Sunday 18 March 2012

Demon Barber of Grub Street

Sweeney Todd was first introduced in the Victorian pulp book 'The String of Pearls' by James Malcolm Rymer. Although a nineteenth century creation, Rymer set the story in 1785 on the junction of Fleet Street and Bell Yard, where a secret passageway linked the barbershop where Sweeney dispatched his victims and the shop where Mrs Lovet turns them into pies.

A pub now stands on that junction called 'The Old Bank of England'. It is a Fuller's pub, selling their ale and also specialising in a certain kind of pub food...

Of course Sweeney Todd was not based on any historical case (as much as the grisly minded may hope) but Fleet Street, as well as any fashionable thoroughfare would have had a number of striped poles indicating barbershops. 

We know that fashionable gentleman like Boswell paid for three shaves a week, as well as minor surgeries and wig maintenance but there was also a growing trend as the century went on for self shaving. By the 1770s a range of companies started to sell a range of scented products for shaving as well as new and more accurate razors. Indeed, the development in metallurgy that fuelled the growing industrial revolution also aided the production of fine razors. A more detailed essay on the subject can be found here.

I bring this all up because I have recently purchased a starter kit for straight razor shaving. It is a whim I have long had but indulged recently with this inexpensive and complete kit from amazon. I have only shaved myself for a second time and already my technique is improving...I have only sliced myself once. When it works, it truly is the nicest, smoothest and least irritating shave I have ever had and where it doesn't work; well, I prefer the feeling of a clean cut to a nagging itch.

So, with this little experiment in eighteenth century living started, I bid you adieu.

Yours with concern.

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