Pair of Billingsgate Porters "Bobbin" Hat


  • £1,400.00
  • €1,534 Euro
  • $1,739 US Dollar

United Kingdom

DC Member since 2016
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Pair of Billingsgate Porters "Bobbin" Hat

Here we have a wonderful piece of London history, a pair of porters "bobbin" hats from the infamous London billingsgate's fish market. One owned by James Alfred Robinson, Born on the 18th of December 1911 he was nicknamed Robo. Robo worked at billingsgate most of his life, retiring when the old site closed, he later moved to Cromer on sea where his hat hung for a number of years and by repute a bird nested in it. The hat was stuffed with paper as it was handed down to Alfred from his father, as his head was smaller than his fathers. Robo worked for lines and loozey. The photo of Robo wearing the hat with a cigarette in his mouth was taken by an American tourist who then sent it back to the market. Along with the hat there are numerous photos of Alfred wearing the hat, his porters license and his soldiers release book. Robos hat dates from last quarter of the 19th century

This strange type of hat is thought to get its name from the ‘bobbin’ or payment , which the porters received from the buyers, when delivering the fish to the distribution vehicles. There is an interesting short film, made by British Pathe in 1949, showing the making of one of these hats by John Williams Fain, who was the last person to craft these specialised items. He had a tiny shop in Lovat lane, near the original Billingsgate Market, and worked there for thirty five years. Each hat took eight hours of concentrated work, and used five pounds in weight of thick, strong leather, at least six yards of waxed thread, and about 400 nails. The hats were formed around a wooden block, but wood does not seem to form any part of the actual hat, despite various comments that it does.

The top, flat piece on which the boxes and crates were carried, was made from four layers of leather, which, like a pair of boots, could be repaired when necessary. In effect, this meant the hat never wore out, and was often handed, like the porter’s job, from father to son. It was estimated that the hat would last for forty years……so apart from some repairs, there was not much repeat trade for the Bobbin Hat makers.

Approx measurements are as follows
32cm in depth
27cm in width
14cm in height

The photos have been sympathetically mounted in thin bull nose ebonised frames. The larger frame housing Robo's license is 39/33cm, the three original photographs measure 40/19cm. The second hat has no relation to Robo of his father, and is a touch later in date circa 1910/20 measures 32cm in depth, 26cm in width, 14.5cm in height

Age related wear to all the items, foxing to the paper work. As you would expect of a item of this nature and being used on a daily basis in a commercial environment over by two generations,


19th Century

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My partner and I have been collecting unique, decorative antiques for the past 10 years, travelling far and wide sourcing the best our pockets could afford.

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