As buildings begin to pop up on either side of the dirt track that leads from St. James’s Palace, a road is paved and from these humble beginnings, St. James’s Street is born.
As austerity gives way to aestheticism in Charles II’s reign, hatter Robert Davis opens a shop on St. James’s Street to cater for the fashionable upper classes. Customers include the great Whig families of Marlborough, Bedford, Devonshire and Walpole.
The tantalising tastes and aromas of far-flung worlds arrive in a little corner of London, as merchant George Lock imports coffee, chocolate and tobacco in his shops on St. James’s Street. No. 6 is established as a coffee house.
James Lock, grandson of George Lock, becomes a hatter’s apprentice to Charles Davis, son of Robert Davis.
The Lock and Davis family trees intertwine when James Lock marries Mary Davis, daughter of Robert Davis. He gains not only a new bride, but also the keys to his former master’s hat shop.
James and Mary Lock, along with their four children and workers, move across the road to No. 6 St. James’s Street and establish what is today the oldest hat shop in the world.
Lords and leaders make Lock their hatter of choice, including Lord Grenville, Prime Minster between 1806 - 1807. He would be the first in a long line of prominent patrons.
Another first that year comes in the form of a transatlantic order by a Mr Mallet in New York, who requests a "fine beaver hat". The seeds of its international standing are sown.
Hat shops become targets for taxation, as a licence is introduced to the tune of £2 5s. The tax is later abolished in 1811.
The French Revolution rages across the Channel, but Britain undergoes its own revolt, of sorts, after the introduction of the Hair Powder Tax.Rebelling against the powdered, tied-back style of the day, the 5th Duke of Bedford adopts the ’Bedford Crop’, a short cut parted to the side with wax. James Lock creates a plain, round hat that becomes increasingly popular as more men adopt the new hairstyle.
Seeking to make hats ever more luxurious, hatmaker John Hetherington invents a fine silk shag, known as hatters plush. The lustrous material is used on top hats and becomes de rigueur among the English aristocracy.
Admiral Lord Nelson visits Lock for the first time to order a "cocked hat and cockade 7 1/8th full" - his signature bicorne complete with eyeshade. He returns in subsequent years to order two more. His final visit is recorded in September 1805, when he settles his bill before sailing to Spain. He would never return, losing his life in the Battle of Trafalgar against Admiral Villeneuve.
James Lock dies and his illegitimate son, George James Lock, also known as James Lock II, inherits the business.
The fashionable continue to flock to Lock, including dandy of the day, Beau Brummell, who purchases two round hats.
James Lock II relinquishes ownership to his son, James Lock III, who takes over the business with his younger brother, George.
Nobleman Edward Coke commissions Lock to create a hat for his gamekeepers. The result is the now iconic Coke hat.
Precision and personalisation come to hat making, as the conformateur, a head-measuring device is invented in France by Allié-Maillard. Lock still uses a conformateur to fit hard hats to this day.
As a mark of mourning for Prince Albert’s death, gentlemen wear a black band on their hats. It eventually loses its funereal association to become a fashion statement.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson publishes Alice in Wonderland under the pen name, Lewis Carroll. It is claimed by some that James Benning, the shop manager for James Lock III inspired the memorable Mad Hatter character.
Conscious of his age – for he was seventy and single - James Lock III had earlier invited his sister’s son Charles Whitbourn (brought up in a farming family) to join the business. But he also recognised that his shop manager James Benning had a good ‘business head’ on his shoulders. So in 1871 he formed a partnership between ‘Charley’ Whitbourn and James Benning and passed the business to them. James Lock III then married (for the first time) and had a daughter two year later, but he died in 1876 leaving his new family well provided for and the business secure.
Lock sells a black fedora to the flamboyantly dressed, fiercely witty writer, Oscar Wilde to wear on his US lecture tour.
Due to his incarceration at Pentonville and Wandsworth prisons, Wilde was unable to pay his final hat bill. Following an article in The Times in 2000, one of Wilde’s loyal followers sends a letter to Lock, enclosing a cheque for £3.30, settling his account, over 100 years later.
