Hoedhaar

Abandoned: 1980s

Demolished: 2008

Visited: 2006

Lokeren, Belgium

Lokeren has been important in the hat and felt trade for a long time. Until the late 1960’s the city was the world centre for this industry. Specific breeds of rabbit are imported for the fur being produced in Belgium. After the animals were brought into the factory, the first process was to remove the fur from the rabbit, cut open the skin and remove the ears and feet. The second process was in hands of the women working in the factories. The wind hair of the animals was cleared off the skin and used for making pillows and mattresses. Only the under-fur of the animals was used, as only this fur was suitable for the matting process involved in felt making.

19th Century

After these two steps, it went back to the men, the hatters, who did the chemical work. That turned the skins into fur, the tanning process. Felt making was a dangerous occupation because the production of hats, at least in the 19th Century, involved as many kinds of chemical as cloth. One of those chemicals is mercury. Breathing in its fumes is certainly unhealthy, but for the hatter it was just one of the hazards of the trade. Working in poorly ventilated workshops caused symptoms like trembling, loss of memory and mood swings. The brain damage caused by inhalation drove a good number of them out of their minds.

Out of the 35 factories, there is one active hat factory left in Lokeren. Changes in fashion and environmental laws ended most of the trade after the 1960s. In recent years, many of the traditional hat factories have been faced with closure as a result of cheaper imports from both the Eastern block countries as well as the Far East.

2008

After talking to some locals about the Hoedhaar factory and being sent away by some neighbors, I found my way in. The site consisted of a street with two large buildings on both sides and some smaller ones at the end. The buildings were not in good shape, but there were still some machinery there. You can still recognize the blower machines in one of the rooms. The site was demolished in 2008. The first houses were build on these grounds in 2014. I hope you like my tribute to the last witnesses of the glorious hat industry in Lokeren.

Photos of Hoedhaar Lokeren

Hoedhaar Lokeren
Hoedhaar Lokeren
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Hoedhaar Lokeren
Hoedhaar Lokeren
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Hoedhaar Lokeren
Hoedhaar Lokeren
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