Sandown Regatta Hats Revival: Get involved making hats celebrating art and history (podcast)


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Jul 16, 2023

Sandown Regatta Hats Revival: Get involved making hats celebrating art and history (podcast)

This Sunday (6th August) sees a free drop-in workshop take place for anyone wanting to get involved with the incredible Sandown Regatta Hats Revival – returning this year to Sandown Regatta thanks to

This Sunday (6th August) sees a free drop-in workshop take place for anyone wanting to get involved with the incredible Sandown Regatta Hats Revival – returning this year to Sandown Regatta thanks to support from Arts Council England.

If you can’t make it along this Sunday, you’ll be able to pick one up or make one at the stall on Pier Street on Regatta Day – more details below about that.

In anticipation of the Regatta, which takes place on Sunday 13th August, News OnTheWight caught up with Paul Coueslant (listen below) from Sandown Carnival Association to find out how the project came about and what people can look forward to.

A summary of the topics we covered include:

Historical photosWe popped down to Boojum and Snark on Sandown High Street, just before the start of one of three hat-making workshops led this week by Isle of Wight artist Teresa Grimaldi and Central Saint Martins fashion graduate, Joel Lines.

Paul began by explaining how the idea came about to revive the Sandown Regatta hats. He said,

“I run a local history Facebook group for Sandown and I was aware of these fascinating, but very occasional, archive photos. For example, Heather Humby, who’s a well known Sandown resident, showed me a photograph of a group of Sandownians in the 1940s, wearing these stupid little hats, and it was Regatta party.”

A family traditionAll ages used to take part in Regatta Hats, as Paul expanded on,

“Families would buy their hats on the way down to the Esplanade on Regatta Day.

“There would be a series of three hat stalls, in Pier Street and you would choose your hat and wear it all day!”

The hats would be mostly made of paper, like conical party hats, or traditional paper boat-shaped hats. Some were frilly hats and others were adorned with pom poms.

Sandown’s PierrotsPaul had a theory of why the conical ones were so popular,

“I do think that the conical hat might date back to Sandown’s Pierrots. I mean, Pierrots weren’t exclusive to Sandown, but they were here every summer in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods. And I’m wondering if those hats might well date back to probably 20-30 years before when people would have seen those hats as a matter of course on the Esplanade for summer entertainment and so on.

“Pierrots are often described as clowns. They’re not they’re like clowns, but they’re entertainers, either on the stage or on the seafront or a beach dress, usually in long white uniforms or tunics with a white Pom Pom Hat. And I think they have their roots in Commedia dell’arte in Italy, in Europe.”

Inspiration for the projectIt was Paul’s speculation about the Pierrots that inspired the revival of the Regatta hats. He explained,

“I was really taken by this Post-war mood, with group photographs of people all wearing these hats, sometimes carnival day as well, in Sandown.

“I’ve not really seen it to the same extent in other Island carnivals, for example, so but the fact that people still talk about it and still remember it, shows it’s gotten into local culture. And somehow, for some reason, the practice disappeared probably 10-20 years ago. Not quite sure why.”

Support from Arts Council England Along with the help of Tracy Mikich of Boojum and Snark, Paul saw an opportunity to access funding for something Arts Council England is keen on doing – reaching different generations with projects involving the Creative Arts.

For the project, as well as working with the general public, the team worked with The Briars Care Home in Sandown and Braodlea Primary School in Lake (both pictured above and below).

Paul explained,

“We wanted to involve at least one school, at least one residential care home to see how that will work. What I’d love to do, and we haven’t done this time, is have a combined primary school and care home exercise.

“This year we did it separately, but ultimately, I’d love to bring those two age groups together. But we’ve had two extremely successful hat-making workshops.”

Another inspirationThere will be two types of hats on show for the ‘Regatta Hatter’ event. As well as seed-paper hats (more about those below) used for the school and care home workshops, there’ll also be a series of much larger hats inspired by legendary milliner, Gertrude Shilling.

During workshops taking place this week at Boojum and Snark, and led by Teresa and Joel, members of the public have helped to create a range of large flamboyant hats for the Regatta.

Paul explains the Shilling connection,

“There’s a connection going back to the 1970s that involves the legendary hat-maker Gertrude Shilling, who was known as ‘The Mascot of Ascot’, she would produce these outrageous, outlandish, ridiculous, huge hat designs that will get publicity every year. And she had the connection with Sandown so she would bring some of her outrageous hats to the town to parade them. And she crowned Sandown’s Carnival Queen in 1975.

“That just seemed to us a connection which is too good to miss. Right? So we have a two pronged hat revival. We have the seed paper hat and at the workshop here people have volunteered to join in and help create Gertrude Shilling-style ridiculous hats that we aim to parade on the sea from on Regatta day. So a bigger hat parade.”

Modern millinerExpert milliner, Keely Hunter, was commissioned to design the seed paper hats. These novel hats are created with paper that has been impregnated with seeds.

They can be decorated, then folded into conical or boat shaped hats, to wear on Regatta Day. Once finished with, the hats, which are compostable, can then be planted and go on to have another life.

Make your own hatThis Sunday (6th August) between 11am and 4pm head to Boojum and Snark on the High Street to make your Regatta Hat.

There’ll be plenty of things to help decorate the hats with, but feel free to take along your own poms poms or decorations to help mark your creative stamp on the hat.

Hats on displayIn the run up to the Regatta, starting Monday 7th August, some of the big Gertrude Shilling-style hats that have been created during the workshops will be on display in shop windows along Sandown High Street, along with information on what the project is about, as well as archive photos of Sandown people wearing hats in the 1940s.

‘Regatta Hats are Back’ stallThe ‘Regatta Hats are Back’ illustrations that you can see in the photos and on social media, were created by local artist, Katie Stone.

Look out for the hats stall on the 13th (near the Pier) where you can get yours or make your own, which will also be branded by Katie.

Listen to the podcastOur conversation with Paul lasts around 20 minutes, so sit back and listen to hear more about the project and how you can get involved.

Images: © Paul Coueslant

I am so pleased to be participating in such a lovely project that weaves in heritage, placemaking, fun and creativity in a joyful and inclusive way. We’ve all had our madcap on for this one 😊 Thank you Sandown Carnival Association 🤗

What on earth is “placemaking”? English has a very rich vocabulary – do we really need to invent such atrocities?

Hi Virabrevis – placemaking is a way to chime with the heritage, culture and uniqueness of an area, which can also act as a mechanism for economic regeneration,for example, Hullaballoo is a SciArt festival that began life in Sandown celebrating the unique natural environment and artistry that has developed around the Bay. Over the years this has generated visitors as well as inspiring the next generation. It’s a great example of placemaking led by people who have real passion and commitment to creating a better future for all. BTW I really like how the English language is a living thing, evolving and shapechanging. And with that in mind, wagwan my g, just chill and allow it

No idea what wagwan is, but sounds delightfully fictitious.Hat making is such fun.

Apparently English is shapechanging (aarrggh!) so fast that you can’t even copy ‘n paste my handle before life has moved on.Just off to wagwan my g…

Oh, dear Vita Bravis, life is short indeed. I don’t think wagwanning your G is technically legal.

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Historical photosA family traditionSandown’s PierrotsInspiration for the projectSupport from Arts Council England Another inspirationModern millinerMake your own hatHats on display‘Regatta Hats are Back’ stallListen to the podcast