What is a Custodian Hat? Types, Definition & Photos

Take a close look at the dependable custodian hat, its long history, the materials used, why they are still in use, where else they are used, and the pros and cons of using it.

This is a couple of Liverpool Police officers wearing custodian hats.
  • Male police officers wore the custodian hat throughout the United Kingdom and other places in the world.
  • This hat had a badge on with the symbol of the police force it belonged to.

The hat was worn by police officers not just as part of their uniform but also as protection which was mainly incorporated later on. This hat was altered through the years with different style badges and fittings on the top of the hat.

A custodian hat is a police helmet worn by male officers; it had the police force badge on and was worn when doing foot patrols. The helmet badges differ in design from each police force, and it has the county’s crest or arms engraved with the reigning monarch’s crown.

Table of Contents

What is a Custodian Hat?

This is a black police custodian hat with a badge in the middle.

A custodian helmet is this hat’s modern name, and police officers wore it throughout the United Kingdom, mainly in England and Wales and a few other places around the world. This hat can be worn by police officers of all ranks and was mainly worn during foot patrols around the city or town. The female version of this hat is known as the bowler hat providing the same protection.

History

The custodian helmet has been around for many years and is worn by male police officers. All officers can wear this hat, although some may have an added accessory to classify rankings; for example, some inspectors may have two silver bands around the helmet’s base to match the two pips on their uniform.

This helmet replaced the stovepipe top hat worn by the London Metropolitan Police in 1863, and their whole uniform was also upgraded at the same time. Some people thought that the design of the custodian hat was based on the pickelhaube hat worn by the Prussian Army.

Different Badge Designs

The dark Humberside police custodian hat on a car roof.

The custodian hat was accessorized with a garter style badge until 1875, and the badge has the officer’s personal number and divisional letter engraved on it. This was surrounded by the words’ Metropolitan Police’ and topped with the reigning monarch’s crown. In 1875 the badge changed; it had the Brunswick star on.

The style of these hats altered slightly throughout the years, and they also converged with the foreign and home service helmets worn by the British Army in the late-1870s. There were many different badge designs for the various police forces throughout the country, and this happened after the Metropolitan Police designed their own badge.

Some of them had no badge, and some designs contained their county’s arms or crest. Since this was happening, the Home Office decided to standardize the badge design with the Home Office Pattern, and this had the Brunswick star with the monarch’s cipher and police force name on it. The peak of the hat has a rose top, and this was a raised metal rose.

The standardization of the badges was not unsuccessful; police officers’ helmets today have many badge designs. Nowadays, the helmets plates are different in England and Wales, and they contain their county crest or arms and royal cypher of Elizabeth II in its center. Most of the badges have colored enamel now since 1985 rather than the plain metal color.

Upgrade of Helmet Materials

The materials the helmets were made of changed through the years; before the 1970s and 1980s, these hats had a sweatband to help fit the helmet on one’s head with a single chin strap. The helmets had either a cockscomb, rose top, ball top, or spike top style. The material of the cork-constructed helmet was changed as they provided little protection when officers had to help with riot control and crowd control.

This was upgraded to a hard plastic material covered in felt, and it was initially padded with foam in the helmet’s shell. This hat also had two chin straps, a thin one for normal police activities and a thicker strap for public order duties. The accessories on the hats were previously fastened with metal lugs which were then exchanged for prong-type pins as these would cause more minor injuries if the helmet were hit while being worn.

Is the Custodian Hat Still Worn Today?

The use of these helmets varies in different parts of the UK and for different police forces; some swear by them, whereas others find them unpractical. Out of the 43 Home Office forces in England and Wales, about 20 wear the comb style, 18 the rose top design, and 4 wear the ball style helmets.

Some forces wore the spike top hats, but these have phased out now. Some places have discarded the use of these hats, such as Scotland who stopped using them in the 1950s, and Northern Island, in the 1920s, except when officers do night patrols. Southend residents requested that police officers wear these helmets, but the police force rejected this.

Some police officers prefer the custodian hats; some tried baseball caps but soon returned to their helmets as they found that these caps were too unprofessional. Other police forces converted the helmets to shorter ones which were more practical to wear when doing their police duties.

There have been a variety of opinions about whether helmets are to be worn or not; most places retire the use of them and then bring them back. Most police forces still choose to wear the custodian helmet for ceremonial occasions.

Where in the Commonwealth was this Hat Used?

This is a close look at a marching band showcasing their uniforms to match their custodian hats.

This helmet was also worn by police forces in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada. Most of these police forces have discontinued using these helmets due to them being impractical and providing little protection from the sun. Although not used daily, most of these police forces use them for ceremonial events still. 

Other places in the world that wear the custodian helmet that is not part of the commonwealth include some police forces in Italy, France, Portugal, and Jordan. This helmet is also used outside public safety forces worldwide, including television shows, movies, and school and college marching bands.

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