Monday, April 14, 2008

Crown Passage, London


The web site of the most famous London hatters tells us that if we jump into a London cab and ask for the premises of Lock, the driver will point his vehicle towards St James’s Street and deposit us at the door of number 6, home of the best hatter in the world. The St James’s Street frontage is reassuringly Regency, just the kind of shop window we’d expect for a traditional business like this, the sort of place where you can still buy a top hat or a bowler. They don’t call it a bowler here, though. At Lock, it’s a Coke hat, after William Coke of Holkham, Norfolk, landowner and farmer, for whom the Locks made the first such headgear in 1850. But not all Coke-wearers or Fedora-fanciers know that this important emporium has a back entrance, in the appropriately named Crown Passage, which you can find off King Street.

The facade in Crown Passage is even older than the main one. Many of the little shop fronts in this side street are Georgian, and Lock’s looks late-18th century. The small wooden bay window on its serpentine brackets is a reminder of the period when shopkeepers were starting to be a bit more assertive in their architectural display, pushing their windows out towards the street to attract passers-by. But they were only allowed to invade the pavement-space by so much – there were strict regulations about how far they could protrude. In a narrow street like this – it’s little more than an alley, really – your windows were only meant to stick out 5 inches or less.

So this shop front, like its Georgian neighbours, is quite modest. Glazing bars divide the panes, and we’re a world away from the big plate-glass windows of today. There’s only room in there for a few hats, tastefully displayed. But that’s all they need. After all, the name ‘Lock’ above the window tells us all we need to know.

1 comment:

Peter Ashley said...

Coke ordered the hats for his gamekeepers at Holkham in Norfolk, specially strengthened to withstand the cudgels of poachers. Locks sub-contracted the job out to a chap called Bowler. I recently bought one, only to find out it wasn't a reinforced one when my smallest son stood on it.