On a visit to view the construction of the Panama Canal in Ecuador, US President Theodore Roosevelt is photographed wearing a Panama hat. Panama-mania begins.
Famed for his personal style as much as his politics, Sir Winston Churchill wears a Lock silk top hat on his wedding day to Clementine Hozier. He returns in 1911 to order his trademark Cambridge and Homburg hats, as well as a white yachting cap, complete with the Royal Yacht Squadron badge.
Following the revolutionary ’Mark 1’ tin helmet created and patented by John Leopold Brodie in 1915, it becomes the regulation headwear of the WW1 soldiers and officers. Due to the hat’s steel construction and bulky leather interior, soldiers are fitted at Lock before travelling overseas.
Scott & Co. Hatters of Piccadilly are known for their innovative and pioneering styles and introduce the ’snap brim’ felt. The style quickly takes off and supersedes the Homburg until Anthony Eden brings it back into fashion in the 1930s.
The golden age of Hollywood, and Lock receives its most glamorous guest yet in film star Douglas Fairbanks Junior, who moves in above No. 6. An auction of his estate, which included monogrammed Lock hats, sells for $500,000 in 2011.
A bomb drops on 6 St James’s Street and lands in the basement of Lock. Thankfully it doesn’t explode!
Stars of the silver screen continue to seek the services of Lock, including Charlie Chaplin, who visits for the first time and has his head measured with the conformateur. He sends a thank-you letter to Lock in 1962.
Lock had long topped the heads of British statesmen, but never the Head of State - until Queen Elizabeth II. In conjunction with crown jewellers Garrard and Co, Lock designs the fitments for the coronation crown, worn on 2nd June and viewed by over 20 million people worldwide.
Lock is given the royal seal of approval with a warrant for the Duke of Edinburgh.
Style setter and wife of President John F. Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy, purchases the Quorn, a brown velvet riding hat, from Lock.
The Coke hat gets a starring role in Goldfinger on Bond villain Oddjob. It goes on to be sold at auction by Christie’s for £62,000 in 1998.
Lock acquires Scott & Co. Hatters of Piccadilly after their 21-year lease expires and they cannot afford the new terms offered. Scott’s hats and their customers move to their new home at 6 St. James’s Street.
Frank Whitbourn, a descendent of James Lock, publishes Mr Lock of St. James’s Street, with illustrations from the acclaimed artist, Ronald Searle.
After witnessing two World Wars, 15 monarchs and countless fashion changes, Lock celebrates its 300th anniversary and joins the Tercentenarian Club, an elite clutch of British businesses that have been trading for over 300 years and whose founding family still runs them.
Lock enters the world of haute millinery, under the expertise of Sylvia Fletcher.
In the same year, it wins its second royal warrant for the Prince of Wales.
The Coke hat celebrates its 150th anniversary. Seventeen celebrity customers are invited to customise their own Coke hat, including Peter O’Toole, Vivienne Westwood, Jimmy Choo, Nigella Lawson and Joan Rivers.
Expanding on its core classics, Lock launches its more contemporary Lock & Roll range with tweed caps and hats, the results of a collaboration with the urban Japanese brand, Bathing Ape.
Power of Making debuts at the V&A museum, and Lock hats make the exhibition of 100 exquisitely crafted objects, an accolade that affirms its place in design history.
Over 200 years on, and Lock designs for Lord Nelson once more, this time, creating a hat for Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square, as part of London Hatwalk. The hat features a full-size Olympic torch and was left on Nelson’s head for the duration of the London Olympics 2012, due to popular demand.
The collaborations continue, with Vivienne Westwood teaming up with Lock to produce four felt hats and hat boxes for her AW13 ’Vivienne Loves’ campaign.
Lock partners with Mr Porter on a bespoke collection of wool flat caps for the release of the Kingsman movie, available exclusively at mrporter.com. Elsewhere, Nicole Farhi collaborates with Lock to produce a Panama for her SS15 men’s collection.
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