The Magazine of Lenton Local History Society

Harrison's Abbey Street Hairdressers
32 Abbey Street, Lenton

From 'The Lenton Listener' Issue 36

October - November 1985

Harrisons - Combing Through The Past

Photograph courtesy of Edith HarrisonSee in Lightbox

The staff of Harrison's hairdressers, 32 Abbey Street, 1936.

When Gordon Harrison died in 1982, the door of his barber's shop was shut, never to reopen for business again. Now the building, along with the adjoining terrace of houses on Abbey Street, has gone. Razed to the ground it has joined all those other businesses that are no more; just fading memories in the minds of local folk. Not everything connected with Harrison's, however, has gone for ever, for some of the fittings have reappeared on the top floor of the Brewhouse Yard in the Museum's own little barber shop, opened for viewing this July. Below we relate the story of both barbershops - Lenton's and the Brewhouse Yard's.

Born in the early 1890s Elijah Harrison started work as a barber in Ilkeston, his hometown. After serving in the First World War Elijah decided to move with, his wife Lily to Lenton in 1919 and to set up shop in their new home 40, Abbey Street. These premises were not designed as a shop Elijah merely used what was the front room of the terrace house, a quite common occurrence in those days. He continued to operate from his front room until 1936 when the shop occupied by Tom Kimber the cobbler became available. Elijah and family arranged to move the few yards along the road. The shop was fitted out with all the paraphernalia needed in a modern day barber's, including three sets of chairs and basins in the main room. A side room was set-aside as a ladies'.

Photograph courtesy of Edith HarrisonSee in Lightbox

Close up of the staff - Elijah Harrison (centre right), Cecil Harrison
( left), Peggy Renshaw (centre left), Clarence Collinson (right).

The opening day of the new shop was captured forever in the photograph shown above. In the close up on this page, Elijah stands with his son Cecil (extreme left) in the company of Clarence Collinson and Peggy Renshaw who were both taken on with the move to larger premises. A second line of business is evident in the cover photo, as the Harrison's also sold news- papers. This they had done ever since they arrived in Lenton and continued to do so until just before the Second World War, when a bargain was struck with a neighbouring shop. A newsagency/hairdressers situated just down the road at 53, Abbey Street was run by William and Emily Smith. Elijah Harrison and William Smith decided it would be better for all concerned if they agreed to differ. So Harrison's confined themselves to hairdressing while the Smiths limited themselves to newspapers etc.

Cecil Harrison stayed with his father for short time before setting up on .his own in Colwick, and after the war moving to Eastwood. His death occurred in 1952 when he was only 36. His younger brother Gordon was still at school when the photograph was taken but he joined his father in the business the following year.

The ladies salon was closed down at the start of the war and when Gordon was called up into the forces in 1942 Elijah was left to run the business by himself. The war didn't stop hair growing and Elijah was kept pretty busy. Most Saturdays he would stay open until ten in the evening. After a war in France and Germany with the RAF and a stint in Palestine, Gordon Harrison returned home in 1946. Life returned to normal, though the ladies' salon never reopened and Elijah finally got Saturday evenings off when they started to shut the shop at about seven o'clock. Until the early 1950s Gordon worked alongside his father, but then Elijah began to suffer from ill health and so only helped out during the busy periods of the week, which tended to be Friday nights and all day Saturdays.

Photograph by Susan GriffithsSee in Lightbox

Harrison's leaded window now displayed on the
staircase at Brewhouse Yard.

In 1955 Elijah died at the age of 64. His widow Lily continued to live above the shop with Gordon and his wife Edith, until her own death in 1968. Business continued much as before, although now only the older customers tended to go in for a shave with the trusty cut-throat razor or ask for a singe of their beard or moustache. The majority were content to limit their visit to Harrison's to a short back and sides. In the latter half of the sixties the young took to letting their hair down and as a result the majority of the clientele at Harrison's were the very young or not so young. Business fell off and John Raynor, who had joined Gordon in the shop, handed in his clippers and left to become a plumber. He couldn't see any future in men's hairdressing. In the 1960s even the future of the shop itself looked uncertain. The Council were talking of widening Abbey Street and this would require the demolition of the Co-op shop, the block of terrace houses and Harrison's premises. It was a long time before this road-widening scheme was finally dropped and in the intervening period Gordon Harrison never felt there was anything to be gained from updating the shop.

