Christys is one of a handful of hat makers left in the UK. It supplies Lock & Co and Bates (neither of whom make their own hats) as well as having its own label. For much of its history Christys was the largest hat maker in the UK, with over 3000 staff at one point. (Today it is 30.)

Some of the Christys flanges are over 150 years old
Christys is also one of around 10 makers in the world that does both its own felting and blocking. Felting is the creation of the raw material. It involves blowing rabbit fur or sheep wool in a machine the size of a small office, to separate out the finest hairs. A second machine then blows the hairs onto a cone mould, while that mould emits steam. The combination of heat and moisture causes the hairs to bind together, forming felt. It’s a little like putting your merino wool sweater into the washing machine – it comes out shrunken, the hairs densely packed together. The felt is then rolled and compressed, to bind it more tightly.

An old ’16 Guinea’ – the original sewing machine for hats
The Christys felting (known as the wet side of hatting) is still done in Stockport, while the blocking is done in Witney, just outside Oxford. Christys acquired its Stockport felting facility in 1821. At that point the company was still owned and run by the Christys family, going back to Miller Christy who founded the company in 1773 in London.

With Luton perhaps a close second, Stockport was the traditional centre of the hat industry in England. The football clubs of both towns are still known as The Hatters. The two other big makers, Olney and Failsworth, are headquartered in Luton and Manchester respectively. 


Interestingly, around a third of the Christys business today is making hats for the military and police force. The traditional Metropolitan police helmet has a plastic base but a felted outer layer that is formed on top of it. They also make panama hats and an astounding number of bowlers and toppers – 10,000 this year. That’s a bowler below being steamed before its edge is curled, prior to shipping.


I visited the Christys factory in Witney this week and will do a step-by-step post on the blocking side of the process after Christmas. As with many of the factories I have reported on, the age of the machinery involved makes them unique and fascinating places.  


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Tim

Speaking of hats, did you get your Panama hat from Brent Black?

Anonymous

Is there a difference in quality between the hats they sell under their own name and the ones they make for others? Christys’ hats appear far less expensive than comparable models sold by Lock. (Obviously, I can’t tell which Lock hats are made by Christys.)

WinstonC

Very interesting Simon. I don’t suppose, if you speak to the powers that be at Christys again, you could suggest that they do 3D hat views on the website as good shoemakers do?

I don’t know about you but I find it makes an enormous difference.

fred doherty

When I left school in the sixties I was an apprentice hatter at Wilson’s hat factory in Denton Manchester at the time there was a lot of short time working and few prospects as the hatting industry was in decline at the time. Looking at you video took me back to my younger days I worked on all the machines shown in you film many thanks.

andrew boag

Hello Christys’ – I have a Panama hat I bought in spain that needs a small repair where it folds – do you carry out Panama hat repairs?

Thanks / Andrew (Woodstock)

andrew boag

apologies – thought you were their site

Keith

This is an informative article. I am Canadian and we have few hat manufacturers in our country these days. We did have a great company, but it closed after being acquired by an American parent company. I have two Christys Hats. I did not know they made Lock & Co. hats

J

Hi Simon

Please could you recommend a summer equivalent to a Baker boy / Fedora? Panamas feel too formal or novelty for most situations and I’d like to find something versatile enough to protect me from the elements in the warmer months.

Best,
J

Anonymous

Appreciate the quick reply. A linen Baker Boy appeals, thanks Simon.

Cathryn Georgina Martin

Hi, i have a Christys Bowler which seems to have a commemorative interior relating to the The Great Exhibition 1851 to 1910.
i would love to know its history as its unusual.