Archive for February, 2015

Barber Shops and The Steamroller

February 1, 2015

In 2014 the most accessed tales on the East Leeds Memories site were Eric Sanderson’s, tales Train spotting and Washday Blues. Here is another great pair from Eric for us to enjoy : The Barber Shop and The Steamroller.   THE BARBER’S SHOP   Although barbers shops were numerous in the 40’s & 50’s ,only four readily come to mind. The first was Saxon’s (later Danny Green’s , of the well known local “boxing“ family), located on the York Rd close to Victoria school. The proprietor ,Mr Saxon sported a huge blonde (almost certainly dyed) handlebar moustache, waxed to stick out several inches either side of his face. He also had a gleaming bald pate which must have been buffed with beeswax , Pledge ,Mansion Polish or something similar. In his emporium, young boys had to sit up straight, keep quiet and were not allowed to look at the papers/magazines whilst waiting , always having to give priority to adults such that you could have a long wait before you got into the chair. I even recall having to vacate the chair mid haircut to allow an adult to take his rightful place. Mr Saxon only knew one style for boys & that was “short back & sides”. Any attempt to get him to moderate his efforts was futile & you were left with what today would be called a No 1 but in those days looked as if you had a serious scalp disorder , especially when over enthusiastic application of the hair clippers had lacerated it. Things did improve when Danny Green took over & it became a more friendly place altogether The second one was Big Bill Campbell’s on Temple View near the Ascot Terrace junction. His wasn’t a conventional “shop” in that he operated his business from the upstairs of (presumably) his house. He maintained his energy & unflagging chatter by swigging copious amounts of beer throughout the day, replenished from a jug , frequently topped up by sending one of the waiting boys to the Jug & Bottle outlet of the nearby Slip Inn ( then called The New Regent but always known as the “Slip”). The best time to go to Big Bill’s was early morning because as the day wore on, his hand – eye co-ordination skills became increasingly impaired, deteriorating to the point whereby you could never guarantee the shape of the outcome. The several jugs of Hemingway’s bitter he’d consumed during the course of the day might just have had something to do with this loss of motor skills There was one huge advantage of going to Big Bill’s (apart from it‘s closeness to home & being cheaper than anyone else) & that was on completion of your haircut, he would blather you hair with what he called “concrete”. Once combed ,your hair stayed in this condition for days, defying wind & rain & not needing to be combed again for at least a week. I think in fact that many of the local barbers did a similar thing. The next establishment was Pape’s Ladies & Gents salon , located on East Park Rd near the Pontefract Lane railway bridge. The gents (downstairs) ,was run by Mr Pape whilst upstairs was a ladies section run by Mrs Pape both of whom were friends of my parents. Their son Gerald who was about our age was more an acquaintance than friend but I came across him many years later when I dropped into a barber shop in Crossgates. Not immediately recognising me, Gerald greeted me in a faux French accent “ az mushyewer ave ze appoin-ter-ment”. I replied “it’s me Gerald & why are you speaking like this?”. Instant shock & recognition appeared on his face & he hastily shuffled me in ,whispering in his original accent, “ for **** sake, keep your voice down, I’m now known as Gerrard-Henri in this area”. Reverting to his phony French accent , no doubt for his unsuspecting public, “I will skwezz mushyewer into my ver ver bizzi personal sheddle myzelf” said Gerald . Busy? , I‘m sure he‘d been reading the Reveille when I walked in. On completion of my trim he said loudly, again for the benefit of his clientele “ peraps mushyewer will make ze appoin-ter-ment for ze nex times”. I never bothered but I believe Gerald’s business later became quite successful . And then there was Fletcher’s ,which was on a short parade on Cross Green Lane near the bottom of Easy Rd. This shop was a two chair father & son business & I think they were both called Bert. Most of the young men preferred the son to do their hair because he was more au fait with the styles of the day whereas the father was your more traditional short back & sides man & unless you were very explicit in your instructions to him, your carefully nurtured locks would be shorn in double quick time, tumbling to the floor in great lumps. Sideburns (the name of which I believe was derived from a U.S.Civil War Union General – Ambrose Burnside , who sported huge mutton chops & popularised them ) were very popular amongst young men at the time but Bert the elder was no respecter of these carefully cultured adornments & would whip them off before you could blink. The father also suffered from an occasional Jack Douglas type of involuntary muscle spasm which resulted in a rapid hand/arm jerking movement. This was especially disturbing if he happened to be trimming your neck or around your ears with a cutthroat razor at the time- very scary. For this reason, you’d often prefer a short wait to be attended to by Bert the Younger whilst the father’s chair was empty, but it never seemed to bother him too much, it gave him time to study the day’s racing selections. What’s more, the wait was far safer than finding yourself shorn like a lamb & with your ears lopped off. All this for the princely sum of 2 shillings (10p in todays money). Compare this to a well known City Centre salon where currently, the “first consultation” is £100 & a subsequent trim £65.How times have changed. Finally, & although not strictly in East Leeds the only other one I can easily remember was Sweeny Todd’s at Leeds Bridge on a short balcony overlooking the river Aire .This was an establishment that, even in later years, I was nervous of entering. I had a fear, instilled & deeply rooted in me by the horror stories of the demon barber of Fleet Street. I couldn’t even face a pork pie ’til I was 25. The local barber shop was ,in addition to it’s obvious purpose, an important means of social contact & a local gossip exchange because barbers were often a fount of such knowledge, with many people obviously willing to entrust them with their confidences . Another piece of the social fabric that has all but disappeared from the landscape. Papes barber's shop004 I think this is the site of the original Pape’s barber’s shop                                  


