How to find hat-makers in your family history

In Made in Great Britain, the team discovers Luton's hat-making history. Nell Darby picks the best online resources to find your own hat-making ancestors

Fabrication of derby hat in Manchester, United Kingdom in September, 1995.

On BBC TV show Made in Great Britain, Steph McGovern and a team of modern-day craftworkers visit Luton to discover its tradition of hat-making.


Bedfordshire was a centre of hat-related industries from the 17th to the 20th centuries.

Your ancestors might have been involved in different ways, from plaiting straw for hats, to making them, or selling them!

Look out for various hat-related occupations listed in the census, including trimmers, blockers, finishers and sewers.

You can also find out more about your hat-making ancestors with these resources:

Bedfordshire Archives and Record Service

Bedfordshire Archives

The online catalogue for Bedfordshire Archives and Record Service lists documents relating to hat-makers – including an early 18th century defamation suit involving a hatter’s wife!

Historic England

Historic England

Historic England has a useful section on the history of Bedfordshire hat-making, including women’s roles in the industry. There are also good links to other resources.

The National Archives

National Archives

The National Archives has various collective agreements for regional hat-makers in the mid 20th century – see, for example, reference LAB 83/1474.