuesday, April 24, 2007

London letters 4: Hat factory, Hollen Street

This is the Henry Heath Hat Factory, a fragment of the old artisan Soho jammed right up against Oxford Street:

What's shown is the back; the front was presumably a shop even in Victorian times. The building, according to listing records, dates from the late 1880s, but the address dates back further than that. There's a pamphlet in the British Library's Evanion Collection of printed ephemera that was handed out at the 1884 International Health Exhibition in South Kensington - they had a demonstration there - and gives the firm's address as "Ye Hatterie", Oxford Street, "as in the reign of King George the Fourth".

The pamphlet is marvellous. It boasts of Henry Heath's contribution to "rational dress" (a "soft-fitting" riding hat for ladies, as recommended by the coursing correspondent of The Field) and his warrant as "Hat Manufacturer to King Alphonso and the Royal Court of Spain".

But the reason I wanted to write about this is because of the letters themselves, plain cast-iron-looking Victorian sans forms that are constantly struggling to turn back into something more complicated. Look at the crossbars of the "H" and "A" in "HAT":

You get the same effect on "Oxford Street". It's trying to be simple, but serifs keep breaking out - on the "r"s, on the "S", on the "t"...

As you'd expect, the building is now full of "creative" "industry" offices. I hope some of the occupants are sufficiently geeky about lettering to enjoy it.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have a henry heath top hat so his is really interesting o see the building in which it was made.

Anonymous said...

I have a Henry Heath bowler hat of my late father's bought by his firm in the early 60s. It is mint condition. With a ticket inside for 65/-, Shape No. H233. Are they of any value?

Anonymous said...

I have a Henry Health ltd, top hat, that I purchased in Quebec. It was made for Charles Roundeau in 1822, or so.

I've been trying to get all the information I can abotu it, it has some inscriptions inside adn everything.

Anonymous said...

I walk past that building almost every day and it's nice to have a little history about it.

gill said...

Our great grandfather/great great grandfather started work holding Henry Heath's horse - this was in Victorian times - he started working at Henry Heaths and slept under the counter there - he worked up from the most junior person in the firm to being a hatter to in turn being the managing director - he fitted the hats - the top hats - for King Edward VII and King George V - as regards his sons he insisted that they leave school at the earliest opportunity and start work - as regards his daughters he sent them to North London Collegate School and insisted that they have the best private education that money could buy - more later...maybe...

Anonymous said...

my great, great, great,grandfather was henry heath so incredible to see a factory building still erxists. also have a henry heath hat i recently purchased