Tragic accidents befall some unfortunate people but, whilst not diminishing the short term discomfort & pain, after a reasonable period many can be looked back upon with amusement, astonishment and downright disbelief. Some such incidents befell acquaintances of mine , as well as myself.   In the late 40’s, I experienced what it must be like to be a stunt man whilst sitting in the front seat of my father’s car, an old Jowett on which the front doors were hinged at the rear. Negotiating a sharp right hand bend , perhaps somewhat faster than was strictly necessary put the disastrous chain of events into motion. The door catch on my side was either faulty or had not been fully engaged ,with the result that the door flew open, launching me sideways through the air at , I would guess, about 25/30 mph. The roadway had recently been freshly gravelled with those ferociously sharp granite chippings which made my landing far from comfortable, not dissimilar to sleeping on a Blackpool boarding house bed of the era. My father fortunately had the alertness of mind to quickly swerve & avoid running over me and fortune favoured me further by landing neither on my head nor face as well as no other traffic being around. After rolling and skidding for some distance, I lay in the road, winded, bruised, but otherwise pretty much unharmed. My mother’s hysterical screams as my father ran back to pick me up were more upsetting than my minor injuries, which after a visit to the LGI, turned out to be limited to gravel rash on my arms and legs. A lucky escape indeed and ever since I’ve always being a little paranoid about ensuring that car doors are properly closed. I can therefore rightfully claim to be a semi successful (or failed ?) stunt man.   The Fun House at Blackpool Pleasure Beach was often a rich source of gallows humour. One device consisted of a large flywheel, around 8ft diameter, mounted on a slope of about 30 degrees, the object being to get the large disc spinning, thereby acquiring a lot of momentum and then trying to jump on and off whilst attempting to remain upright. Most of the young people seemed to manage this fairly easily but my father was anxious to prove his gymnastic capabilities, unfortunately whilst the disc was spinning rapidly, and insisted on taking a flying leap onto this diabolically innocent looking instrument of humiliation. He managed to completely misjudge his timing and the instant his feet landed onto the wildly rotating disc, he was flung into the air like a backwards facing rag doll and came crashing down into a tangled heap , much to his huge embarrassment and the gales of laughter from everybody else. Not surprisingly, he didn’t find it in the least bit amusing, being made much worse by my mother’s inability to control her laughter for hours ( even years, because we laughed at his misfortune for a long time afterwards). In fact, a bad shoulder which he developed later in life he attributed to this incident and never could bring himself to see the funny side.   Another acquaintance, now deceased and admittedly not always the most alert of people, managed to get himself run over by a steamroller. I know, this sounds incredible , given the noise, speed and size of these leviathans. I don’t to this day how he survived and when we heard the news, we expected to hear that he’d been transformed to a one inch thick by 15foot long being. In the event his injuries were confined to badly crushed legs from which he made a complete and quite swift recovery, although I believe the driver was given the revolver and bottle of whiskey. He never lived down the ignominy, nor could he explain just how he came to be wandering distractedly straight into path of an old fashioned steam roller which , for being bizarre, ranks with another story I heard of a young man being trampled by an circus elephant.   Bringing this tale to a close involves a friends attempt to light the coal fire in preparation for his parents coming home from work. Several attempts were unsuccessful , eventually running out of readily combustible material before the “chips” & coal caught fire. Searching for something which might help, he discovered a bottle of what he thought at the time was light oil and should do the trick. Pouring this onto a lighted piece of paper in the hearth, he quickly discovered it was something much more volatile, either paraffin or petrol, I don’t remember which. However the result was that the spark ran up the stream of fuel to the bottle neck and erupted into a flamethrower with a jet of flame about 6 ft long. Panicking, he swung around whilst clinging to the bottle ,directing the jet all around the living room whilst the rest of us dived for cover. Oddly enough, the first thing I remember catching fire was the wallpaper, followed swiftly by the settee and the table cover, By this time, we’d had the sense to open the front door and toss the potential bomb out into the street , managing to douse the flames inside the front room and bringing the whole disaster under control. The damage was fairly superficial but we expected an almighty rollocking which, much to our relief, never materialised. Our parents were more concerned over our safety, but it didn’t stop us having a good old laugh once the terror had subsided.   So even potentially serious incidents can, with hindsight become amusing recollections, even though it makes you shudder to think what might have been possibly fatal consequences. Still, I suppose there are worse things than death, especially if you’ve ever spent an afternoon scraping spuds at Scout Camp. That’s a nightmare for another time.   Thanks for two of the best, Eric.