Luton's oldest hat factory wins £100k for renovation


The Department of Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) and The Wolfson Foundation recently awarded £100k towards the renovation of Luton’s oldest factory.

The grant will be used as part of the transformative Hat District regeneration project led by Luton Culture to help preserve the town’s industrial hat making past and offer more creative opportunities, workspace and arts events for the region.

An expert panel from the DCMS and Wolfson Foundation, recognised the potential of the derelict factory in putting Luton on the map for its proud hat making heritage and Luton Culture’s ambitious plans for the town’s future as a creative hub. The Hat Works project specifically aims to reach young creative people from different communities across Luton. For the first time, there will also be access to this historic site for people with disabilities.

WEB version Hat Works.jpg

External image of Hat Works, Luton’s oldest hat factory. Photo

Minister for Arts, Heritage and Tourism Michael Ellis said:

“Our museums and galleries are among the best in the world and we are rightly proud of these institutions. The DCMS/Wolfson Fund demonstrates how the government and philanthropic organisations can work together to boost our museum sector.

“We want people up and down the country to enjoy culture and heritage wherever they are. The 35 grants awarded today will make important contributions towards improving the visitor experience; ensuring our wonderful collections are open to as many people as possible.”

Paul Ramsbottom, Chief Executive of the Wolfson Foundation said:

“We are delighted to provide this funding through our longstanding partnership with DCMS – an excellent example of how we as a charity can work together fruitfully with government. We are grateful to DCMS for matching our funding.

“One of the great treasures of this country is the sheer quality and range of our heritage collections – stored and displayed in wonderful museums and galleries. This funding will help to provide even better visitor experiences and greater awareness of these fascinating collections. A particular joy of this funding round has been the impressive mix of the projects supported: from a dress collection at Carlisle’s Tullie House to temporary exhibition space in Falmouth’s National Maritime Museum.”

Internal image of Hat Works, Luton’s oldest hat factory. Photo:


‘Hat Works’ was originally a Straw Plait Merchants built sometime between 1840 -1860 and remained a building dedicated to the hat manufacturing trade until 2006. Hat Works is adjacent to the central business district of Luton which welcomes over 7,000 people to the town every day.

Karen Perkins Head of Culture and Engagement at Luton Culture said:

“We’re delighted to be awarded this grant to help Luton Culture restore Hat Works. Once transformed, this historic site will reopen for commercial and public use, increasing access and engagement with heritage and the creative industries for all.”

Hat Works is part of the Hat District project led by Luton Culture to restore three hat factories and develop one new build with the strategic aim of creating new job opportunities, regenerating Luton’s conservation area and supporting more arts and cultural events across the region.




PRESS ENQUIRIES: For further information about this press release, please email, Marketing & Communications, or call 01582 878123. Interviews with the Hat District project director and Trust CEO Marie Kirbyshaw can be arranged, as can a tour of the Hat District.

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DCMS/Wolfson Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund

This is the thirteenth round of a joint fund which DCMS runs in partnership with the Wolfson Foundation. The fund aims to provide capital funding for museums and galleries across England to deliver projects in one or a number of the following key areas:

  • Material improvements to the display and interpretation of collections, in both permanent galleries and exhibition spaces

  • Improvements to access and/or interpretation for visitors with disabilities

  • Physical improvements to public spaces to enhance visitor experience

  • Improvements to environmental controls, collections storage and conservation facilities to enhance the care of collections

About the Wolfson Foundation

The Wolfson Foundation ( is an independent charity that supports and promotes excellence in the fields of science, health, education and the arts and humanities, including awarding the Wolfson History Prize, the UK’s foremost history prize. Since it was established in 1955, over £900 million (£1.9 billion in real terms) has been awarded to more than 11,000 projects throughout the UK, all on the basis of expert review.

The Hat District project

Purpose-designed creative work, show and share spaces in the cultural heart of Luton

Following successful funding bids in summer 2017, Luton Culture Trust secured £7.2million investment towards developing a collection of inspiring creative work, study and show spaces called the ‘Hat District’ across 3 old hat factories and one new build in Luton’s conservation area. The collection of imposing buildings will provide 25,000 sq. ft. of new workspace for the creative industries, enable 133 additional jobs, further inject life into a vibrant cultural district and attract 135,000 new visitors by 2022. Furthermore, this ambitious project will protect the area and its historic buildings for future generations.

