Hetherington Hats - toffs-r-us.com - Top Hats and
Bowlers in mint condition at sensible prices, all sizes
Top Hats and bowlers are very
much part of the British tradition, top hats most notably at
Royal Ascot. And the bowler has been made iconic by
generations of City Gents through to the sartorial John Steed.
Digger talked to Martin Ellis
Jones, 'The Top Hat Man', about his business providing Top Hat
and Bowlers to the Great and the Good.
Digger: Good morning Martin, how are you?
Martin: Fine thanks Digger.
Digger: You're always out and about and on
the move. It must be a fascinating lifestyle?
Martin: Oh, I just spend my time on the
Digger: It's great, and rather appropriate
too! There was a story that Adam Faith, who turned from a pop star to a
businessman, never had an office. He just used to use
restaurants and cafes
to run his business.
Martin: I'll tell you what he did. He had a
table at Fortnum's and also the very handsome chap at the time of Michael
Caine... what was his name?
Digger: Terence Stamp?
Martin: Yes, Terence Stamp did exactly the
same thing. Adam Faith was always in the Fountain Room and Terence Stamp
had all the waitresses worshipping him. I knew Adam quite well, actually. He
was very nice but not quite to the taste of the waitresses so much as Stamp.
Digger: How did Toffs-R-Us and
Martin: Very simply I've been an antiques
dealer all my life and if you type into Google 'Martin's The Tops' some time
then you'll see a bit of my potted life history come up. I decided
to do it having
been selling top hats to various people - Lock and Hackett's and various other
dealers, selling it to them to retail. I fell out with Locks over one hat and
then I advertised in The Racing Post the week before Ascot Week.
I had this very contentious northerner, who writes a column
every week, and he said
"Is that Hetherington Hats?" And I said "Yes it is. This is Martin Ellis
Jones, good morning." And he asked "What's a proper old black silk hat
then?" Because I'd put in the ad 'Proper Old Black Silk Hats - All Sizes,
Sensible Prices.' Anyway, he did a telephone interview with me and I
thought no more of it until the next Tuesday when he'd published a half page on top hats
and he mentioned me. The phones started and it never stopped.
Martin: That's how it started - as simply
Digger: Are you still friendly with some of these retailers in
Martin: Yes, friendly but now they send me
customers rather than the other way around.
Digger: I see, a nice reversal of fortunes.
It's great to take a stroll around there - the shops selling gentleman's
requisites for shaving, smoking, "huntin', fishin' and
shootin" and so
on. It takes you right back.
Martin: Yes, well I spend quite a bit of
Can you tell us a bit of the history of Top Hats Martin?
Martin: Originally Top Hats were made of
beaver fur, hence the beaver trade and the term re-furbished.
about 1830 the carriage trade required something more sophisticated and black
Top Hats made out of French manufactured 'silk plush' became the
objects of fashion.
Although London, Luton and Stockport were the English
centres, Top Hats proceeded to be manufactured all over the world, with various style changes, in this form for more than a hundred years. Whilst
Top Hats have been fashionable for all sorts of social events and in show
business, the wearing of Toppers in the street finally stopped when the Stock
Jobbers ceased wearing them in the City in October 1986. It was about
this time that the silk plush also disappeared from the scene as the
owners of the last looms in Lyon, two brothers, fell out and the looms were
So after about 1980 black silk Top Hat
manufacturing ceased. It is highly unlikely that this silk manufacturing
will be revived due to the vast cost of making new looms. The cost of the
silk itself would be heady, and because the silk is cut on the bias, causing
much wastage, it would take a metre and a half of this silk per Hat. The wheel
always tends to turn full circle and now Old Black Silk Top Hats are
regaining their former status. Gentlemen are demanding fine Top Hats for the Derby,
Royal Ascot and weddings and garden parties.
I took the name for the business from
John Hetherington. On February the Seventeenth 1797 John Hetherington was
the first gentleman to be seen wearing a Top Hat, supposedly his
invention, in a fashionable part of London, probably St James's.
Digger: It's weird that the bowler hat is
quintessentially British, or is it English?
Martin: English I think.
Digger: People like Patrick McNee as John
Steed, the City gents, A Clockwork Orange, Chaplin - they have all helped
to make it a visual icon, a shorthand almost, for this country.
Martin: It was a sort of badge of office
for the working City men.
Digger: I can still remember working in the
City in the seventies and eighties and it was still quite common to see
bowlers. Not so much these days though.
Martin: No, not at all.
Digger: So I wonder if you think we'll ever
return to the 'heady' (pardon the pun) days where everybody wore a hat?
I have a photo of our local theatre and the entire audience, no matter what
age or what class, are wearing hats.
Martin: Yes, what could happen is if we get
a star or icon like David Beckham or others wearing one then that might
happen. But I don't think it will. Hats are a bloody nuisance, because wherever
you go with a hat - I wear a hat all the time but you have to take it with
you, take it off and put it back on, leave it behind the counter.
