The History of the Barber’s Chair
The history of the Barbers Chair is a long and interesting one. They have been the site of political decisions, style changes and great discussion. Although Barber shops have been traditionally seen as the domain of men, women are starting to use their services for their own haircuts and styles.
A Barber is defined as someone who cuts hair, trims beards, and shaves men’s faces. With the advances in disposable razors and the invention of the first Electric Shaver 1929 Barbers tend to specialize on cutting hair in modern times. Barbershops tend to focus on simple haircuts, although many stylists inHair Salons are Master Barbers who in the past have been called the “Captains” of their profession.
Evidence suggests that Barbers were present in ancient times. Barbering even has a mention in the Old Testament of the Bible. In 296 B.C., Barbershops were introduced to Rome where they quickly became a centre for gossip and discussion. People came to sit in the barber chair to talk and listen to others alike. Many individuals would call in several times in the same week to get the latest news and events. The Profession of Barbering has really stood the “Test of Time”
Historically, Barbers also performed the work of surgeons and dentists trimming corns, lancing boils and removing stones and tumours. They extracted teeth, performed blood letting, and conducted surgery on wounds. The barber’s pole originated with the blood letting service, symbolising the clean and bloody cloths used in the process. Barber surgeons formed their first organisation in 1094. These itinerant professionals are mentioned in popular literature [Sancho Panza of Don Quixote was one], although few readers are familiar with the details of their trade. The “Mobile” or Travelling barber would go from village to village on a seasonal basis, they wore their brass shaving basins on their heads, a notch cut into the brim to make room for their customers ‘necks.
In 1492, Barbers formed their own Guild in England. They were helped along in their business by laws that taxed individuals who wore beards. Most men choose to have their faces shaved on a regular basis by a barber rather than pay the tax. Other rulers of the time, such as Peter the Great in Russia, liked the laws and extended them in their own countries. This helped keep the Barber chairs full.
By the late 1700s, the professions of Barbers and Surgeons had separated but not quite soon enough to stop the demon barber of Fleet Street, Sweeney Todd; he opened his Shop in 1775 at number 186 Fleet Street. On this site he is believed to have robbed and murdered over 150 customers, thereby making him the number one serial killer in British History. When he was 14 years old Sweeney Todd was sentenced to a 5 year jail term in Newgate Prison wrongly accused of stealing a pocket watch. Johnny Depp played the notorious barber in a recent musical film.
While in prison he became friends with an old Barber called Elmer Plummer, who was serving ten years for fraud. Plummer took a liking to young Sweeney and taught him how to cut hair, shave and how to pick pockets of the customers. The story for Sweeney Todd ended at the end of a rope on January 25th 1802 outside the very prison he spent 5 years in. He was 46 years old. It is said there were thousands in the crowd who had waited during the night to see his demise. This Case sent shudders through the streets of London and there were many people thanking their lucky stars that they did not call into Sweeney Todd’s Barbershop for a shave. Through Sweeny Todd’s acts it was the open razor that became known as the “cut throat” razor. As the years went by and Sweeney Todd became a bad memory the Barbershops remained places of gossip, daily news and places of great discussion. In many towns and villages up and down the country a boy’s first haircut and shave was a very important event in their life which signalled their march towards manhood.
Today, Barbershops generally offer a simpler haircut than a Beauty Salon or Spa but they are just not visited by men. A recent report shows that an increasing amount of women are choosing to go to Barbershops for short or simple haircuts because they are normally quicker and cost much less than the same cut at a high street salon. After all who better to do the “page boy” hair cut but your local Barber?
There are old and new Barber Shops popping up in small towns and cities throughout the country and are still the place to go for a good Political
Discussion and some good old local gossip. How many Barbershops have people deep in discussion talking about President of the United States BarackObama or David Cameron and how he is dealing with the economy, or grumbling about the Council Tax and the local football team.
Many important and not so important topics have been covered in barber chairs and the shops have been an important place from the Roman times to modern day. Although these shops may not be as prominent today, there is a definite resurgence and they are in no danger of disappearing from the landscape. And although modern design and technology has given us all more choice, thebarbers chair and barbershop is here to stay.