Denton is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Tameside, in Greater Manchester, England. Historically part of Lancashire, Denton grew as a significant centre of hat manufacture, though today it is a predominantly residential town.
It is five miles (eight km) to the east of Manchester city centre, and has a population of 34,286. (This is the combined population of Denton North East, Denton West and Denton South taken from the Ward Profiles produced by Tameside MBC.)
History of the Denton Hat Industry
Felt hatting was recorded in Denton as early as 1702 and Denton gained supremacy in the hatting industry towards the end of the 19th century. The increasing importance of Denton and Haughton as centres of felt hat production is demonstrated by the increase of manufacturers in the area: in 1800 there were 4 hatting firms in Denton and Haughton, but by 1825 there were 25 manufacturers, making it the third largest hat making centre in the north west. By 1840, 24,000 felt hats were produced in Denton a week. The prosperity of the hatting industry is reflected in the growth of the town from 2,501 in 1801 to 6,759 in 1841.
During the 1840s, the felt hat industry went into depression; the recession affected Denton, with wages in the area falling by 35% and only 12 hat manufacturers remaining in Denton. The depression was partially due to changes in fashion away from felt towards silk hats. The revitalisation of the felt hat industry came in the 1850s, once again on a whim of fashion but also the increased use of machinery led to reduced production costs. The resurgence was demonstrated by the doubling of the number of hat manufacturers in the town between 1861 and 1872. At its peak in the Edwardian period, Denton's felt hat industry was the largest felt hat manufacturing centre in Britain. There were 36 firms directly involved in the felt hat making industry. In 1907 the majority of the 16,428,000 felt hats made in England (worth £2,068,000) were made in Denton and Stockport. In 1921, the working population of Denton was 9,653 with about 41% of those people in occupations related to the hatting industry. The last hat factory in Denton closed in 1980.
Although the felt hat industry in Denton and Haughton was prosperous and an integral part of the town, working conditions in the factories were not risk free. One of the problems workers faced was mercury poisoning; mercury was used to separate the fur from the rabbit hide and workers were in regular contact with fur impregnated with mercury or exposed to mercury vapour. Inadequate ventilation in some parts of the hat making process led to other sorts of dangers; solvents were also used and on 14 January 1901 there was an explosion at the factory of Joseph Wilson & Sons in Denton, killing 13 people and injuring many more. The explosion was of vapour from methylated spirits used in the dying process.
Throughout the 19th century and well into the 20th century, a wide range of hats was manufactured to suit all tastes and purses. The names used by the competing manufacturers to describe their products was bewildering and some of these were; felt hats, silk hats, fur hats, wear fur hats, soft hats, stiff hats, velour hats, wool hats, straw hats and, of course, the ubiquitous cloth cap. In the 1930s the 'Attaboy' trilby hat was introduced by the Denton Hat Company. This brand quickly became famous and it was in production for many years. Ladies' hats were not forgotten either and at least one works specialised in making these and the hat master's wife designed them at home. Hats were made for home consumption and for export. The well-known slogan "If you want to get ahead, get a hat" arose in Denton and, needless to say, anyone attending for a job interview not wearing a hat was quickly shown the door. Similarly, until the early 20th century, anyone entering a Denton shop without a hat would receive much cursing. The term, "mad as a hatter" also arose in Denton because the mercury used in the felting process led to mercury poisoning.
Other industries in Denton were coal mining and the production of lead-acid batteries.
For more information, see the EN Wikipedia article Denton, Greater Manchester.