Geo F Trumpers barbershop

A cut above

Above all is the quietude, broken only by the snipping chatter of several scissors


This article is taken from the February 2024 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issues for just £10.

A lifetime ago, on every fourth Friday at 4pm, I would make my way to the Waldorf Hotel on Aldwych. Upon entering, sidestepping the elegance of its Palm Court where once Edwardian society was scandalised by the first British performance of a tango, and where later Al Bowlly crooned his sweethearts goodnight, I would descend a narrow staircase to the Waldorf’s barbershop where Keith would be waiting.

Keith was a wonderful anachronism, a survivor from an era when the likes of Noël Coward, Binkie Beaumont and Richard Todd would have their hair cut and oiled in respectful silence by small, neat men wearing ties and short white coats. Keith was such a man, although by the time he had care of my hair he had found his voice and was happy to regale me with lovely little vignettes of his career.

He had begun cutting at Trumper’s under its legendary and lordly proprietor Ivan Bersch. Bersch presided over a premises in which no loud talking was permitted, no women were admitted and where no two barbers might share the same name. Hence Keith, who had started his life as Colin, was rechristened on his first day behind a chair, and it was as Keith he remained until his last.

Keith liked tradition. He eschewed clippers so all his “gentlemen” were cut with “scissors over comb”. He always used surnames with the polite prefix “Mr”, always provided pomade and always stropped his cutthroat before applying it to the back of one’s neck.

That was all a long time ago. Keith retired at the turn of the millennium, and thereafter I turned to a succession of Mayfair barbershops to manage what was once a rather unruly mane.

Truefitt and Hill gentlemen’s hairdresser and perfume shop in St James’s Street. (Photo by: Loop Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

First was Trumper’s itself in Curzon Street, the original and largest of its shops, and later Truefitt & Hill on St James’s Street where “Alan” did what he could for my hairline. There is something very special about a barber’s, something quintessentially English. Everyone has them of course; after all the need for a short back and sides is not confined to this side of the Channel.

But the gleaming chrome and steel of the instruments of the profession, the fresh aromas of lime and sandalwood mixing with metal polish, and the musty male smells redolent of leather shaving chairs and heavy wool suits and overcoats hanging near the door all have about them something peculiar to our own damp little island.

Above all is the quietude, broken only by whispered conversations and the snipping chatter of several scissors. These elements play lightly upon the senses to induce a perception of peaceful wellbeing. Whenever I sit in the barber’s chair, I am suffused with the feeling that all is well with the world. The oppressive weight of worry and responsibility are, for a brief time, lifted. Instead, I feel relaxed, even sleepy, as comb gives way to trimmers which give way to thinners in their turn before the feathering razor is raised for that final flourish.

Naturally, the best barbers provide the best service. These days many men want their hair washed before it is cut and most expect some sort of expensive, oleaginous application afterward. At both Trumper’s and Truefitt, patrons are given the old-fashioned treatment, primped and powdered by a polished professional with an understated assurance.

You will find none of those flashy cuts and flaming cotton wool beloved of the new-style hipster barbers whose mushrooming presence on our high streets seems more to do with cleaning dirty money than with smartening the appearance of their clientele.

Instead, the gentlemen’s barbershop provides a safe haven from the bustle and commotion of the daily grind.

A place wherein a man may sit quietly for a little and rest, or play lazily with his dreams before setting forth to rejoin reality and reclaim the responsibilities, and the woes, of his world.

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