Walter Greenwood and his Father’s Trade (Hairdresser)

I am very grateful to Toni Ramelli, who drew my attention to something I had not noticed: an unexpected and enduring interest on Greenwood’s part in hairdressing and to a previously unknown connection with an exact contemporary who played a national role in the hairdressing profession. Toni contacted me through this website to say that she had inherited a copy of Greenwood’s 1938 novel, The Secret Kingdom (in the Hutchinson 1949 cheap edition reprint) with an inscription on the title page by Greenwood: 

Taylor Briggs Inscription

With every good wish to Taylor Briggs from Walter Greenwood hoping it will bring back memories of your early days in the north. 

Toni also kindly found Taylor Briggs on the Ancestry website, which said he had been born in Oldham in 1904 and later moved to London (Camden), where he lived until his death at the age of eighty in 1984. His occupation was recorded as hairdresser, and Toni suggested that since Greenwood’s father was also a hairdresser that might be what linked Briggs and the writer. I then found quite a few nineteen-forties references to a Taylor Briggs on the British Library National Newspaper Archives. Since Taylor Briggs is a reasonably unusual name, it seems likely that this is the same man, especially because he too was a hairdresser and that does indeed seem to be the most likely connection between the copy of The Secret Kingdom and its inscription to Taylor Briggs. Indeed, Taylor Briggs was not just any hairdresser, but the General Secretary of the National Federation of hairdressers, a professional association, during the later nineteen-forties and on into the late nineteen-sixties. (1) 

Greenwood’s father, Tom Greenwood, had been a hairdresser (as had his father before him).

This is 56 Ellor Street, Hanky Park, Salford, where Walter Greenwood was born and where Tom Greenwood had his hairdressing saloon. The photograph shows Tom, and Walter as a child (image scanned from Mermaid Theatre’s Hanky Park Programme, April 1971).

One of the main characters, Bert Treville, in the first two-thirds of The Secret Kingdom is also a hairdresser, and clearly draws on Walter’s father. The original Jonathan Cape dust-wrapper on the 1938 first edition of The Secret Kingdom was very plain, with no pictorial element, but the Hutchinson edition of 1949 was much more attractive and shows Bert Treville outside his hairdresser’s shop. 


The proximity of his shop to the Palatine Arms is important in the story since while Bert, a newcomer to the area, is keen to make his newly established business pay, he is also aware that drinking is a temptation for him, not just at the close of the working day, but during it. The population of the Palatine Street area of Salford are very curious when Bert’s new sign is painted on his premises: 


Shaving, Haircutting, Razors Ground and Set 

Umbrellas Repaired 


Bert himself does not know what ‘celerity’ means (it was the sign-writer’s idea), but thinks it sounds like a good thing in a hairdresser. The central story of the novel is of Bert’s wooing of Paula Byron, one of the three daughters of a craftsman in a family who believe in careful planning, union membership and in socialism as the only ways forward. Paula draws on Greenwood’s mother to whom the novel is dedicated: ‘To ELIZABETH M. GREENWOOD with gratitude and devotion’. Paula does marry Bert and has a son and a daughter with him, however their approaches to life are not always compatible. Thereafter the main story is about Paula’s wish for a better future for her children, for her sisters and neighbours, and the absolute need for the family to prosper and to uphold their beliefs. In counter-point to this is Bert’s continual struggle with the Palatine Arms, which at times seriously affects the whole family’s well-being, economy, and happiness. In the end, Bert’s health is undermined and he dies young, as did Walter’s father. The remainder of the narrative centres on Paula’s lone efforts to give her children better chances and the eventual success of her son Lance as a concert pianist who is given a contract by the BBC (the daughter Patricia noticeably gets less attention in the novel). This ending echoes Greenwood’s own success in escaping from Hanky Park after getting his novel, Love on the Dole, published in 1933. 

Greenwood revisited this family dynamic from a greater distance, and perhaps with more tolerance of his father’s own kind of sociability and joviality (even if they were based in an addiction) in his memoir There Was a Time (Cape, 1967). The memoir starts at his father’s shop and arrives at a pub within the first forty-four words: 

“On the 18th day of May in the year 1900 a handsome thirty-two year-old bachelor removed the barber’s pole from its angle-iron above his shop, fixed a large Union Jack to it, then, with flag waving, marched off to visit each of the eighth public houses in the street and got gloriously drunk. On December the seventeenth 1903 he, now married, made the flag-waving tour once again. The first occasion was to mark the Relief of Mafeking, the second to proclaim the arrival of his first-born – me (p.13)

The company of his fellow men was imperative to his ebullient nature and this need urged him, all too frequently, into any one of the pubs which then were open from five-thirty of a morning until eleven at night (p.14) 

He tried, without success, to convince my mother that his visits to the pub were ‘for the sake of business’. She reminded him that only the publican and the brewery seemed to be the beneficiaries” (p. 15). 

None of this tells us how Greenwood met Taylor Briggs nor how well or how long they knew each other. However, Greenwood does elsewhere give an account of a conversation with his own regular hairdresser in London in the late nineteen-thirties, and that is another piece of evidence for his interest in his father’s occupation. The piece, called ‘The West End Hairdresser’ is in Greenwood’s 1939 documentary work for the Labour Book Service, How the Other Man Lives, which is made up of thirty-seven short chapters each focussing on an occupation, and partly based on interviews with specific individuals. The chapter starts with Greenwood remembering his father (who had died in 1912): 

“This was my father’s trade, but, when anybody referred to him as a ‘barber’ he was indignant. He made it very plain to them that he was a ‘hairdresser’, pointing out that he had served seven years’ apprenticeship to his trade, as any cabinet-maker or engineer to theirs. He could make good his proud boast that he was able to dress any lady’s hair in any period style demanded. I never knew any lady asking him to do this, since his clientele consisted of miners, artisans, and others who patronised his shop for two reasons: first, because he was a first-class man at his job; and secondly, because he could tell a risqué story better than any other man in the district. His tariff would have made the manager of the place I sometimes patronise in the West End smile” (p.85). 

The chapter continues with a report of the conversation Greenwood had with his current hairdresser at a clearly expensive London men’s hairdressing establishment (the play in particular of Love on the Dole had bought Greenwood a good deal of money in 1935 and after – see The man reports a very different working-life from that of Tom Greenwood – he has been a hairdresser on transatlantic liners and now works at this fashionable establishment which among others caters for ‘film and stage stars, people in the news’. He reports that he is earning between four pounds and seven pounds a week, counting tips, so up to four hundred pounds a year (a pretty decent salary in 1939). I suppose this hairdresser could have been Taylor Briggs, but I am not sure that he sounds likely from the account of his own contentment to have left his very good job in the elite end of hairdressing to become a national official of the Federation of Hairdressers, important as that undoubtedly was. 


Note 1. Taylor Briggs was Secretary of the North West Area of the National Federation of Hairdressers in May 1945 and by April 1946 was the Federation’s General Secretary. He was frequently referred to in press stories about issues bearing on hairdressing, including discussion of prices, the training and registration of hairdressers, and whether home perms caused damage to hair (see, for example, Rochdale Observer, 12/5/1945, Nottingham Evening Post, 19/7/1947, p.3, and Dundee Courier20/4/1949, p. 3). The Kent & Sussex Courier records him as still being General Secretary in its edition of 24/1/1969. I have found no further mention of him after that date, but he would have been sixty-five by then, so might have started a well-earned retirement soon after. The National Federation of Hairdressers still exists (though it has amended its name) and there is a brief history on its website: 

Note 2. Hutchinson, 1949 edition, p.17. All further page numbers are to this edition and will be given in brackets after quotations.