IF YOU want to get ahead, get a hat…

And if you wanted to get a hat in Glasgow in the late 19th century, anyone who was anyone would have shopped at John Kirsop & Son.

Kirsop was a high-class hatter, a city celebrity whose work was so revered, it was exhibited in case 1027 at the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888.

Rebecca Quinton, European Costumes and Textiles curator at Glasgow Museums, has been researching some of the fascinating items stored in the city’s textile collections, uncovering the intriguing stories of their makers and wearers.

Glasgow Times:

In an occasional series for Times Past, we are sharing some of her Tales From the Wardrobe.

“Top hats came into fashion in the late 1790s and soon replaced the tricorn and bicorn hats that were worn by gentleman during the 1700s,” explains Rebecca.

“This example from John Kirsop & Son, was made with hatter’s plush, a type of black silk velvet used in the trade. Today, due to the closure of the last hatter’s plush manufacturer, it is no longer possible to purchase a new black silk top hat. Instead, modern top hats are grey.”

The label inside the hat reads: “Extra Quality, Appointed Hatters to King George IV, 1828. Kirsop & Son Hatters, 106 St. Vincent Street Glasgow. Established 1816. Ladies Department, 254 Sauchiehall Street.”

Glasgow Times:

Rebecca has discovered John Kirsop and Son began life as John Nixon and Sons, when the eponymous owner and his offspring Joseph, James, John and Richard,set up on the Gallowgate in 1816.

Five years later, Joseph established his own business on Trongate, and in 1828, Richard opened his store at 98 Argyle Street –  where he was listed as ‘hatter to the King’. 

It was here in 1841, in the grand building which once housed a picture gallery, that Richard went into partnership with his sister’s husband Thomas Kirsop and son John. The Kirsops were hatters with premises on High Street, the new business was called Nixon & Kirsop, Hat and Capmakers.

Richard had retired by 1848, and John Kirsop took the business forward under his own name, establishing a factory at 28 St Enoch Wynd in 1850. John’s son Thomas later joined the business too, and the Argyle Street showroom became famous.

At the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888, their premises were described as “very extensive - the sale shop and showroom is fitted up in a manner and style well suited to the high-class, character of the business, and contains a superb stock, representing the very best products of the modern hatter’s craft.

“On the floor above (which was formerly a picture gallery — the first in Glasgow), Messrs Kirsop have laid out a fine spacious saloon of handsome appointment, wherein they make a magnificent display of ladies’ superior millinery, a department developed by them with very great success.”

John Kirsop retired in the early 1890s and died in 1898, aged 76. His son, Thomas, took over full management of the company. Thomas Kirsop died, aged 66, in 1917. 

The business became a limited company in 1924 and continued trading for a further 30 years until it was taken over by House of Fraser in November 1956, and wound up.

* Do you remember the famous Glasgow hatter? Get in touch to share your stories and photos.