Whenever I walk the streets of London I try to make the effort to look up once in a while. Sometimes you can be too focussed on what’s in front of you. Take a moment to look above the horizon and you might be surprised at what you find.
Many interesting and bizarre ornaments and features can be seen. One particular feature that has intrigued me for years since it was pointed out to me as a child, are the Beavers of Oxford Street.
If you stand on the north side of Oxford Street outside the 100 Club and look across to your left, you will see four small statues of beavers.
It was only recently that I found out what these cast concrete Castors signified. The building they adorn, 105-109 Oxford Street, for a time was occupied by Burton’s Mensware, however it was once the home of Henry Heath the Hatters, who I should imagine used the pelts of Beavers to make their hats with.
As their advert proclaims, they were established in the reign of King George IV, 1822 to be exact. Henry Heath started his hat shop at 413 Oxford Street and shows up in the 1832 Robson’s street directory.
However his earlier presence on Oxford street can be substantiated by a trial at the Old Bailey in 1827 when two thirteen year old boys were tried and found guilty of stealing a cap from Heath’s shop.
By 1842 Heath had moved to 393 Oxford Street and is still there in 1852 The company opened a factory in nearby Hollen Street which can still be seen, although it now a series of luxury apartments. There was also a factory across Oxford Street in Newman Street.
The next occurrence I can find for the company is in 1884. These were boom times for hat manufacturers as fashion and society dictated a hat for almost every occasion. Heaths exhibited their wares widely and are listed as being at the 1884 International Health Exhibition held in South Kensington, estimated to have been visited by over four million visitors. The business was obviously doing well as the 1884 London Directory shows that apart from the Oxford Street Branch they had shops
in Dean Street, Newman Street and a shop in Allen’s Court, which as far as I could ascertain was an arcade at 115 Oxford Street.
Fast forward to the 1930’s and the heyday of hats is some 30 years distant. However, Heaths look as if they’ve moved with the times with regards to their designs, but unfortunately the company was in decline and closed just before the outbreak of World War Two.
And so with the closure of the Oxford Street store the Beavers that had looked down with pride on the emporium for over forty years were consigned to a footnote of history. A further eighty years on they still sit above busy Oxford Street, slightly forlornly. So next time you’re in the area, look up and make their day.