Comment: The day the barbers came to Denmark Street

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Herbie, the only dog in Fenny Stratford with an ASBO, is off to the groomer’s next week.

He should have gone earlier, but apparently they were still under counselling from the last episode.

Still, when you’re having your fluffy bits tarted up by some strange lady it’s bound to provoke some sort of reaction. Anyway, in the wake of the trauma Herbie came back with yet another notch of street cred on his collar, from having been the only mutt they’ve ever had to muzzle. But on the plus side he did look a cute little bundle of fluff, which is something we both have in common whenever I merge from the local gents hairdressers. And so to hairdressers of Fenny Stratford in days gone by. In 1870 the only barber was George Gurney in the High Street, opposite the church.

He also did shaving but refused to do haircuts on Saturdays. Then around 1880 William Gayton, a native of Winslow, started in Aylesbury Street after a five-year apprenticeship. In 1887 he also took premises near the Fir Tree pub in Woburn Sands, where he would attend every Friday from 9am.

For awhile he moved to Bletchley Road but then settled in Denmark Street, where he died at number 19 aged 78 in 1941. Aged 88 his widow, Mrs Elizabeth Gayton, died six years later at 82, Duncombe Street, being survived by a brother and daughter. Possibly contemporary to Mr Gayton, a teenage lad named Matthews had commenced a barbers’ in Simpson Road. He later opened a hairdressers and tobacconists in Aylesbury Street, and although exempted from military service during the First World War he nevertheless enlisted in the Royal Engineers.

Rapidly rising to the rank of corporal he saw much action at the Front and in 
October 1917 was awarded the Military Medal for gallantry. In later years it seems he became licensee of the Bridge Inn. Another Bletchley barber to see military service was Bombardier Reg Pacey, who had a hairdresser’s shop in Bletchley Road. He married the daughter of the well known local musician Tommy Papworth and while on active service overseas would write; ‘You can guess it is a change for us in Sicily and now in Italy, after so many months in Iraq and Persia, with the sand flies and the funny people that way.’ Meanwhile, back in Bletchley, Mr Priest, the hairdresser at 42, Aylesbury Street, was rivalled a few doors away at No. 63 by Edward Crosby, hairdresser and tobacconist.

However, probably due to the call up Mr Priest was now obliged to let his ‘modern gent’s

hairdressing department’ for the duration of the war. As for the Sheffield born Mr Crosby, in 1936 he had moved from his home town with his wife Lilian to open their shop in Bletchley in Aylesbury Street, which he ran until the couple retired in 1969 to their home at 67, Station Road, Bow Brickhill. Sadly his health failed and in 1970 he died at St John’s Hospital, where he had been foreight months. Aged 60, Lilian died the same year at Renny Lodge Hospital, Newport Pagnell.

Nowadays there seems to be quite a trend for ‘unisex’ hairdressing, but somehow this doesn’t seem quite right. For especially in these days of ‘equality’ a barber’s should be a preciously guarded bastion of male independence. A preserve where once in the chair the quality ‘me’ time can be indulged to quietly contemplate manly things, or to engage in manly bonding conversations, free from topics of such irritating irrelevance as shopping, fashion, babies, or the latest plot in Coronation Street. And, of course, no mention of a gentlemen’s barbers would be complete without reference to that perennial old favourite, “Something for the weekend, sir?” Although having lead a somewhat sheltered existence, until the age of about 25 my answer would have probably been; “What a spiffing idea. Two sherbet dips and a great big bottle of fizzy pop please.”