'Hat making crisis' in Luton as milliners for TV series Peaky Blinders close down with 25 jobs lost

Traditional British hat making skills have suffered a "big blow" after the closure of a Luton firm, which created hats for the TV series Peaky Blinders.

Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 1:08 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th December 2020, 1:12 pm
Olney Headware Ltd closed for good last week
Olney Headware Ltd closed for good last week

On Monday, December 21, Olney Headwear Ltd – which has produced straw boaters, panamas, fabric hats and caps since 1914 – left its factory at Old Bedford Road for the last time (see previous story here).

As recently as September, the company announced it would be relocating to a new site, a plan that has now been abandoned due to the impact of Covid-19.

Overseas competition had led the company to focus on selective projects. As well as making Peaky Blinders caps, Olney Headwear also made the famous Sherlock Holmes deerstalker hat, and supplied hats to private schools including Eton and Harrow.

Its termination has been described as a "big blow" for traditional hat making in Luton, as well as the loss of 25 jobs.

A charity set up to support the millinery trade has now called on Luton Borough Council to support those affected.

Daniel Carpenter, operations manager at Heritage Crafts Association, said: “While our first thoughts are with the workers who have lost their livelihoods... we are also concerned with the loss of an important part of our shared intangible cultural heritage - their embodied knowledge and skills.

"While it is good that some of the machines has been saved, unused they become little more than relics of cultural loss."Finally, but not insignificantly, we also think of future generations whose repository of craft skill will be diminished as a result.”

A Luton Borough Council spokesman said: "We were very saddened to hear of the closure of Olney Headwear which has been producing hats since 1914 in Luton.

"Covid-19 has had a devastating impact on businesses across Luton and the wider region and our sympathies are with the owner and staff of Olney Headwear at this difficult time.

"We can offer direct support to the staff affected via our employability workshops through our Passport to Employment programme and explore how we can support this sector going forward."