Born in Holbeach, Lincolnshire in 1851, Wilson Bothamley moved to Manchester at the height of the Second Industrial Revolution. At a time when the city was black with the soot and fumes from the endless mills and furnaces that littered the skyline, Wilson Bothamley (born Henry) would leave his home in rural Lincolnshire to develop his craft as a milliner. There is very little documented evidence of Wilson Bothamley’s early working life in Manchester, but in 1897, he built and opened Wilson Bothamley & Co at 58 High Street: a wholesale millinery warehouse with a ground floor shop and 5 floors of storage accommodation above. The initials ‘WB’ and the date ‘1897’ are still visible at the front of the building, carved into the iron work.
High Street, in 1897 was a bustling area filled with hat shops, millinery wholesalers and tailors, making it an ideal location for Wilson Bothamley to open his business. His commute to work every day from his home at 3 Demesne Road, Whalley Range might have seen him join the 25,000 cyclists estimated to have taken to the roads in 1897. Otherwise, it would have been a relatively brisk 45 minute walk past the infamous Victorian mills, factories and workhouses of the time.
It is almost certain that changing fashions and the First World War will have affected Wilson Bothamley’s business, as extravagant hats made way for more conservative styles, and a number of his workforce will have departed Manchester in 1914 for the battlefields of France, Belgium and beyond. Arthur Edwards was a 26 year old salesman for Wilson Bothamley, and in November 1914 he joined the 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment to fight in France. Arthur was injured and lived to survive The Great War, but for many others, the outcome was much less positive. It is very possible that Wilson Bothamley’s business suffered these losses, as so many others did.
Wilson Bothamley passed away in 1931 at the age of 80, but his building will continue to stand proud through many generations to come. 2017 has seen it reborn as High Street Townhouse by CW, and while the hats are no longer here, we hope we can add our bit to what is already a rich and brilliant history, and continue the legacy of this wonderful building.