Royal Ascot Bowler Hats: The wearing of Bowler Hats by the Ascot Stewards is one of the most endearing and defining sights of Ascot, and not just at the Royal Meeting.
Ironically, given that the tradition is now so proudly protected and maintained by the longer serving stewards, the dress instruction was introduced as an attempt to address slipping standards and met with threats of a strike when brought in during the 1950s.
There are many theories as to why Holkham’s gamekeepers first came to wear ‘Bowler’ or ‘Coke’ hats, as they were commonly known in Norfolk. The original story is that in August 1849, William Coke, a nephew of the first Earl of Leicester of the second creation, commissioned his hatter James Lock, to design a close-fitting, low crowned hat. William stressed that the hat must be extra strong; in order to protect his gamekeepers’ heads from low hanging branches, while out horse riding. The relationship with horse riding and bowler hats is continued at Ascot.
Having approved the original ‘Coke’ hat, William started the trend and today the Bowler hat, named after the Bowler brothers who designed the original, is still going strong.
There is no doubt that Holkham’s present team of keepers wear the ‘Coke’ hat with as much pride today. The privilege of wearing a traditional bowler hat is earned after one year’s service at Holkham.