Saturday, 17 May 2008

Haircut 100 and a history lesson...

I'm getting quite nervous. Having only recently watched Johnny Depp in "Sweeney Todd" (The Demon Barber of London) and remembering his classic film "Edward Scissorhands" today I will allow myself to venture inside a barber's shop for the first time in eight (yes, eight) years.

I have preferred, in those eight years, to save funds by trimming my hair with some hair clippers I bought off ebay for about three pounds - number 3 setting all over my head - short, quick and more importantly free.

However, since I started losing weight through illness, just about Christmas time last year, my wife has lovingly convinced me that by trimming my own hair I really do look like a concentration camp victim. And so I've let it grow. But now I can stand it no longer, and off it must come. The treatment for my illness involves high doses of steroids - which have the added benefit of ballooning the face to moon proportions (the effect is actually called "Moonface Syndrome") - great when you looked as ill as I did at the start of the year, but with a mop of hair any self respecting hippie would want shortening - I look like a pillock!!
What concerns me more than the loss of hair - is the effect it might have on my new-found strength. Don't expect me to be be holding up any crumbling temples in the near future!
Now the history: (Copyrighted to and courtesy of Alex Barbershop.)
The barber's 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 thine head and upon thine 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 - and hence 'barbarians' as the name used during that period to describe tribes who were bearded.
When Caesar landed in Britain in 54 B.C. he found that the Britons wore no facial hair at all, except on the upper lip. Similarly, at the time of the Norman Conquest, Harold and his men also had their chins 'reaped' as the Saxons termed it; an expression no longer in use except by the harvester. At a later period full beards came into fashion.
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 themselves were safeguarded in this method of fighting. The barbers of early days were also the surgeons and dentists. Most early physicians 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. Ambroise 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 barbery of shaving." In France a decree by Louis XV in 1743 prohibited barbers 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 Honourable Society of the Surgeons 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 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.
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 England, a statue required barbers 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.

1 comment:

RuneE said...

That was a lot of interesting information. I knew part of it, but absolutely not the "French connection" and where the sign came from. Really good stuff.

PS Thank you for the comment!