Barber Shop History

Whitcomb Street Barber shop

Pall Mall Barbers london is located on a historic site at 27 Whitcomb Street, near Trafalgar Square. It’s a narrow street that extends from Pall Mall to Leicester Square to Coventry Street. The street developed from an ancient highway known as Colman Hedge Lane, which ran from Tyburn Road (now Oxford Street) in the north to the Old Royal Mews, or stables, which stood near the bottom of the lane until they were burned down in 1534. It is now the site of the National Gallery.

Colman Hedge Close, a field of six acres on the west side of Colman Hedge Lane, was owned by Edward Wardour, who gave his name to the northern end of the lane, while the southern end was named after William Whitcomb, a brewer who began building on the west side of the street in the 1670s. The block numbered 27-31, which includes the Pall Mall Barber shop at number 27, dates from this time.

In the same period Leicester Square was laid out in the fields fronting Leicester House, home to the Earl of Leicester. At the corner of Whitcomb and Orange Streets, the Hand and Racquet public house commemorates the tennis court built in 1634 by Simon Osbaldeston, gentleman barber to Lord Chamberlain.

C Rose Barber Shop

The upstairs rooms at No 27 on Whitcomb Street was once home to Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), Britain’s best-known archaeologist of the 20th Century and a lively performer on television. Our research shows that barbers in London have operated from this address for more than 100 years. In 1879, the premises were occupied by saddlers; while newsagents Wonters & Charles were at No. 21.

Then in 1896, the saddlers disappeared and the business at No. 27 was described as Wonters & Charles Mens Hairdressing. In the 20th Century, the name was changed to The Pall Mall Toilet Saloon whose card described the proprietor as “Mr R. Rose”. Mr Rose then bequeathed the business to a relative, “C Rose”, who added his name to the shop front signage.

Polish barber Joe Lesniowski then acquired the business in 1958 and he retained the C. Rose name for the sake of simplicity. Richard Marshall bought the business in 2005 from Mr Lesniowski’s family and renamed it Pall Mall Barbers London. While retaining its traditional feel, the shop has been extensively refitted to make it the most modern, hygienic and comfortable barbers in London.

The Barber Shop Pole

The barbershop trade is an ancient one. Razors have been found among relics of the Bronze Age (circa 3500 B.C). Barbering is mentioned in the bible by Ezekiel who said “And Thou, son of man, take thee a sharp knife, take thee a barber’s razor, and cause it to pass upon the head and upon the beard.”

Barbering was introduced in Rome in 296 B.C. and barbers quickly became both popular and prosperous. Their shops were centres for daily news and gossip. All free men of Rome were clean-shaven, while slaves were forced to wear beards. It is from the Roman (Latin) word barba, meaning beard, that the word “barber” is derived.

About 334 B.C. Alexander the Great made his soldiers shave regularly for the purpose of gaining an advantage in hand-to-hand combat so that his warriors were able to grasp an enemy by the beard, while they were safeguarded in this method of fighting. The barber shops of early days were also the surgeons and dentists. Most early physician’s disdained surgery and the barbers did surgery of wounds, blood-letting, cupping and leeching, enemas and extracting teeth. Since the barbers were involved not only with haircutting, hairdressing and shaving but also with surgery, they were called barber-surgeons. They formed their first organization in France in 1094.

In an effort to distinguish between academic surgeons and barber-surgeons, the College de Saint Come, founded in Paris about 1210, identified the former as surgeons of the long robe and the latter as surgeons of the short robe. French barbers and surgeons were organized as a guild in 1391, and barber-surgeons were admitted to the faculty of the University of Paris in 1505. Ambrose Pare (1510-1590), the father of modern surgery and the greatest surgeon of the Renaissance, began his career as an itinerant barber-surgeon. His brother was a barber-surgeon and his sister married a barber-surgeon. In England the barbers were chartered as a guild by Edward IV in 1462 as the Company of Barbers.

The surgeons formed a guild 30 years later and the two companies were united by the statute of Henry VIII in 1540 under the name of the United Barber Surgeon’s Company. In actual practice, however, barbers who cut hair and gave shaves were forbidden to practice surgery except for bloodletting and pulling teeth and surgeons were prohibited from “the barber of shaving.” In France a decree by Louis XV in 1743 prohibited barber shops from practicing surgery from the barbers by acts passed during the reign of George II. The surgeons with the title of “Masters, Governors and Commonalty of the Honorable Society of the Barbers of London.” This body was subsequently dissolved and later replaced by the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800 during the reign of George III.

The origin of the barber’s pole appears to be associated with his service of bloodletting. The original Barber pole has a brass basin at its top representing the vessel in which leeches were kept and also represented the basin which received the blood. The pole itself represented the staff which the patient held onto during the operation. The red and white stripes represented the bandages used during the procedure, red for the bandages stained with blood during the operation and white for the clean bandages. The bandages would be hung out to dry after washing on the pole and would blow and twist together forming the spiral pattern similar to the modern day barber pole outside barbershop

The bloodstained bandages became recognized as the emblem of the barber-surgeon’s profession. Later in time, the emblem was replaced by a wooden pole of white and red stripes. These colours are recognized as the true colours of the barber emblem. Red, white and blue are widely used in America due partly to the fact that the national flag has these colours. Another interpretation of these barber pole colours is that red represents arterial blood, blue is symbolic of venous blood and white depicts the bandage. After formation of the United Barber Surgeons Company in London, a statue required barber shop to use a blue and white pole and surgeons to use a red pole. In France the surgeons of the long robe placed a red pole with a basin attached to identify their offices.

Our Barber shops in London are a short walk from Liverpool Street, Aldgate, Aldgate East, Moorgate, St James Park, Victoria, Westmister, Piccadilly, Charing Cross, Leicester Square, Covent Garden, Warren Street, Great Portland Street and Euston Tube & Train Stations.

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