History, haircuts and hidden gems – a new barber’s shop in Woodseats is offering a glimpse into Sheffield’s past as Star reporter Rachael Clegg discovers.
NUMBER 885 Chesterfield Road may look like an ordinary shopfront, but step over its threshold and you travel back to 1900s Sheffield.
After months of careful restoration, archival research and treasure hunting, Rob Hoyland, Dean Mabson and Tracy Booton have opened Seagrave’s, a men’s salon which pays homage to one of the city’s most famous barber shops.
For more than 100 years sons, fathers, husbands and brothers have been having pre-shaves, wet shaves, crew cuts, quiffs and flat tops at this very address.
“And we’re keeping it as old-fashioned as we can,” says Rob.
The small shop exudes history.
Its floor is laid with replica 1900s tiling, the chairs belonged to the shop in the 1930s, the sinks date from the 1900s and the wall is adorned with beautifully-framed clippers, trimmers and scissors, next to which certificates from the shop’s past barbers are proudly displayed.
There’s even the original immaculate stainless steel Ascot water-heater, which has its own history.
“Legend has it Joe Cocker serviced that heater before he became famous and when he was a gas fitter,” says Rob.
But the piece de resistance – and Rob’s favourite of all the historic remnants – is the worn plank of wood that children would sit on in order for them to be high enough for the barber to give them a haircut.
“I actually sat on that piece of wood when I was four or five years old,” says Rob. “It was about 1983 when Roger Seagrave was running the shop.
“So many other people have come in as well and said, ‘I sat on that piece of wood when I was a child’!”
The shop’s connection with its heritage is important to Rob.
“It’s a well-established local business so it’s great to take it on, though I never dreamed about owning a barber’s shop,” he says.
Tracy is also excited about the business.
“I did a lot of archive research on the history of this place and it actually first opened as a barber’s in 1906,” she says. “It became Seagrave’s Barbers in 1934 and remained with the family ever since, and then we took it over last year and decided to keep the Seagrave name.”
Walter Seagrave Senior set up his barber shop just five years before the outbreak of World War Two. A small press cutting on the wall tells the story of how Walter himself gave 4,000 free haircuts to servicemen across Sheffield.
The press cutting, which has no date, reads: “Since the start of the war, Mr Walter Seagrave has given over 4,000 haircuts to servicemen and ‘given’ is the operative word.
“Every serviceman who has had a haircut is told – when he puts his hand in his pocket to pay – ‘Don’t worry about that, just sign the book’.”
The book contained the names and signatures of the 4,000 servicemen to whom Walter had given the free haircuts.
Tracy says: “I wish so much we still had that book but the family don’t know where it is.”
Rob, Dean and Tracy bought the shop from Roger Seagrave, who took over from his father, Walter Seagrave Junior, who – of course, took over from his father, Walter Seagrave Senior.
The chairs in today’s Seagrave’s are exactly the same as those in the 1930s barbers.
“We took them over to Manchester to be restored,” says Tracy, pointing to a picture of the original chairs. “You can see what they were like there.”
It’s clear a great deal of care and attention has gone into setting up Seagrave’s.
Dean said: “The sinks are from the 1900s. They are worth about £500 each so we were so careful when we were carrying them.”
And while the shop’s back wall is already adorned with memorabilia, there is still more to come, as Rob explains.
“We were removing some panelling from a wall and found a box of 36 cut-throat razors – it had been buried there for decades – so we’ve taken them all to a little mester to be restored.”
The little mester, Trevor, is one of the world’s most renowned pocket knife-makers.
“He’s about 76 and still works six-and-a-half days a week, such is the demand for what he does. He’s one of very few people in the world who can do what he does.”
According to Tracy, up until men started shaving at home, they would have their own cut-throat razor, which they would leave at the barber’s, ready for when they came back for their weekly shave.
“I’ve done a lot of reading about the history of barbers and visiting the barber was a really sociable thing to do,” she said. “Men would sit around chatting and they’d bring their sons along for their first shave.”
Tracy herself is passionate about the barber trade.
“If I was a millionaire I would work for free,” she says. “I love the job. I always wanted to be a hairdresser but working as a barber is so creative.
“I enjoy having the pressure of having to create a shape with all the different textures of hair and all the different head shapes. And that shape stays there – with women’s hair they go home and blowdry it.”
But it wasn’t long ago that barbers did a lot more than cut hair and shave.
Barbers were originally called ‘barber surgeons’ and, as well as performing grooming tasks, would tend to broken limbs and other injuries.
In 1540 the Fellowship of Surgeons merged with the Company of Barbers to form the Company of Barber-Surgeons but in 1745 the surgeons separated from the Barbers’ Company to form the Company of Surgeons, which – after a Royal Charter in 1800 – became the Royal College of Surgeons.
The only symbol of this link between the barber trade and the medical world is the red and white pole outside a barber’s shop. Its colours represent the blood and the bandages of the trade’s more all-encompassing duties.
And, while Tracy isn’t about to start plastering broken legs any time soon, she is keen to retain that old-fashioned spirit of the bygone barber shop.
“I don’t want it to be a busy shop full of people, I want to keep it small and have it so the customers feel comfortable chatting to each other,” she says.
“I want it to be a little museum.”
History of the barbers of 885, Chesterfield Road
1906-1910 – Mr Markham’s barber shop
1910-1925 – Mr Yeoman’s barber shop
1925-1934 – Mr Dutton’s barber shop
1934-1952 – Mr Walter Seagrave Senior
1952-1983 – Mr Walter Seagrave Junior
1983-2012 – Mr Roger Seagrave