In the early 1980’s The Sunday Times carried a supplement, entitled “London’s Villages” it comprised ten or so editions, a part work that could be collected into an overprinted binder to be preserved for posterity. I still have it in a box at my Mother’s home and there is more than a hint of nostalgia in leafing through its pages.
The theme was that London comprises several distinct villages – as it indeed does – some changing in character and evolving over the years others that seem suspended having changed little over the last hundred years with many of the neighbouring street, parks, clubs, shops and restaurants stepping straight out of an earlier era.
The latter category is typified by the St James’s Village that straddles Piccadilly, north a couple of streets and south the same.
I consult to a law firm whose London office is in Jermyn Street, the centre of this village thick with single product shops of every imaginable type. Be they cobblers, bespoke tailors, shot-gun dealers, cigar or hat shops, hiding in arcades or behind elegant shop front. Above all they continue to thrive in a culture where purchases are increasingly made online.
I’d like to explore some of these businesses with you. Let’s start with Lock & Co Hatters, at 6 St James’ Street, a Royal Warrant Holder and a proud claimant to being the world’s oldest hat shop. Founded in 1676, during the dandy years of Charles II’s reign by Robert Davis, whose son Charles, in 1747, offered an apprenticeship to James Lock (whose Grandfather, George, was a local coffee merchant). James smartly married his bosses daughter thus assuring his inheritance of the business that his line continues to own today.
Amongst many claims to fame, Locks originated the iconic bowler hat – at Lock’s called the “Coke Hat” – to satisfy their aristocratic client’s needs for a more sensible hat for their gamekeeper. The Coke recently celebrated its 150 anniversary and was name after the family who commissioned it.
Politicians, Churchill and Eden favoured Lock’s Homburgs and a host of celebrity clients including Lawrence Olivier, Alec Guinness, Charlie Chaplin and David Beckham – often photoed wearing a Baker-Boy style cap – have left their signed head-shapes for display in the store.
President Theodore Roosevelt was photographed wearing a Panama hat whilst overseeing the works on the “Panama Canal” ignited another trend for Lock’s hatters.
To be assured of a perfect fit, Lock’s still use “the conformateur” that was as invented in France by Allie-Maillard for the bespoke measuring of head shapes.
2010 saw the launch of the “Lock and Roll” range of tweed caps and hats aim at a younger market. 2012 was marked by the addition of a new bicorne hat to the head of the statute of Lock’s former client, Admiral Nelson, on top of his Column for the duration of the the Olympics in London!