Fifty-six guests attend the 2018 Luton Lunch
After a bitterly cold start, with temperatures registering -5 from where some of our Liverymen were travelling, the winter sun eventually appeared, casting shards of light between the bare trees as we drove into the landscaped grounds of Wardown House Museum for the start of the 2018 Luton Lunch.
The museum is the former home of a local solicitor called Scargill and it is curated in a most appealing and interactive fashion to create a fully immersive experience. A great deal of care has been taken to ensure all the exhibits are available to pick up and touch rather than being protected behind glass. Should you decide to sit in an armchair, you might be taken aback to hear Mr Scargill himself telling you about his home. Pick up the hairbrush of the lady’s maid and you can hear her story of being in service.
The Feltmakers have sponsored The Cloakroom and its glorious collection of straw boaters and straw top hats, caps, coats, parasols and walking sticks, lace-up ankle boots and velvet cloaks from bygone days.
Past Master, William Horsman, has long been associated with Wardown House , having worked closely with various curators over the years, donating couture hats, organising exhibitions and facilitating funding via the Feltmakers’ Charitable Fund, in his role as a Trustee. Court Assistant, John Horn, has also generously donated many items to the collection.
Our enthusiastic and knowledgeable guide was Karen Perkins,
the Director of Arts & Museums at Luton Centre, who emphasised that visitors are encouraged to explore the range of ephemera on display. In fact, Luton FC is about to host an event to commemorate its 1988 victory over Arsenal in the Football League and will use the original Victorian projector, which is now fully digitised, to show footage of the match.
Wardown House is also home to the Lace Lady, a friendly resident ghost, who appears in different rooms from time to time. The Museum is a perfect way to showcase Luton’s history, in particular, its hat industry which serves to connect the town with the rest of the world. Straw hats have been made in Luton since the 1600s. Due to the trade, Luton was transformed from a small market town in 1800 to a sizeable industrial centre a century later.
After a short journey across town, we had lunch among the imposing grandeur of Luton Hoo Hotel. On entering the breathtaking Romanov Suite, which is a former Russian Orthodox Chapel, there was an eye-catching display of hats and photographs including one of Sir John James Baddley, Lord Mayor of London in 1922, visiting Luton’s George Hotel, as a guest of the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers.
A delicious three course luncheon was served, complemented by well-chosen wines but there were two particular details of note on each table; every guest received a shortbread biscuit in the shape of a hat bearing the Livery crest which had been created by The Cakehouse in Dunstable and each table bore an exquisite floral display by Christine Horn which included a rose made from felt which was tucked among the real flowers. Whoever was seated on a chair with a blue ribbon was fortunate to take a display home.
Our host, John Horn, thanked all those who had actively contributed to the success of the day including Karen Perkins for the informative visit to the Museum, Elise Nash, Head of Heritage and Collections at Wardown House, who hosted the “Feltmakers Art and Mystery” exhibition at Luton Hoo Hotel, Mary Miah, Wardown’s Curator of Significant Collections for her expert curation of the display at the hotel, Viviane Vayssieres for organising the full day’s itinerary and Christine, his wife, for the floral displays.
Our guest speaker, local historian and author, Joan Curran, then gave a talk entitled “Dunstable, the Start of the Hat Trade” during which she explained how local straw splitters learned to refine the cut of the straw to emulate the Italian style much loved by wealthy ladies in London in the 1800s, how several inns were turned into hat workshops before the demise of fine straw plait headwear in the late 18th century and the advent of felt.
The 2018 Luton Lunch drew to a close with the Response given by Upper Warden, William Gammell, thanking Joan for her enlightening talk and to John for hosting this event. As we went our separate ways, we each reflected on what a fascinating and fun day it had been.
All photos courtesy of Carole Denford at FashionHat.co.uk