leeds millinery

The Legacy of John Craig’s Miniature Millinery

The Leeds Discovery Centre has embarked on an exceptional journey, delving into the intricate world of vintage hats. Among the treasures being catalogued is a unique collection of miniature millinery crafted by the celebrated Leeds hatter, John Craig, in the early 20th century. These diminutive replicas, some small enough to rest in one’s palm, were not mere toys but showcased to prospective clients the hatter’s exquisite craftsmanship. Spanning an array of designs, the collection boasts top hats, riding hats, and even gold-trimmed bicornes and tricornes, all peppered with a touch of flamboyance.

Nestled within the Leeds Discovery Centre, an estimated 200 items from John Craig’s prolific career provide a glimpse into the past. Craig’s business, founded in the bustling Park Row shopping district in the late 1800s, stood as a pillar of quality and style until it ceased operations around 1947. A 1927 leaflet from the hatter’s shop encapsulates his ethos: “commenced his business with the ambition of supplying good hats…”—a testament to his dedication to fit and comfort for his clientele.

Natalie Raw, curator of costume at Leeds Museums and Galleries, alongside student volunteers from The University of York, is meticulously documenting this vast array of headwear. Raw reflects on the collection’s significance, noting, “The quite remarkable variety of shapes, sizes and colours of hats in our collection shows the many different ways they have been worn over the decades…” This preservation effort not only highlights a traditional Leeds hatmaker’s expertise but also immortalizes the city’s rich history in textiles and fashion.

From Mud to Magnificence: The Breadth of Leeds’ Hat Collection

The scope of the Leeds hat collection transcends the miniature marvels of John Craig. An intriguing Tudor hat, retrieved from the London mud, has found its way to the Leeds archives, alongside other elaborate headpieces adorned with peacock feathers and more. These artifacts trace the evolution of millinery from mere practical head coverings to symbols of social status and expressions of individual style.

Historically, Milan was renowned as the hub for premium accessories, including hats, in the 1500s. Merchants from Milan, known as Milliners, were the purveyors of these fashionable trimmings. By the Victorian era, the term ‘milliner’ had become synonymous with hat making. Leeds, not to be outdone, fostered a competitive hat industry, with historical records and advertisements revealing a vibrant trade in Briggate and Boar Lane.

The meticulous documentation process is not merely an academic exercise but serves to illuminate the cultural tapestry of Leeds. Councillor Jonathan Pryor, deputy leader and executive member for economy, culture and education at Leeds City Council, acknowledges the collection’s significance: “Fashion and textiles have been a key part of the Leeds story for generations…” Pryor asserts that such a collection is an invaluable asset, ensuring that the heritage of Leeds is celebrated and conserved for the future.

Leeds Discovery Centre: A Portal to the Past

Fostering a connection between the community and its heritage, the Leeds Discovery Centre opens its doors to the public, offering guided tours by prior booking. Visitors are invited to step into the past, exploring the myriad of hats that narrate the city’s story through fashion and craftsmanship. The Centre not only preserves these artifacts but also offers an educational resource for those keen to understand the historical significance of Leeds’ fashion industry.

To explore the Leeds Discovery Centre and the John Craig collection, interested individuals are encouraged to plan their visits in advance. For more information about tour times and booking procedures, one can visit the Leeds Museums & Galleries website. Here, the past is not just preserved but brought to life, offering a tangible connection to the rich tapestry of Leeds’ millinery history.


By george