Hats off to the farmers’ wives!

A co-operative of farmers wives turned milliners make custom-made hats as Get Ahead Hats in Freckleton. Pictured is Helen Garlick.
A co-operative of farmers wives turned milliners make custom-made hats as Get Ahead Hats in Freckleton. Pictured is Helen Garlick.
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AS a Freckleton farmer’s wife you could say Helen Garlick has always worn enough hats to open a milliners.

Now she’s done just that at Grange Farm.

The former high-flying international buyer for companies such as Reebok, Matalan, Isme and more, is not alone.

Other farmers’ wives from the Fylde are also putting their own definitive stamp upon business – even if they still have to trade in the high heels for wellies back home.

It’s all in the interests of diversification down at their respective farms.

Fran Tomlinson of Gracemire Farm, Salwick, now hires out vintage crockery for christenings, charity coffee mornings, tea parties, weddings, fetes, fairs, funerals and flower shows.

“Even hen parties with a difference,” High Tea founder Fran adds. She acquired her stock online, at car boots, charity sales, jumbles, WI and Mothers’ Union sales and house clearances.

“I’ve got about 117 sets now, some complete, and have made some really good finds,” Fran admits.

“It would be lovely to do a tie-in with Helen’s business. Hats, vintage crockery, there’s a link! And we’re all hoping for more business as a result of the Jubilee. There are some big celebrations planned.”

Their friend Hannah Robinson, of Catforth, is a pheasant farmer. The business was set up on her dad’s old dairy farm.

“My husband’s a keen shooter but I always fancied doing something like this,” Hannah admits. “It’s now our second year.”

Forget the Emmerdale and Ambridge or older world Blytonesque stereotypes.

Helen and friends may still help out with the mucking out, lend a hand with the lambing, and assist with the milking, but you’re just as likely to find them with a glass of chilled sauvignon and canapes to hand – than lashings of ginger beer and home-made apple pie.

What’s more, they scrub up well and dress to thrill. Every bit as classy and elegant as the WAGS of Ladies Day at Ascot. TOWIF. The Only Way is Fylde.

Take Helen’s venture, for starters. Get Ahead Hats. It’s part of a co-operative of farmers’ wives turned milliners. The hats, and fascinators, for sale, or for hire, or even bespoke to design, have already turned the head of Kate nee Middleton, now Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and other family members. No shortage of A-listers in the home counties. And now they are here. Nicely in time for Easter’s more upmarket bonnet parade.

Five exclusive designers just a call away. Hundreds of hats in all colours, shapes and sizes, eccentric, eclectic, elegant. And all to try, to hire, or buy in what used to be an outbuilding of a farmhouse off Lower Lane.

You can tell you’re heading somewhere special by the directions. From Lytham follow the A584 straight over the Freckleton roundabout “with the metal bumble bee sculpture”. Bear left at the “triangular flower bed”. Go over the cattle grid. And so on.

Helen’s home on Grange Farm has become the very model of a modern major milliners. Mark Menzies, MP for Fylde, has just dropped by, along with the Farmers Guardian, to get the lowdown on the hat hoedown.

It’s the official launch of Helen’s branch of Get Ahead Hats and yet another feather in her own cap. Helen’s husband is Tommy, a fourth generation farmer, with 300 head of beef cattle, 600 ewes, 1,000 lambs, arable land too, on some 600 acres. They now have a baby girl Lizzie – a girlie girl who adores her mother’s business.

Helen’s had a complete lifestyle change from hectic jet-setting traveller developing, sourcing and buying goods as an international buyer for 12 years.

She admits: “I worked mostly in the Far East which was a great privilege.

“I saw the best and worst of it in that, so much beauty, as well as poverty, and so many lovely people, as well as others really out to make a killing at our expense.

“I now want to promote the very best of British. I think that goes hand-in-hand with farming too.”

Her hat shop has taken over the former games room of the farm – but Tommy’s taken that in his stride, although his full-sized snooker table has been claimed as Helen’s counter.

“A small price to pay for a happy wife,” he admits.

Beryl Otley, who founded Get Ahead Hats in 1986, is a farmer’s wife from Hessay, near York, and admits: “I started it in protest really because fashion was going through a terrible phase, all punk rock and Mary Quant, and nothing matching.

“There has always been a great social side to farming and it seemed a shame that it was hard to find a hat – or somewhere that hired hats.

“Back then diversification in farming meant opening a b&b. I hated the thought. I find it hard enough to look after my own without caring for other people.know what they say... if you want to get ahead, get a hat. It worked for me.”