Street Views: 19 and 4 Suppl.
Address: 85 Strand and 251 Regent Street
The first advertisement I found for John Perring is one in the Morning Post of 20 April 1822, although in an 1832 advertisement, he claims to have been a hatter for 18 years.(1) In his 1822 advertisement, as indeed in all of his later advertisements, he offers silk and beaver hats; the silk hats with double covered edges, warranted water-proof for 17s and the fine light beaver hats from 18s to 21s, not to mention all sorts of other hats in various price ranges depending on quality. His address is given as 413 Strand, two doors from the Adelphi Theatre. Another advertisement of 11 April 1827 still finds him at that address, but a month later he has moved his business to 85 Strand, corner of Cecil Street.(2) He later also refers to this address simply as Cecil House.
But Perring was not satisfied with just one shop and in 1830 he claims to have “four houses of business”. The April 1827 advertisement states that he has another shop at Hammersmith, although no exact address is given; an 1829 advertisement mentions the third shop at 124 Edgware Road. Although he already claims to have four shops in 1830, I could not find the fourth address, 251 Regent Street, until 1847 when the Supplements to Tallis’s Street Views came out. He was certainly not yet at Regent Street when the first lot of Street Views came out, as number 251 is then shared by Madame Lebas, a milliner and Thomas Day, a hatter.(3) Perring may very well have taken over the latter’s business sometime between 1839 and 1847. The earliest Perring advertisement for the Regent Street address can be found in Berrow’s Worcester Journal of 29 March 1849 where he tells his customers that “Perring’s patent light ventilating hats, so universally worn, [are] sent carriage free to any part of England”. Or traders could export them even further away if they wished as they are “suitable for all climates and seasons”.
Perring claims to have invented an improvement in the beaver hat to make it a lot lighter, but his competitors did not all agree and claimed the same. And there were of course the sharp ones who tried to sell their own inferior product under a false name. Perring frequently warned about such practices in his advertisements as in the The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction (vol. 18, 1831) where he states that “Since 1827, when Perring’s patent extra light beaver hats were first invented and introduced to public notice, hundreds in the trade have begun to talk about weight, professing the greatest absurdities, to the prejudice of the inventor”. In the 1832 advertisement mentioned in the first paragraph, he even speaks of copyists that “have sprung up like mushrooms”. Fakes were shipped abroad, so Perring “respectfully informs the nobility, gentry, and public generally, that none are of his make unless purchased at no. 85, Strand, with the name printed at the bottom of the lining”. How anyone abroad was to recognise a fake from a true Perring hat remains a mystery. A name in the lining can just as easily be faked as the whole hat. Information on how to make beaver hats can be found here.
Advertising was vital if one wanted to draw the customers to one’s shop and Perring certainly used the usual strategies of advertising in newspapers and journals – even in poetry -, and he may very well have used men standing about or walking with placards, sandwiched or otherwise, but he also embarked on a novel, mobile, way of getting attention. He had a giant hat constructed which was driven round town every day and which he claimed had cost him sixty guineas. Thomas Carlyle writes disparagingly about it in his Past and Present:
Consider for example that great Hat seven-feet high, which now perambulates London Street; which my Friend Sauerteig regarded justly as one of our English notabilities; “the topmost point as yet,” said he, “would it were your culminating and returning point, to which English Puffery has been observed to reach!”- the Hatter in the Strand of London, instead of making better felt-hats than another, mounts a huge lath-and-plaster Hat, seven-feet high, upon wheels; sends a man to drive it trough the streets; hoping to be saved thereby. He has not attempted to make better hats, as he was appointed by the Universe to do, and as with this ingenuity of has he could very probably have done; but his whole industry is turned to persuade us that he has made such!
Perring’s hat on a cart did not convince everyone that that was the way advertising should go, but it certainly got him attention. His name appeared in the newspaper in quite a different way as well. In 1837, James Greenacre was sentenced to death for murdering Hannah Brown. Greenacre had promised to marry Mrs Brown, but just before the wedding he murdered her and cut her into bits; most of the body parts were found near the Edgware Road, but the head was fished out of Regent Canal. Greenacre’s mistress, Sarah Gale, turned out to have been Hannah’s niece and goddaughter; she was sentenced to transportation for helping him dispose of the body. You can read the whole court case with all the gory details here. You may well wonder what this story has to do with hatter Perring, but it turned out that Hannah Brown, before coming to live at Union Street where she was murdered, had been living for about two years at the Strand as Perring’s housekeeper and this fact was reported in the papers. Unfortunately, the first census of 1841 is too late to be of any use in establishing the truth about her employment at Perring’s, but he remained a bachelor all his life, so he probably had a housekeeper. The 1841 census for 85 Strand only shows George Haule, apprentice hat maker, Thomas Pennell, errand boy, and Ann Reeve, a 40-year old servant (presumably the housekeeper after Hannah Brown), resident there. Where Perring himself was is unclear. We do find him at home, however, in the next census of 1851. Also there are Samuel and Susan Date, husband and wife who serve as shopman and housekeeper, and a number of visitors. The census gives Hammersmith as the place of birth for Perring and his age as 50. In 1852, Perring is still listed in the Post Office Directory, but I have found no record of him after that year.
Perring was not satisfied with just being a hatter. In 1829, he paid ‘game duty’ for a certificate that allowed him to “use any dog, gun, net, or other engine, for the purpose of taking or killing any game whatever, or any woodcock, snipe, quail, or landrail, or any conies, in any part of Great Britain”.(4) Whether he actually hunted has not come to light, but at least he had a licence to do so. In 1851, he took 200 shares in the Northern and Southern Connecting Railway(5) and in 1842 a patent was given to “John Perring, of Cecil House, 85, Strand, in the city of Westminster, hat manufacturer, for improvements in wood paving, – partly communicated by a foreigner residing abroad”.(6) The improvements were to do with the way the wood blocks were cut and pegged together with an elastic substance between the blocks. The text of the patent with the explanation of what these improvements involved can be read online here. I am sorry about the quality of the illustration above, but Google has not produced a better one.
But to return to the business of hat making and to conclude this post, a poem:
(1) Shown in J. Strachan, Advertising and Satirical Culture in the Romantic Period (2007), p. 37. Unfortunately, no source is given for the advertisement.
(2) Morning Chronicle, 11 April 1827. Observer, 8 July 1827.
(3) In the 1847 Supplement, Tallis accidentally writes the name of J. Leonard over number 251, but he occupied number 249.
(4) Act 48 Geo. 3. cap. 55 of 1 June 1808. Morning Post, 7 September 1829.
(5) Daily News, 27 June 1851.
(6) W. Newton The London Journal of Arts and Sciences, vol. 22 (1843), pp. 103-106.