I owe most of this to a children’s-book-writing friend (also a scion of the firm) who alerted me to his brother Kenneth Cliff’s Mr Lock the Hatter Went to Sea, an account of the hat purchases made from the Lock's the Hatters not only by Nelson and Hardy but by all the other British captains who took part at Trafalgar - which volume has formed an unscheduled part of my Christmas reading. Lock & Co. were not only the inventors of the bowler hat (more properly called the Coke), but from their foundation in 1676 to the present day have fitted the most illustrious bonces of this nation (c.f. the companion volume: Mr Lock the Hatter: Victoria Cross Holders 1856-1919).
In one sense, of course, these details don’t matter a fig, but in another they alter one’s whole sense of what went on at Trafalgar, and indeed afterwards. Looking through the company ledger as a small boy, my friend was shown the purchases made by Lord Rosebury, Disraeli and the rest, and came to realise that they were not just Prime Ministers but men, who needed hats. And what more valuable historical lesson could there be?
By the way, Nelson did not have an eye-patch, but he did (pace the statue in Trafalgar Square) have a green eye shade built into his Lock’s hat. It was there, not to cover his blind eye but to protect his remaining one, which was also given to inflammation. Compare and contrast:
A tit-bit for the next series of QI, perhaps?