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.

Oxford Street Beavers

Above 105-109 Oxford Street, crane your neck right to the figures at the top.

Oxford Street Beavers

Which, on closer inspection, are beavers.

Oxford Street Beavers
Oxford Street Beavers

The reason for their presence can be found around the back of the building, on Hollen Street.

Oxford Street Beavers

Henry Heath

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.

Oxford Street Beavers

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.

Oxford Street Beavers

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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  • Stewart Francis


    What an interesting piece, Katie. I must try to seek out that item when I am in Oxford Street. Though I deplore many aspects of modern life — I left my youth behind ‘a few years ago’! — it is at least reassuring that, at least in England, such cruelty towards these poor creatures, and simply for hats, is abhorrent to most people. Not that we don’t still have a long way to go yet in our relationship towards the animal kingdom.

    September 11, 2019 at 8:47 am
  • I’ve just acquired some Henry Heath hatboxes, and and an online search to find out more about the firm led me here. Thank you for such a fascinating post. When I can next visit London (whenever that may be) I’ll be sure to look out for the building.

    October 2, 2020 at 11:40 am
  • Ian


    Fscinating to read this. My mother is 87 (born 1934) and worked there when she was 15 as a junior book keeper. So, it was definitely still operating in 1949.

    July 24, 2022 at 1:12 pm
  • Robert Terence Rayner


    It was interesting to find out that my Granddad`s uncle Henry Eleazer Hildersley, was listed as living in Holland street London in the 1841 Census at the age of 8 years old. He was listed along side twenty other people, only three being his relatives living as far as i know, at the same address. I would be interested to find out if there were families actually living at the Henry Heath factory when the 1841 Census was
    carried out, as the first Census did not give the exact addresses of residents. Could anyone enlighten me to the answer. Looking at the
    street view on Google, it did not look like there were any houses on that very small road.

    September 26, 2023 at 10:46 pm

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