Oxford Street Beavers
A common line often repeated for London (and plenty of other big cities) is that you’re always within 6ft of a rat. Whether that’s actually true, I’m far more interested in looking up at these furry creatures on Oxford Street.
Above 105-109 Oxford Street, crane your neck right to the figures at the top.
Which, on closer inspection, are beavers.
The reason for their presence can be found around the back of the building, on Hollen Street.
This large building was the premises of Henry Heath’s Hat Factory. Established in the 1822 Heath’s hats were made with felted fur from beaver otters, rabbits, hares and musk rats. Apparently no small furry animal was safe.
Hat manufacturing was big business in the 19th century when English fashion dictated that everyone wore a hat. The type was also key to defining your social status; top hats for gentlemen, bowlers for the upwardly mobile industrialist and flat caps for lower class.
Advertisement from the British Library of Henry Heath’s hats c.1884.
With the change in fashion and decline of hat-wearing, Henry Heath’s went out of business around the 1930s. So now it’s only the sadly-doomed creatures which record the history of this once flourishing trade.
Look again at the middle rodent and you’ll see the initial ‘H’ on the shield he’s holding.
For more on the history of hat making in London (and why we have that phrase ‘Mad as a Hatter’) click here.
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