Brief History of the Feltmakers

The first known reference to Feltmakers as a distinct craft association is in London in 1180, although it is not known how long this lasted.  In 1269 the Cappers became officially established.  Hurers made shaggy and bristly caps at that time and in 1311 the Hatters are found carrying out an examination of hats at the Guildhall.  Faced with the need to combat imports, obey the new Act of 1488 restricting sales prices and enforce the ordinances controlling the trade, the Hurers and the Cappers amalgamated with the Hatters and then merged with the powerful Haberdashers in 1502.  Many of the feltmakers were already members of the Haberdashers and, as the Haberdashers controlled the retail outlets and the raw materials, this unification of the hatting trade, no doubt, seemed a sensible step.  The Feltmakers were the only group to survive in name and became synonymous with hatters and is today the Livery Company of the hatters.

16thchatmaking2
Hatmaking in the 16th Century, [Schoppert Technologia Carminiabus, 1568, © The British Library (C27.d.10). All Rights Reserved.”
In the middle of the 16th century discord developed between the Feltmakers and the Haberdashers from whom they were forced to buy their raw material of wool in ‘sacks unseen’.  This led to much unrest and in 1583 they petitioned Queen Elizabeth I for their own Charter.  This step was vigorously opposed by the Haberdashers.  It was not until 1604, when King James 1 came to the throne and needed funds, that the Feltmakers were granted a Charter of Incorporation – the first of eight granted at that time – in the name of ‘Master, Wardens and Commonaltie of the Art or Mysterie of Feltmakers of London’.  The cost was £500 and it was claimed there were ‘seven thousand persons of the said trade’.  In 1667, King Charles II granted an expanded ‘Charter of Confirmation’ extending the powers of the Feltmakers.  This was confirmed again by King George III in an Inspeximus Charter in 1772.

In 1733 the Company was granted Livery by the Court of Aldermen.  The Company is number 63 in order of precedence.

One of the historical stories of the Feltmakers refers to Queen Elizabeth I who, on her journey to Tilbury in 1588 (at the time of the destruction of the Spanish Armada), was passing down Holborn Hill when she was met by a cheering crowd of well-dressed men wearing polished beaver hats; these were the hatters from Blackfriars and Southwark, the then centre of the hatting industry in London.  It is reported that Her Majesty, much struck by their lusty demonstration of loyalty as well as their appearance, enquired who “these gentlemen were?”.  On being told they were journeymen hatters, she replied “then such journeymen must be gentlemen”.  The description stayed and journeymen hatters were referred to as “the gentlemen” until well after the First World War.

The New Dash from R. Lloyd, Treatise on Hats, London (1819), © The British Library (D-7955.bb.32). All Rights Reserved.
The New Dash from R. Lloyd, Treatise on Hats, London (1819), © The British Library (D-7955.bb.32). All Rights Reserved.

In the period 1870-74, 11 famous politicians joined the Feltmakers.  They included W H Smith, Cecil Raikes, Rowland Winn, Admiral Hay, the Earl of Iddesleigh and Sir Edwards Hicks Beach.  Between them four had been Chancellor, two First Lord of the Admiralty, two President of the Board of Trade and two Foreign Secretary as well as being the holders of many other high offices.

The hatting trade flourished and the Company grew strongly in the early part of the 20th century.  Between 1914 and 1918, 27 Mayors and ex-Mayors were elected.  In 1927 there were 9 Knights on the Feltmakers’ Court.  However, during the second half of the 20th century, the trade declined to its present level.  There are now some 170 Feltmakers and members are drawn from the higher ranks of many professions, businesses and trades as well as the hatting industry.  The Feltmakers have produced two Lord Mayors, Sir Louis Newton in 1923 and Sir Hugh Wontner in 1973.  A third, Sir Thomas White, Lord Mayor in 1876, transferred to the Vintners, as was the custom in those days, after serving as Sheriff.

The Company

The Company is administered by a Court of 26 headed by The Master and four Wardens.  

Young people, aged 14-20, may be apprenticed to a Liveryman and this step is warmly welcomed.  After four or seven years they have the right to seek election to the Livery.  The minimum age for joining the Livery is 21.

To help new Liverymen meet others in the Company there is a Livery Society.  This holds a number of less formal occasions.  There is also a Masonic lodge.

Today the Feltmakers Company is a modern, thriving and very relevant influencer of the modern trades and international business. The Hat making and Millinery industries in the UK represent the very highest standards of quality, design, high fashion and craftsmanship in the World. These businesses export globally and generate considerable revenues for the UK Economy. 

