Where did you get that hat

By Kristy Turner, Museum Manager and Curator

Here at the Museum of Dartmoor Life in Okehampton there is a really interesting mining section. We look at the tools used and the ore mined but it’s the people that carried out the work that impresses the most. Imagine being deep underground, in the 18th and 19th centuries, it would have been dark and dusty, water running down the walls in places and only a few wooden beams, wedged into the sides of the tunnels, stopping you from being buried alive. Life was very tough for these brave men and what did they have for their personal protection equipment? Felt hats!

Long before hard hats and battery torches existed, men wore Tulls. These were steam moulded felt hats, similar to a bowler but with a wider brim. After being pressed into shape they were dipped into a resin or clay slip and left to dry hard. They must have been fairly uncomfortable to wear though over time they would have moulded to the wearers head. Miners would also have worn a linen skull cap underneath to keep their sweat from reacting with the helmet and to stop it sticking to their hair. Before heading underground each miner would fashion a lump of clay onto the front of their tull in order to attach a tallow candle, their only light to work by. The hat in the museum still has the candle wax drips on it and is worthy of your time to examine it and think of the life of the man who wore it.

Of course the women worked at the mines too. They were called Bal Maidens and worked on the surface processing the ore that came up from the miners. They too wore hats which were known as Gooks, bonnet shaped with a front brim made from inserted stiff cardboard, which protected them from debris and the sun. Extra fabric draped down over their shoulders and back which they could pin across their faces leaving only their eyes uncovered. The Gooks tied tightly under their chins helping to protect their ears from the noise of their hammers. Winter ones were made from layers of woolen fabric stitched together and in the summer cotton versions were preferred. Most were white though sometimes pretty dress fabrics were used and eventually wide brimmed straw hats became more common.

Every object in our collection has a story to tell and we hope to welcome you to the Museum soon to hear a few.