A look back at our hat making past
Luton Town FC and the hat industry.
The history of Luton Town FC is intertwined with the local hat industry right from the club’s earliest days when we were known as the ‘Strawplaiters’ until the more modern nickname of the ‘Hatters’.
When the club was formed in 1885 a large percentage of the initial committee were also involved in the hat industry, as were the players and supporters given that it was the major employer in the town. Many houses were given over to all aspects of the manufacture of hats, whether it was strawplaiting, blocking, bleaching, dyeing or sewing and watching the Town became the main recreational pursuit after a week’s hard labour.
One of the club’s first Presidents, Asher Hucklesby, who became mayor of Luton five times, was a hat manufacturer, the club’s first three professionals, Tom Read and the Whitby brothers, worked in the hat trade and Hugh Galbraith the club’s star striker of the 1890’s opened a hat factory when he hung his boots up.
Bob Hawkes, the club’s first true footballing legend, remained an amateur throughout most of his career mainly because he owned a hat factory. Hawkes who won 19 amateur caps for England, five full caps and an Olympic gold medal was excused the call-up to arms in World War One as he was an employer in the hat industry.
The move away from straw hats to those made of felt between the wars meant that the hat industry needed to re-invent itself but it still remained a major employer in the town. The straw boater had, though, become synonymous with the club and whenever there was a big FA Cup game involving the Town, supporters were encouraged to dust down their boaters and wear them with pride on the terraces.
When the club reached the FA Cup final in 1959, the Town Hall was decked with giant boaters, most shopkeepers displayed boaters in their windows and Wembley Stadium became a sea of straw.
Whenever the club has reached Wembley subsequently straw boaters have been worn with pride by Hatters fans and even though the hat industry has declined severely as an employer in the town this tradition will continue to live on.