Shropshire Star

The intriguing mystery of the immaculate top hat with links to Bridgnorth

For a well-dressed man about town – and we're talking about Bridgnorth – Jones & Hawkins was the place to go.

Last updated
A rare view of Jones & Hawkins, which was at 2 Waterloo Terrace in Bridgnorth.

Although no doubt other gents' tailors and outfitters were available.

Historically Bridgnorth is renowned for its carpet-making heritage. But you don't often, if at all, hear about its top hats, although admittedly there's a question mark over whether Jones & Hawkins merely sold them, or actually made their own.

The top hat from around 120 years ago.

In any event, a rare find by David Spruce has provided an intriguing glimpse into this aspect of the town's past.

David said: "I live in Stourbridge but have a lot to do with Bridgnorth, being the chairman of Bridgnorth Vintage Machinery Club.

"I recently acquired a lovely leather case and to my surprise inside it was a immaculate top hat which is thought to date back to about 1903. I was fascinated by the name Jones & Hawkins."

He said he was given the leather case and hat by somebody who knew that he collected various things of interest.

"I intend to add the hat and case to my collection of vintage collectables."

On examining the item he has come across a brass plaque bearing the name W Wyatt Wynne – it seems likely this was the owner – which he thinks could be a clue to finding out more.

A label bears the crest of "Christys' London" together with the Jones & Hawkins name below. Christys' was founded in 1773 and is in its 250th year of hat-making and, even if you are not familiar with the name, you will have seen its hats.

The label proves a connection with famous hatmakers Christys'.

For a start, it has been the official supplier of helmets to the British police for two centuries, and Christys' creations have also appeared in movies, for instance a Homburg hat worn by Marlon Brando’s Don Corleone in The Godfather, and the iconic "Poet Adventurer Hat" worn by Harrison Ford in the Indiana Jones films.

It still sells top hats (among others) – you can buy a "Fashion Topper" for as little as £110.

So either Jones & Hawkins simply sold Christys' hats back in Edwardian days and then added their own label, or they made and supplied top hats on behalf of Christys', which seems less likely given the handmade quality and craftsmanship associated with the brand.

The magnificent and well-travelled leather case.

As for the case, it was quite well travelled, as it has a Great Western Railway label for Rhyl, stuck over what looks like another label for Birmingham.

David has been in touch with Bridgnorth historian and author Clive Gwilt, who has been able to come up with more information about the business, which was at 2 Waterloo Terrace in High Town, together with the only picture Clive has ever seen of it.

A rare view of Jones & Hawkins, which was at 2 Waterloo Terrace in Bridgnorth.

Clive says the property had a handsome stone frontage from about 1840 and is shown in Slater's Directory for 1859 to have been occupied at that time by Pritchard's, Boycott, and Nicholas Bank.

However in 1905 Jones & Hawkins are shown as being there.

But not for much longer.

"By 1913 Arthur Leake was at 2 Waterloo Terrace as a tailor, and by 1939 Bradleys were in the property as tailors."