Farming’s vital accessory – hats

What is it about farmers and their hats? Edna Pearson fondly recalls her late husband Colin’s hats.

I was walking round my garden the other day and when I came to the vegetable patch I decided to dig a few potatoes for my dinner. I had not got a container with me, which turned my thoughts to Colin’s useful hat.

I think my late husband must have worn hats all his life. In one of his earliest photographs, when he was about two years old, he was wearing a woolly hat while being reprimanded by his grandpa for throwing gravel onto the lawn. Later on he wore sun hats on the beach and caps to go to school.

His mother told me he wore a very tiny bonnet when he was born as he weighed only 5lbs. My memories of him begin in 1946 when I first saw him in his “working  gear”, which included a beret. From then on I was involved in the life of his “hats”.

He always wore his beret tilted to the right, low over his eyebrow, and it was always greasy from leaning on the cows’ sides as he milked them. But it had many other uses. It was used as a glove to hold hot metal when welding, or to grab a live electric fencing wire or barbed wire when out in the fields, or to remove a bramble from a sheep’s fleece.

He would put it beside him while working on machinery repairs to hold nuts, bolts and washers to keep them together, and used it to kneel on as a cushion. He made sure he put it on his head while working underneath a machine in case he came up too quickly and bumped his head.

If he wanted the dogs to stay in a certain place while he went away from them, he would put his beret on the floor and they would wait by it until he came back to them.

In later years, when he retired from farming and took over the vegetable plot, he would bring me vegetables, fruit and eggs in his hat.

hat old pic 
As a boy Colin wore caps to go to school.
He brought sloes, blackberries, nuts and crab apples from the fields, or samples of grain for testing. In the summer he would wear a real panama hat, which had belonged to his Uncle Sam (still using it as an impromptu container). It was better for keeping the sun out of his eyes and off the nape of his neck, especially while driving the combine or baler. He always put his beret on for milking, though.

As you can imagine, it got very dirty and worn, and sometimes needed replacing. When our children were small it was something they could give him as a birthday or Christmas present.

Colin was never happy in a new beret, and he did look strange until it had worn to the shape of his head and gathered some grime.

In the 1970s berets became a fashion item, which made them expensive and more difficult to find in the shops. For a short while he tried a flat cap. It wasn’t right somehow, and when an animal feed company gave him a free baseball cap he wore that and gradually collected more of them. At least I could wash them – I tried washing a beret once but it shrank so much he couldn’t wear it again.

Each year, as soon as we reached our holiday destination, he and our son, David, went to buy a hat each as a rule, a sun hat – though during one short holiday in Wales we spent a whole morning buying rainwear, including sou’westers.

He was meticulous in his dressing for social gatherings and always wore a flat cap for outdoor farming functions and for shooting days.

Later on, someone gave him a woollen hat, which he wore to the end – with his “economical coat” – that’s a story for another time.

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