Additionally, new Innovation with modern felt applications continue to evolve, used for insulation in automotive and space technologies, in modern buildings for both sound and heat insulation, in water filtration – largely in Developing Countries. Synthetic felt is also being researched and developed at British Universities working with leading Industry expert manufacturers this generates new patents, innovations and commercial growth.

The Company promotes and runs our own Industry leading Design Awards, where we mentor young designers and apprentices through Universities and Colleges, with entries from across the globe with substantial cash prizes and recognition. This provides opportunity and exposure to up and coming designers, craftsmen and women to showcase their talents and to get guidance, help and advice from world leading Manufacturers and Designers with real world knowledge and experience. The Livery also showcase their work at Charitable events in London often at events with the wider Livery movement. 

This year, this includes the bi-annual Red Cross Christmas Market in the Guildhall Old Library, where the company will be selling hats made by local milliners and members of the Company.

The Company’s Meetings

The Company dines three times a year.  The Installation Dinner – on the occasion of the installation of the new Master – is in October.  In April there is a Spring Dinner and the Summer Banquet is in June, normally at the Mansion House with the Lord Mayor, the Sheriffs and their Consorts.  Many eminent Company and private guests attend these functions.  A most popular Carol Service is held in December.  Masters often introduce other functions during the year and The Master uniquely entertains the Sheriffs and the Court on Plough Monday

To help new Liverymen meet others in the Company there is a Livery Society.  This holds a number of less formal occasions.  There is also a Masonic lodge. The Master uniquely entertains the Sheriffs and the Court on Plough Monday.

The Company’s Activities

Charity: The Company has many activities, the main one being charity.  The first recorded charitable bequest was that of Philip Macham who donated Sullens Farm in Essex in 1692.  More recent bequests include particularly generous legacies from a number of Past Masters.  The Company’s charitable giving is guided by the Trustees and by an active charity committee of Liverymen.  There is a wide range of beneficiaries including Pensioner Hatters and many other good causes.  Recently the Company has assisted the newly formed City Academy in Southwark, an ancient hatting centre.  The Feltmakers’ Award and the Lord Mayor’s Appeal are supported each year.

This Year, The Company has decided to commit to supporting the Helen Arkell Charity for those affected by dyslexia. Helping to find coping strategies and offers personal, one to one consultation, mentoring and coaching.

Feltmakers’ Award: Some 15% of the Feltmakers are, or have been, associated with the trade and in 1989 a most successful Feltmakers’ Award was instituted.  Annual prizes are offered for the design of headgear containing an element of felt.  This is a Europe-wide competition open to students at design schools and fashion colleges as well as apprentices at hat making companies.  The number entering has grown remarkably and in a short time the Award has achieved wide recognition and competitive support.  The first prize (the Arthur Hemens prize) is presented to the winner by the Lord Mayor at the annual banquet.

The Feltmakers’ Hats: Other than through its close association with the hatting industry, the Worshipful Company of Feltmakers is well known for three particular hats.

  • The first is the splendid Master’s tricorn hat with white plumes.  It is true to say that it is the envy of Masters of most Livery Companies.  A number were kindly donated to the Company by the late Sir Hugh Wontner.
  • The second are the hats worn by the Wardens.  These are copies of those worn by Gentlemen at the time the Company obtained its Livery.
  • The third is the hat that is presented to the incoming Lord Mayor each year. 

    The Rt Hon The Lord Mayor Peter Estlin receiving his Tricorn from our Master

    This is a tricorn hat with black plumes and is made and fitted specifically for the incumbent.  This is received graciously by the Lord Mayor at a delightful presentation ceremony at the Mansion House.

Feltmakers 1604 – 1704. Click here to open up an article providing some insight into the lives of early Feltmakers with information gleaned from their recorded Wills.

Click here to open a research paper by Professor Harry Duckworth on The Early History of Feltmaking in London 1250-1604

HMS Lancaster: In 1991 HMS Lancaster became affiliated to the Feltmakers.

HMS Lancaster
HMS Lancaster

This type 23 Frigate has a displacement of 4000 tons, is 133m long and has a Ship’s Company of 185.  The Company entertains the Officers and Ship’s Company when possible and many Liverymen have been on board.

Sport: The Feltmakers are heavily involved in sport.  As well as The Master’s Golf Day, they also play in the Inter-Livery Golf competition which they won in 2005.  They organise the Inter-Livery Tennis competition at Queen’s Club and shoot in the Inter-Livery Clay Pigeon Shoot.  There are cricket matches and, in some years, visits to race meetings.

Magazine: Communication within the Company is aided by an annual colour magazine, The Feltmaker.  This carries information on coming events within the Company and the City, reviews of past events and news of members.  Past editions of The Feltmaker can be viewed on the magazine page of this website.