The Halifax man who invented Tommy's tin hat

PICTURE the First World War British soldier, or Tommy, in his uniform and one item in particular springs to mind – the iconic tin hat.

The headgear designed to give protection in battle is now a recognised symbol but its origins have been long forgotten – until now.

New research has revealed that the tin hat was actually the invention of a Halifax man whose clever design was to become regulation wear for the British Army.

"It amazes me that the story behind the tin hat has been virtually forgotten and people do not realise its origins began right here in Halifax," says Calderdale historian David Glover who has carried out the research.

David reveals that the hat was created by Alfred Bates, a local manufacturer who submitted the design for the British Steel Helmet (nicknamed the tin hat or steel jug) to the Trench Warfare Department.

It was adopted by them for the British Army and first used by soldiers on August 12, 1915.

David adds that he came across the story "by accident."

"I was reading in an old newspaper about the drowning of a Halifax resident in Bournemouth in 1929 and reading an additional obituary, the significance soon became apparent," he says.

The story concerned Alfred Bates, whose body was found floating face down in the water by a man fishing at the end of Bournemouth pier early on October 22, 1929.

A bathing towel marked with the name of a hotel led to his identification.

"The inquest established that Alfred was a 56-year-old manufacturer from Halifax who was a regular visitor to Bournemouth with his wife, Ellen, and family. On this occasion he had arrived at the hotel on his own the night before the tragedy," explains David.

Alfred was known to be a regular early-morning swimmer and the conclusion was that his death was a tragic accident.

His body was brought back to Halifax for burial at Warley cemetery and a huge attendance of mourners attended the funeral, including the Mayor of Halifax.

David's research has revealed Alfred was a successful businessman "in excellent financial circumstances".

He was born in Birmingham in 1873, and was the younger son of a goldsmith. By the age of 18, Alfred was a metal spinner – a process where cylindrical or domed components could be made from flat sheets.

He soon established a manufacturing company called Willis and Bates, relocating the firm to Halifax, in 1897 to serve the northern textile districts.

By 1900 he had built the Pellon works at Reservoir Road and Spring Lane. Soon the company diversified and moved into metal forming.

The firm began to manufacture parts for lamps and lanterns and eventually began to make lanterns of their own. At the time of Alfred's death in 1929, the official description of Willis and Bates was watch stampers. In 1977 Willis and Bates were bought by Bairstow Brothers.

When Alfred first came to Halifax with his wife, they lived for a time at Mayfield Grove, King Cross Road.

He was elected to Halifax Borough Council in 1923 as a Conservative member for Kingston ward. In later years the family lived at The Ridge, Trimmingham Road and Alfred was also a member of West End Golf Club, of which he was president from 1921-22.

He also chaired the Arts and Crafts Society (later renamed Halifax Art Society) and was a prominent Freemason (Probity Lodge). He was one of the founders of the Halifax Lodge.

His daughter Kathleen Mary died aged 21 in 1931 and his widow, Ellen died in 1941. The couple's only son, Stanton Willis Bates was born in Halifax in 1902 and married Carmen Olga Hirst in 1927. Stanton died in 1993, aged 91 and Carmen died in 2002, aged 99.

"As we celebrate 90 years since the Armistice which ended the cataclysmic First World War it seems only fitting that Halifax remembers the man behind this important invention," says David.

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