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The History of Barbering

Here at The British Master Barbers, we know that barbering has some of the greatest history of any trade. The BMB Museum gives you an insight into how it all started from the early tribes cutting hair with spiritual believes, to the progression of todays barbering tools.

“To successfully move into the future you must know your past”


Early Tribes

Earliest records go back to primitive man where the foremost men of their tribe were medicine men and priests, who were also the ‘barbers’. The early tribes were very superstitious and believed that both good and bad spirits entered the body through the hairs on the head and the bad spirits could only be driven out by cutting the hair. Different tribes developed different styles of haircut.


In tribal times the barbers became the chief figures in religious ceremonies, where elaborate rituals included dances where the long hair hung loose and afterwards the hair was cut, then held back tightly in order that the good spirits couldn’t get out and no evil spirits could get back in. Early razor blades have been found dating back to the Bronze Ages!


Romans and Persians

Romans had barbers since 296 BC, when Ticinius Mensa came from Sicily bringing the art of shaving with him. Here they set the trend of ‘barbers’ being the place to meet, socialise and gossip much as they are today. The absence of beards actually set apart ‘Free’ men from the slaves.


The Persians are said to have beaten Alexander the Great’s men because they had beards! The Persians could grab the Macedonians' beards, pulling them to the ground and spearing them. Later Alexander ordered all his army to shave!

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Barbering service’s of old Britain

Besides the cutting of hair, Historically, British Master barbers did more than just cut hair they were also dentists and surgeons, versatile performers of tooth extraction, enemas, bloodletting and wound surgery. This included Cyst removal, Draining of boils, leeching, Bloodletting and the extraction of teeth.

Bloodletting was the cutting of veins to make blood flow until the patient passed out. This was thought to remove all bad blood and let new good blood form.

The Blood collected in London England was commonly disposed of in the River Thames.

British Barbers traditionally advertised their medical workings by leaving a bowl of blood in the front window or by hanging blood-soaked bandages on a pole outside.


The Worshipful Company of Barbers

In 1308 the Worshipful Company of Barbers was created to regulate the trade of barbering in the UK. In 1540 Henry VIII merged the barbers guild and surgeons guild to form the Guild of barber surgeons.

British Master Barbers were given free rein in practising bloodletting until 

people started complaining that they were getting sicker instead of better. 


The union of the Barbers and Surgeons was never easy to manage and the relationship continued uneasily for 200 years.  In 1745, at the request of the surgeons, a Bill was finally passed and the Surgeons left the Company forming what eventually became the Royal College of Surgeons of England.


Between 1745 and 1919 very few surgeons were admitted to the Barbers Company. 

in 1919 the bonds between the Company and the Royal College of Surgeons were re-established and surgeons, including surgeons to the Royal Family and the Royal Household, have been admitted to the Barbers Company in memory of the past union.


Today The Barbers’ Company is ranked 17th in precedence among the 110 livery companies of the City of London. It is one of its oldest, having celebrated its 700th Anniversary in 2008. They continue with charitable activities that underpin the ethos of the Company.



Many Barbershops have a twirling pole outside on the wall, Although they look nice they have a gruesome bloody past.

The history of the barber pole is intertwined with the history of barbers and their bloodletting practices.

There are thoughts that the barber's pole possibly originated from the pole that the patient gripped to make their veins bulge before bloodletting commenced. 

More likely the pole's red and white stripes represent the bandages covered in blood, once washed they were hung out to dry on a pole outside the shop. The bandages in the wind, twisted around the pole, forming the familiar spiral pattern we see on the barber poles of today. 


The Blue on modern barbers pole's has no connection to these old services.

It is believed that red white & blue poles were first used in America, the added blue stripe was to symbolise the USA flag.



Barbers need a specially designed chair to allow the comfort and position adjustment of their clients during haircutting and shaving. These chairs were also designed to improve the barber's posture during prolonged periods of work.

Most barber chairs commonly have hydraulic pumps for raising and lowering they usually also have adjustable headrests and recline back enough for shaving.


Before the invention of electric clippers, hand clippers were used. The handles would be squeezed together and released in a constant flowing motion. Pressed against the head they would give a very tight precise cut of even the thickest of hair. Regular use required extraordinary hand strength.



Although cut throats were once the principal method of manual shaving, they have been largely overshadowed by the safety razor, which incorporates a disposable blade. Electric razors and shavers of various types have also been an available alternative, especially since the 1950s.

Despite this, Cut throat razors still hold a market share, and forums and outlets provide products, directions, and advice to Cut throat razor users. Cut throat razor manufacturers still exist in Europe and North America. Antique straight razors are also actively traded.

Cut throat razors require considerable skill to hone and strop, and require more care during shaving.These methods were once a major portion of the curriculum in barber colleges.



Belmont barber chairs first appeared in the 1930’s in Japan. At that time, the manufacturer was called Takara Chuzo Ltd. which was founded by Hidenobu Yoshikawa. The 1950’s marked Takara’s entry into the world market by establishing a subsidiary in the United States. It brought about the creation of Takara Company NY Inc., then it eventually became Takara Belmont USA, Inc. In the same decade, the company released it’s first hydraulic barber chair.

In the 1960’s, Takara rapidly expanded into Europe by teaming up with Wella.

The Takara Belmont Company has continued to be leading the barber chair market ever since.



On October 14 1919, Leo J. Wahl applied for patents on his newly developed electromagnetic hair clipper, and manufacturing began at the Wahl Manufacturing Company. It was the first practical clipper with the drive motor in the hand, rather than connected to a separate motor through a flexible shaft. By the end of 1920, his factory had manufactured and sold thousands of clippers to barbers all over the United States. In these early years, Mr. Wahl concentrated on working directly with barbers to improve the efficiency and convenience of his hair clipper..



Andis Company traces its roots back to when Matthew Andis was working at Mitchell Motor Car Company in Racine, Wisconsin, USA as a tool maker, he decided to leave and start his own business. John Oster and Henry Meltzer came to his home and asked to be partners in the new venture. As a result, Andis O M Manufacturing was born around 1920-21. Soon their tool and die company had been contracted to make tooling to produce clipper blades for a hand operated non-motorised hair clipper. This partnership only lasted about a year.

When the three split, each started his own company in Racine. Andis quickly developed the Andis electric clipper and began Andis Clipper Company, which evolved into the Andis Company of today. It was officially incorporated in the year 1922.





Hair Singeing was a hair treatment that involves running a candle or a dripless taper flame along twisted strands of hair to singe off stray and unhealthy ends. It was also claimed that the burning of the ends seals off the hair, what at the time was thought to be hollow, preventing disease entering the body. Just as cauterising a wound stops bleeding. Flames are still commonly used today throughout the world in the process of ear hair removal.

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