The fascinating story of how an unspectacular brick outbuilding turned out to be a significant piece of Denton’s pre-industrial history starts about seven years ago…
I’d had a meeting at my constituency office in Denton with one of Stockport Council’s conservation officers. He had been to see me about the derelict pump house at Houldsworth Mill in Reddish, and it must have been the very last meeting of the day because we both walked back to our cars in Kynder Street car park together.
In the car park, the conservation officer became extremely excited about an old two storey brick workshop in someone’s back yard, which is visible from the car park.
Now I’ve lived in Denton all my life and I had never – ever – spotted this small building before. The reason Stockport’s conservation officer was excited was because he believed this structure could be a rare survivor of the early Hatting industry which made Denton (and neighbouring Stockport) so prosperous.
Since then, I have worked closely with the local historian (and good friend) Margaret Smethurst to try and trace the history of this building. Margaret has done such a superb, and convincing job.
A couple of weeks ago, Margaret, her husband, John, and I, met with Katie Cavanagh, the curator of Stockport Museums (which includes the Hat Works Museum) and Frank Galvin, the past curator, in the hope they’d give us their expert opinion. And here it now is:
Bow Garret structure – South Street, Denton
Katie Cavanagh – Team Leader, Curatorial Services & Projects, Stockport Museums
I was contacted by Andrew Gwynne MP with regard to a brick structure situated at the back of terrace houses on Market Street, Denton.
The local history society has been carrying out some research into the possibility of whether or not this structure could be a bow garret from the hatting industry.
Previously, the only remaining bow garret that was known of was one situated at Haughton Green, not far from the site of this bow garret on Market Street.
I met Andrew Gwynne, two members of the Denton Local Historical Society and Frank Galvin, the previous curator of Stockport Museums on site to have a closer look at the structure and to provide advice as to whether or not the structure was a bow garret from the hatting industry.
Bow Garrets and the hatting industry
Bow garrets were early domestic hat workshops situated near the home of the hatter. They were used in the hatting industry before the mechanisation of the processes which then enabled the industry to produce on a larger scale, forcing the industry to become mill based.
The structure normally takes the form of a single room, one or two storey brick built structure with a fire place downstairs and large workbench upstairs.
The name ‘bow garret’ has its origins in the structure itself and from the first process of preparing the fur in order to felt it. This was called bowing, a process where the fur was cleaned and separated using a hatters bow, a large wooden implement strung with cat gut. Garret means ‘room on top floor’, hence the name bow garret.
Left, an illustration showing the ‘bowing’ process of the fur, Penny Magazine, 1841
There would normally be a fireplace within the bow garret for the second process of the hatting industry which is called ‘planking’. This is where the fur is formed into a felt and eventually into an unfinished hood which forms the basis of a hat.
The planking process usually happened on the ground floor and required hot water and a large open container called a kettle, which is why a fireplace was required to heat the water.
Haughton Green Bow Garret
Right, the former Haughton Green bow garret, 179 Two Trees Lane, Haughton Green
The bow garret at Haughton Green was discovered by pure chance around 1990. As seen from the photograph right, the structure was in need of some repair but was still recognisable as a bow garret hatting workshop.
This was such an important find as many of these buildings have been demolished due to their proximity to the domestic dwelling and the size of the structure which takes up a lot of land at the back of houses and in gardens. Also the upkeep of a brick structure which no longer has a purpose is not something many homeowners wish to pay for.
The bow garret at Haughton Green was discovered by a previous curator of Stockport Museums as he was driving past the property. He noticed the instantly identifiable shape and style of the building and enquired within. It was of such good fortune that the couple had the deeds of the house which clearly showed that the two joining structures were referred to as shops. The deeds also mentioned that the house was a ‘newly erected cottage and hat shop’ which had belonged to Samuel Warburton in 1832 and bequeathed to his son-in-law Samuel Arrandale, both of whom were hatters.
The single storey building would probably have been a planking workshop and the two storey would have been a bowing and planking workshop.
This was such an important find for the history of hatting in Denton and the surrounding area, as so few of these structures survived, in fact, it was thought that this was the last remaining bow garret of the hatting industry. Sadly, this structure has now deteriorated to such an extent that only one wall remains standing whilst the rest has now fallen derelict.
The Market Street, Denton, Structure
Left, 66a Market Street, Denton
To the left is a photograph of the structure situated at the back of the terrace houses on Market Street, Denton. It is a rather imposing structure that instantly stands out when you look at the row of terraces from the side from the car park.
The building is marked on the 1970 OS map (below, right) as 66a Market Street and has its own large access arch leading to it from Market Street.
The structure has all the same features, proportions and style of windows as the two storey hat workshop which was located in Haughton Green.
Denton Local History Society’s research into this building has provided strong evidence that this structure is indeed a bow garret used in the hatting industry.
On an OS map of Denton, dated 1848 (left), a structure similar in proportions to a bow garret and the brick building we visited can be seen in the grounds of Hope Cottage located off South Street (now Stockport Road). Research of the 1841 census for Hope Cottage has shown that a gentleman named William Turner resided at Hope Cottage and his profession was Journeyman Hatter.
The similarities between 66a Market Street and the Haughton Green bow garret are evident within the photographs. The fabric of the brick built structure of 66a Market Street and the use of handmade bricks does date the current structure back to the late 18th early 19th century which would put it as a structure which would be shown on the OS map of 1848.
It is highly likely therefore that the existing 66a Market Street building is indeed the last known surviving bow garret from the hatting industry in the late 18th and 19th century in Denton and Stockport.
This building is of great historical significance not only locally but also regionally and nationally.
It is so rare to find one of these structures in the area, let alone one that is in such good condition. The current owners have looked after it which has meant that the floors have stayed intact and the old wooden windows are still in situ.
This structure is not only of importance now, but was of specific importance in its day, enough to build the row of terrace houses around it and ensure adequate provision of access was provided with the large arched opening leading to it.
With the bow garret at Haughton Green now no longer standing, 66a Market Street provides a great example of how a bow garret would have looked. The hatting industry was such an important industry to the economy of Denton and the surrounding areas, it is one of the industries that enabled Denton to become the size of town it is today.
It is important that this structure is safeguarded as it may well be the last link there is to the origins of the hatting industry in the Denton and Stockport area.
So there we have it: a long lost link to Denton’s early Hatting industry – before the rise of the big hat factories – when this was still a cottage industry. The building likely dates from between 1790 and 1810, and the Denton bow garret is much more than an old brick shed, it’s where Denton’s industrial supremacy in hat manufacturing began… Not bad for a chance find one Friday afternoon seven years ago!
AND FINALLY: having presented the information to Tameside Council, they have agreed that the structure should be protected through the national listing process. An application for listing will be presented to English Heritage soon.