Hats off to a rare item

29th Apr 2020

When we asked 'what's your favourite thing about Abbotsford?' Bruce, volunteer Guide and Room Steward, pulled an interesting item out of the hat...

The 'Stow hat'When I was asked what my favourite thing was about Abbotsford I found myself thinking of an object, an old, battered felt hat in the entrance hall.

What we have is an everyday man's hat of the 17th century, but presumably from a relatively prosperous member of society. Its history is a little clouded. The ‘Stow Hat’ as it’s known was supposedly worn by a burgessman of Stow on his installation, which is a bit odd since there seems little evidence for Stow ever having been a burgh. The use of burgess probably means that the man was an elected or unelected official of Stow, but we can’t be sure.

But that is not really the point, which is rather that the hat is so much more unusual than the swords, the armour, the animal bits and even many of the books in Scott’s library. There is very little clothing among the Abbotsford collections, other than that associated with Sir Walter, and in collections generally old clothing is rarer than works of art, or metal items, for the simple reason that it was worn on a daily basis until it fell to pieces.

Court costumes which were rarely worn, or ladies sumptuous clothing for weddings and special occasions are the most likely survivors for that reason. Men's clothing in particular is exceedingly rare and to me that is what makes this hat of such interest.

Through the hat I feel a connection with the everyday - not like the armour and weapons associated with potentially dark and dramatic events (a La Sir Walter Scott) but with the mundane and routine - which is what life for our forebears was normally like.

Illustration of the 'Stow hat'Having said the hat does not relate to the usual action and adventure of a Scott novel, the hat is often engraved in the illustrated editions of Scott’s work, such as the image shown, which is a woodcut engraving from the Abbotsford edition of the Waverley Novels.

It originally had a massive brim almost a foot wide. The last man to wear it was Andrew Henderson from Lauder. Supposedly the reason it is missing its gigantic brim is because he made it into a pair of slippers! Another connection to the mundane and routine of life!

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