Digger: Forgetting it's
there, of course.
Digger: Do you wear the same hat or is it a
Martin: I always wear a hat but
it's always a different
one - either trilbies or fedoras and I've got a lot of them personally.
Digger: How would you describe the
Hetherington Hats/Toffs-r-Us business?
Martin: I've got a large
Black Silk Top Hats to fit anyone at all and we have an interesting
customer-base. Very rich and famous people, trainers, pop stars and all sorts of
people. It's quite a broad reach.
Digger: Joe Public as well?
Martin: Not very Joe Public - it's those
who are going to The Royal Enclosure.
Have you got one of those
incredible measuring devices for the head?
Martin: I have, yes.
Digger: What gives you the most pleasure
about what you do?
Martin: It's just a very amusing way of
spending one's working life, meeting the most glorious people and making a
little bit of money and having a very joyous time.
Digger: Do you focus totally on the hats
Martin: No, I still buy antiques but it's a
very difficult area although I've still got a big passion for antiques.
I've got myself into a position where, at the moment, I'm Mr Top Hat. How
long it'll last I don't know but it might last me out.
Digger: Let's hope so
Martin: But I have cornered this market.
Digger: Are clients also from
Martin: No, my business is
basically those going to The Royal Enclosure, from the Aga Khan sideways and down if you see
what I mean. But I haven't got a Royal Warrant and I never will because
the Royals go to Lock. They have traditionally been going to Lock for many years
because they're just around the corner (from Buckingham and St. James's
Digger: So they're 'Locked' in then?
Martin: (Laughs) Yes, I'm Locked out! (Both
Digger: So your customer-base is basically
the great and the good?
Martin: Yes, pretty much the great and the
What sort of feedback do you get from clients or is the only
feedback you need that they keep on coming back?
Martin: As a rule, once they've
hat then, unless they lose it, they don't come back unless they want it
refurbished or re-done up.
Digger: You do that sort of thing too, don't you?
Martin: Oh yes, I refurbish hats.
Digger: You use a special device - a 'mouse' to get the sheen
and shine back on the hats?
Martin: Yes, we do it with water and steam.
Digger: Generally why
do you think retro and vintage are so big Martin?
Martin: There are no tricks like the old
tricks. All these things have been a build-up over the years and nobody can
really improve it. What most people now seem to do is improve their look by
forgetting to wear a tie and as they don't know how to button their shirt
up they always look like rubbish. If you are going to avoid
wearing a tie...
Digger: Which a lot of people do these
Martin: ... They do too many buttons up and
they need a higher collar and the second button undone, but they don't and they
look rubbish and I can't stand it. But that's up to them.
Back in the day I used to be suited
and booted and I'd never wear a suit without a tie, even though they have
lost their historical raison-d'Ítre.
Martin: I wear a tie all the time and tend
to wear a tie-pin but that's only an affectation of mine. I do that and then
lift the tie up so it sticks out straight from the collar. I take a
certain amount of care over it.
Digger: What do you think of people who
tuck their ties into their trousers Martin?
Martin: It means they must have a very long
tie or they've tied it incorrectly.
Digger: (Laughs) Or they must be very
short. So what of the future? More of the same? Onward and upward? World domination? Like you
said, it makes you a comfortable living and you thoroughly enjoy what you're
Martin: World domination is not part of the
plan. I am happy that it continues along similar lines.
Digger: It was good catching up with you
it sounds like a great and fascinating life. Great fun. Do you ever go outside the M25 corridor as it
Martin: Very much so because I've got an
interest in a farm just outside Latimer.
Digger: As in Chalfont and Latimer?
Martin: Near Chesham.
Digger: Yes, I know in Bucks. At the end of
the tube line.
Martin: I've got a hill climb car that I
sponsor - I can't get into it, but I sponsor it. A thing called a Pillbeam.
It's the top end of that sort of thing.
also sounds like fun.
Thanks for letting us know more about these hats and the
Hetherington Hats business Martin. Good talking to you.
Martin: And you.
Hetherington Hats - toffs-r-us.com - Top Hats and
Bowlers in mint condition at sensible prices, all sizes
has a stock of over seven hundred of these
masterpieces in fine condition at any time for sale or
We also keep a decent stock of antique leather
hatboxes. Also gentlemen's' gold tie pins with an
accent on racing, suitable for wearing with morning
dress. Unlike others, Top Hats and Bowler Hats are
rigid so as a rule they have to be steamed and made to
fit the head shape of the customer precisely. This
unique experience lasts about ten minutes and will
take you back two centuries.
Wonderful shapes in mint condition at sensible prices,
We also supply fine Victorian and later hat boxes, gun
cases and cartridge magazines.
By appointment only. Here in Chelsea, or any other
25A, WALPOLE STREET
We are also very keen to buy fine hats of the type we