Hidden Hats Uncovered: 1940s Walmar hat

On 29th June the Hat Works held an afternoon of millinery talks to inspire. As part of this, Bronwen and I gave a presentation about HeadsUp – how the project happened with thanks to funding from Museum Development North West, why documentation is important, how we process donations, and some of the lovely objects we have been able to uncover. We’d like to share some of these stories from the talk with you, so look out for other posts in this series!

Bronwen presenting the HeadsUp: Hidden Hats Uncovered talk at Hat Works, 29th June 2019

This is one of my favourite hats in the collection, because we are lucky enough to have a copy of the photograph which shows it being worn.  It is a black felt hat in a peaked style,  with a straw foundation.  The hat is trimmed at the front with a large artificial champagne-colour rose which has green and brown leaves, and is sat atop a black ribbon bow. The hat also features a black net veil with pom poms, and a ribbon neck tie.

2015-1f As you can see in the photo to the left, it was actually part of Olwen Watson’s bridal outfit, worn on her wedding day to Alfred Chart. Olwen and Alfred met when they were working in the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes (N.A.A.F.I) during the Second World War. The N.A.A.F.I ran places to provide support, food and recreation for the troops.

IWM for blog use ONLY
NAAFI canteens cater for US troops: The work of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes, England, UK, 1943. © IWM (D 17225)

Olwen and Afred’s big day was intended to be a ‘wartime wedding’, but because of the blitz in London and the housing shortage that followed, they couldn’t live together and therefore got married after the war in 1949. It is great to have an image of the hat being worn and to see what the wedding attire was like, not to mention the cake and flowers!


So who were Walmar? Information on Walmar was mainly found via newspaper adverts.  The Liverpool Echo on Wednesday 10th March 1937, said: “All ‘Walmar’ Hats are clever interpretations by British Milliners, of models by famous Viennese and Parisienne houses”. 1940s newspaper adverts for retailers of Walmar hats (seen in images above and below) show that Olwen’s hat was typical of the styles Walmar were designing around the time of the wedding in 1949.  If Walmar were making interpretations of hats made in Paris and Vienna we can see that peaked silhouettes, pom pom net veils, and floral trimmings were big at this time.

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Stockport Hat Muesum
Emma checking the hat over before the HeadsUp talk.

Because of Olwen’s hat, I was able to find out about the hat factory where Walmar hats were made. The largest image below is from The Press and Post on Sat 28th May 1932. It shows the Leslie Jones Ltd. Factory in Luton.  Luton was yet another area of thriving hatting industry, making many types of hat, but famous for straws.  You can read about Luton’s hatting industry in a booklet by Historic England here. Fast forward to present day, the same factory is still in use for hat-making, and is currently occupied by a company called Olney Headwear Ltd. – who themselves have been producing hats since 1914.  They have recently relaunched their website, which has a section on their long history.


This just goes to show what information you can glean from one object.  In this case the information and the photograph from the donor was fantastic; and being able to focus on the documentation and research led to further discoveries all of which can be added to our MODES database for future research and interpretation. Better still, any other Walmar objects in the collection such as the beautiful straw evening hat and retail bag below, will benefit from this information as we can update the records. Double win!



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