Local historian Alf Ridyard looks at the history of haircuts in Leigh in his weekly column, Tash Tales...
Back in the 40s and 50s we take a visit to the barbers - note I don’t say hairdressers as they were the other places where ladies and girls had their hair attended to.
A barbers in those days was most likely in the front room of one of the many terraced houses that occupied our town, unlike the luxury salons that now occupy our main streets.
“How would you like it sir,” would not be in the vocabulary of yesteryear’s barbers as it was a one-cut business short back and sides and singed across the back of the neck with a flaming taper.
It would then be plastered down with a parting on the left hand side with Brilliantine or at a later date Brylcreem, so stiff it was almost impossible to get a comb through it or sprayed with some scented water, all for the cost of 6d or so.
Children would in most cases have their hair cut at home, as a money-saving exercise during these austere times. Here again a one-cut style, a basin placed on their head and anything hanging below the rim would be unceremoniously lopped off with a pair of scissors. Later in the 50s we saw more barbers springing up in small shops, one chair, a mirror, scissors and if you were lucky a pair of clippers.
My memories are of a net curtain half way up across the front window to stop nosey parkers staring in and the barber wearing a white coat looking like a doctor or a dentist.
Now that we have moved into the 50s, styles had started to change, the shops had pictures of the film stars hanging round the walls portraying the different styles, the Tony Curtis cut being one of the more popular, followed by the crew cut instigated by the American GIs.
Of course these were only in the new breed of barbers shops, the older barbers still only had the one-cut options and progress was at a treacle-like pace, if any at all.
Let’s take the opportunity to mention some of the local barbers of the past, no contest who would be first up Jesse (the cropper) Graham, who was a larger than life character, who listed in his window “no long hair cut here” and “bald yeds a tanner”.
Jesse, like some other barbers, also repaired umbrellas and fitted new walking stick rubbers as a secondary source of income.
He was also locally well- known for building his own bungalow mainly from recycled materials, charging a brick for a haircut. He would also be seen riding his old grocers order bike home with umbrellas strapped to his back in a quiver-like holder, as though he was Geronimo riding his horse.
Jesse’s brother was also a barber, Frank Graham’s shop being on Queen Street.
Another barbers was Gerald’s barbers on Chapel Street. He would cut a customer’s hair with a cigarette hanging from the corner of his mouth, with the ash dropping amongst the trimmings on the floor. The smell of burning hair is still clear in many people’s memories.
If he wasn’t in the shop he could be found having a tipple in the Three Crowns pub, a worrying thought for any customer who roused him, scissors and alcohol seldom mix although no reports of bloodshed or bald patches exist.
Another barber who enjoyed a cig whilst working was Harold Pasquill on Wigan Road across from the now demolished Sportsman Pub.
Ralph’s, behind the town hall, was another barber whose owner seemed to have an obsession with Tom Burke, the Leigh-born opera singer. His pictures being plastered all over the walls.
Joe Roby’s along Twist Lane seems to be another popular character and down Plank Lane we had the well- known Joe Cowley, commonly known as Slow Joe by all who attended.
Of course, Joe’s barbers was also the local gossip shop which added to the time spent there, my father-in-law and his family jumped ship from Joe’s and frequented a Mr Turner’s who sat them on a stool in his terraced house front room in the block after Our Lady Of the Rosary Church.
To quote my father-in-law :“He gi thi a tanner trim and a neck shave as weel.” Like most of the barbers mentioned he was probably self-taught.
Jumping back to Joe Crowley, upon finishing on Saturday nights during the summer months he would catch the train to Liverpool and board the midnight sailing of the Isle of Man ferry and return during Monday evening.
Mondays, of course, was closing day for all barbers in those days, this was to compensate for having to work Saturdays, a practice still adhered to in most cases today and yet we see certain barbers opening Sundays!
One thing is it won’t cost a tanner these days or, in the luxury salons, less than a tenner.