The Hat District portfolio consists of 3 buildings and one new build:

• Hat Factory Arts Centre - 65-67 Bute Street (Reopens mid 2019*)

• Hat Works - 47 Guildford Street (Opens early 2021* )

• Hat House - 32 Guildford Street (Opens mid 2019*)

• Hat Studios -33-35 Guildford Street (Gap site - Opens late 2020*)

*Estimated dates

The Trust is well placed to inject new life and vibrancy into this run-down area and protect the heritage of these old hat factories that are currently falling into disrepair. Two of these sites, Hat Works and Hat House, are vacant historic hat factories that will be brought back into new use. The Hat Factory Arts Centre will be refurbished to increase and widen access to the arts. The buildings are centrally located in Luton between the station and the town centre. Given the conservation area, consideration will be given to the design of the existing properties and Hat Studios as this will be a new building on a gap-site recently secured by the Trust.

The quality of arts, architecture, design, heritage and conservation will aim to exceed public and user expectations and set new standards for urban regeneration fitting for a town as exciting as Luton.

Hat Works history

Hat Works is a 3 storey property, with a distinct façade of Luton grey bricks, stucco dressings and a Welsh slate roof. It is located at 47 Guildford Street, in the Plaiters Lea Conservation area of Luton. The factory was built sometime between 1840 and 1860 with alterations and extensions made in the mid twentieth century. Surviving deeds show it was originally a domestic dwelling with an office. The building was occupied by Straw Plait Merchants: Messrs Henry Durler (1850-1924) and Otto Suter (1851-1884). Straw hat manufacturing company Herbert Brown Ltd used the building from 1906 and a Walter E. Brown, Director of Herbert Brown, signed a lease agreement with the Williams family in 1926. From 1931 the property was owned by Martha Swain, who leased the property to various hat manufacturers over the next 25 years including C H Young and Co., Bridgewater Millinery and Maurice Simons.

From 1966, Maurice Davis ran his hat business here until 2006. The building has been empty since then and is now undergoing restoration as part of Luton Culture’s Hat District Project.

Other Hat District funders

The Hat District project is an important and innovative cultural project for Luton and the region. It has been conceived and developed by Luton Culture Trust and made possible with investment from:

The South East Midlands Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMLEP)| Local Growth Fund | £3.961m

This major funding has enabled us to make significant progress in developing new creative workspace which will provide more jobs and new spaces for business. The Creative and Cultural sector is a focus for SEMLEP and is promoted through their ‘Strategic Economic Plan’ and ‘Heritage, Sports, Visitor Economy, Cultural & Creative Industry Plan’.

Local Growth Fund

Local Enterprise Partnerships are playing a vital role in driving forward economic growth across the country, helping to build a country that works for everyone.

That’s why by 2021 Government will have invested over £12bn through the Local Growth Fund, allowing the LEPs to use their local knowledge to get all areas of the country firing on all cylinders.

Some additional key facts:

There are 38 LEPs covering the whole of England.

The government has awarded £9.1bn in three rounds of Growth Deals to local areas to drive economic growth. LEPs are investing in a wider range of projects including transport, skills, business support, broadband, innovation and flood defences.

Arts Council England | Small Capital Grant | £499,500

This significant funding is towards the redevelopment of the Hat Factory Arts Centre and will enable us to open up the centre to more people and increase access to the arts. The grant will, amongst other things, enable us to improve the quality of our theatre and music venue and provide sound-proofing so that we can deliver more high quality events.

Luton Borough Council | £340,000

This significant funding is enabling us to upgrade facilities at the Hat Factory Arts Centre, to sustain a long-term future for the building and enable the Trust to broaden its audiences and contribute even more to the delivery of Luton’s 10 year Arts and Cultural strategic plan.

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) | Heritage Enterprise Grant First-Round Pass | £127,900

This first-round pass awarded is specifically for Hat Works and is a development grant to fully explore the needs and potential of the site. Luton is a priority development area for HLF who have also recently invested in the Trust’s Wardown House Museum & Gallery.

Historic England | Repairs Grant for Heritage at Risk | £44,000 + £200,000

It is a public body that helps people care for, enjoy and celebrate England's spectacular historic environment. Historic England works with communities and specialists who share its passion, knowledge and skills to inspire interest, care and conservation.

Luton Culture applied for funding to undertake urgent repairs for Hat Works to sensitively halt the decay caused by pests and mould. In September 2018 Luton Culture secured additional funding for repairs to the roof tiles, brickwork, plastering, drains, windows and joinery work.

The Architectural Heritage Fund | Project Development Grant | £25,000

This funding enabled us to commission surveys and appoint professionals to develop the design of Hat Works and to help research, and engage communities in, the history of the building to inform final redevelopment plans.

The Steel Charitable Trust