The historic fashion for hats would have kept many of our ancestors employed. As well as working as hatters (who made men’s hats) or milliners (who made ladies’ hats), look out for various hat-related occupations listed in the census, including trimmers, blockers, finishers and sewers.
Bedfordshire in particular was a centre of hat-related industries from the 17th to the 20th centuries, and Luton’s role as a centre of hat-making lives on in its football team’s nickname, the Hatters.
You can also find out more about the history of hat-making on these websites:
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 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 has various collective agreements for regional hat-makers in the mid 20th century – see, for example, reference LAB 83/1474.