Firstly, can I just say, if you ever see me in a baseball cap, you have my full permission to slap me. That said, I am pretty confident I can walk the streets of Sheffield without fear of violence from you lovely readers as me and baseball caps, it's just never going to happen!
However, whilst the style of hat isn't me, the statement is pretty accurate, I do love a bit of history, especially social history. So naturally, when we first agreed to start this project way back in December 2013 (yes, it was that long ago!) I started researching what was going to make our little venture so very, very special.
I knew that since I moved to Sheffield in 1997 I had never seen a hat shop in the City Centre. Granted, I had never looked for one at that time, but I was pretty certain if there was one to be found, I would have been aware of it. So that was my task, I wanted find out when there was last a hat shop in town.
Thanks to some very helpful information and ideas from Sheffield Archives on Shoreham Street, I decided to focus on when I could find the last advertised hat shop in Sheffield. This seemed like the most sensible approach, as logically, every business needs customers and would have advertised to get them. In the age of the Internet, search engines are your best friend, but where did we all turn to in the olden days...yup, the Yellow Pages. Luckily, the Sheffield Local Studies Library at the Sheffield Central Library has an extensive collection!
I started my search in the earliest directory I could find, 1981, and was overjoyed to find not only a section titled "Milliner's" but also listed businesses. Granted, there were only three in Sheffield and one in Doncaster, but this was a great start, I wasn't sure I would find any!
The first listing in the Yellow Pages for 1981 was Anne's at 207 Whitham Road and being a child of the 90's, I turned to Google for help. As a result, I discovered Picture Sheffield an online resource of images managed by Sheffield Archives. Whilst I was able to find a picture of 207 Whitham Rd, unfortunately, the shop itself was hidden behind a tram! I'm afraid I can't add this image into a gallery as it is copyrighted, but the link does hold lots of extra information about the photo. As the photo was also from the period 1940-59, I thought it was a lot earlier than the period I was looking for.
So, I decided to try a different tack with this research and I asked on Sheffield Forum if anyone on there remembered the shop. I was in luck and got these great anecdotes:
"I remember Anne's on Whitham Road, I walked past it to and from Broomhill School. It was a typical shop front with a set back door, the window and door had dense net curtains and there was only ever one hat on display! This was the days when affluent ladies shopped at Truelove's gown shop across the road and purchased their lingerie from the corset shop a few doors down. The hat rarely changed, Mum said that she made her own hats and it always said Milliner on the shop sign."
"I remember 'Anne', next to The Yorkshire Penny Bank in Broomhill. I can only remember going in once, I must have been about 6 so I guess it was around 1954. I can remember Mum trying on a hat and having a huge hat pin pushed through it into her head, or so I thought, it made me cry."
What struck me most, particularly from the last anecdote was that Anne's had clearly been in business for a very long time and my assumptions about the date of the photo were totally unfounded! Unfortunately, that can't be said of more recent incarnations of the location. As you can see from the gallery, over the last decade or so this shop has been through a few changes, but at least that beautiful moulding around the window has survived!
Middlewood Rd- Junction Brier St
Again, Sheffield Forum was super helpful with providing more information about this old shop. Finding out the "D" was for Doreen was lovely, but I found even more out via Sheffield History including this statement:
"Doreen Swift is a legendary shop for folk from Hillsborough - it's like the 'Coles Corner' of Hillsborough to anyone growing up in the area".
Imagine growing up and being able to see hats in shop windows every day!
There was also another fabulous shot of the frontage of the shop, but again subjuct to copyright, so I can only include a link to it.
However, for current residents of Hillsborough and local crafty types, they will probably know the address as the current home of Craftastic, purveyors of crafting materials for all sorts of projects!
I was aware of Madam Marie and her infamous shop on Division street from previous research after finding one of her hats in a charity shop. The hat had jumped out at me as it was made from a very fine weave straw which isn't made any more and I knew it had lots of potential as a brand new design. When I got the hat home and started to take it apart, I very quickly realised that I wasn't dealing with a mass-produced hat that had been re-labelled for an outfitters, but it was handsewn. I felt like I had committed sacrilege! However, the hat was beyond salvage in it's current state, due to light-damage, and so I continued my dismantling with lots of extra care.
However, the Local Studies Library offered me far more than I could have dreamed of when it came to finding out about Madame Marie and her astonishing story as a milliner. Thanks to an article about her in The Star dated 20th October 1983, I got lots of juicy details. Marie Norman opened her first shop on Division Street in 1937, surviving the bombs of WW2 and was still trading in 1983 almost 50 years later, albeit from a smaller shop just round the corner in Carver Street
Interestingly, Madame Marie refers to the "Diana Effect" of a resurgence in hat wearing at the time thanks to the young and glamorous Princess Diana. It's very true to say that Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge has had a very similar effect a generation later.
I was able to track down even more photos from Picture Sheffield which show how the Division Street shop was a double unit in 1972, but shrank to just one by 1975.
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1972
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1975
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1975 (Carver St Junction)
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1975 (Window)
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1977
Madame Maries- Division Street- 1978
So what of my search to find the last advertising hat shop in the city centre? Well, this is where is gets a bit sad.
Feeling very excited about my finds from the 1981 Yellow Pages, I then moved onto the next editions of the Yellow Pages on the shelf. I was sorely disappointed as this was what I found:
1982: All three Sheffield milliners are listed
1983: Anne's ceases to be listed
1985: Final listing for Madame Marie's
1988: The "Milliner" category also cross-linked to "Hat Retailer"
1989: D. Swift was the sole listed milliner
1992/1993: D. Swift listed along with three new shops in Firth Park, Ecclesfield and Greenhill.
1994/1995: D. Swift ceases to be listed
1997-1999: The "Milliner" category contained only listings for Hat Hire businesses in Sheffield and was
cross-linked to "Wedding Services". None of the businesses in 1992/1993 appear in this edition.
2000: No businesses listed the "Milliner" category, now cross-linked to "Hat Shops & Milliners" and all businesses listed were for hat hire.
2013-14: No businesses listed the "Hat Shops & Milliners" category, now cross-linked to "Department Stores"
Whilst these findings were somewhat depressing to see in black and white (or black and yellow!) I didn't really learn anything I wasn't expecting to find. I KNOW that since the mid-60's everyday hat wearing has been in decline. I KNOW that for many women the only time they wear a hat is for a one off occasion, so hat hire became the norm. I KNOW that department stores are pretty much the only places you can buy hats on the high street. I KNOW that since the spectacular rise of the internet, paid advertising in the Yellow Pages has dropped dramatically. But none of those facts make it any more palatable.
We can't be certain whether Madame Marie's actually closed 1985, or whether a decision was simply made to stop advertising in the Yellow Pages. But based on what I have been able to find, it seems that, sadly, this 2015 could also be the 30th anniversary of the closure of the last milliner based in the centre of Sheffield.
Last year, we billed our venture as the first dedicated hat shop in the city centre of Sheffield in a generation and we were correct. This year, we aim to do Madame Marie proud and deliver a thriving independant millinery shop back in the heart of Sheffield...even if we are open for just two weeks and don't have to contend with the Blitz!
We would love to hear your experiences and memories of buying hats in Sheffield.
Do you perhaps still have a hat you bought from one of these shops featured?
When did you wear it, was it for a special occasion with fond memories?
Please do drop us an email or comment on here as we would love gather these stories together to preserve them in honour of the hat shops of Sheffield.