As the seventies progressed and hair generally got shorter, Gordon was pleased to witness the queue of people waiting for haircuts getting longer. Then in 1979 Gordon suffered a slight stroke. The shop had to shut while he recuperated. But seven months later, he was able to resume normal service at the barber's. Everything seemed to be going well when in 1982 Gordon went down with gastroenteritis. He was rushed into hospital but sadly died there at the age of 59.

Photograph by Susan GriffithsSee in Lightbox

Brewhouse Yard's barber shop.

In recent years, as tenants had left the row of houses next to Harrison's, the properties had been left empty, and after Gordon's death there were only Edith Harrison and a Mr. Davis next door still living there. It seemed likely that the buildings would soon be demolished by their owners, the Nottingham Co-op. Given this, there seemed little point to Edith in trying to find someone willing to take over the hairdressing business. So the barbershop remained locked up awaiting the eventual arrival of the demolition men. A few months later, the Brewhouse Yard Museum came to hear of the shop and its likely fate. Edith Harrison was approached and she was happy to let the Museum Service remove the fittings from the shop so they could be used in a future display at Brewhouse Yard. A relative of Edith's had already taken away the mahogany counter and certain cupboards in order to commandeer the wood for other purposes, but these things apart, the Museum Service were able to obtain everything else that they wanted. The fittings were placed in the Museum's Gresham Works storage area together with fitments from several other shops to await the time when they could be set up on the top floor of Brewhouse Yard. Work on this floor was already underway with money from the East Midlands Area Museum Service and the assistance of a number of Manpower Services workers.

The Museum had the fittings from a second barber shop, that of A. Croome of St. Albans Road, Bulwell. When the Brewhouse Yard shop was complete, it was clear that only a small proportion of the fittings from the two shops could be put on display. Leaded glass motifs, various signs, certificates, shaving strop and cotton wool dispenser were all used from Harrison's, plus a number of ancient Shavalo and Erasmic shaving powder tins. These were a surprise discovery, having been inadvertently placed many years ago underneath the window display units and only found when the units were being removed. The remainder of the Harrison 'collection' is being kept at the Museum's stores to await the time when it will be possible to use them in a much larger display of a barbershop in days gone by.

Les Berry Remembers

Photograph courtesy of Edith HarrisonSee in Lightbox

Gordon Harrison seated in his barber's
chair at No.32 Abbey Street.

Elijah Harrison's first barbershop was situated in his house. He'd had his front room partitioned into two, so that there was a small area with it own counter at the front, from which newspapers, cigarettes etc. were sold, while the hairdressing saloon was behind. There was only room one chair and basin and barely space for more than three people to wait their turn. At that time, a great pride was taken in the hair. It was quite customary for men to have their hair cut every week. 'Kolene' was a very popular hairdressing in those days, bought to ensure that you kept your razor sharp parting and that your hair remained firmly stuck down. Fridays and Saturdays were always popular days for a shave. Those who had gone without all week came in to have the stubble removed for the weekend. It needed a cutthroat to get it all off painlessly; personally I never fancied taking my chance with such a deadly weapon.

Photograph courtesy of Edith HarrisonSee in Lightbox

Gordon Harrison washing his hands.

When Elijah moved down the road, he went up market. There was still a small counter at the entrance for the sale of newspapers, but the hairdressing saloon was far more spacious, with three barber's chairs and space for about eight customers to sit and read the papers while they waited. It was smartly furnished with mirrors and display cabinets. Among the toilet sundries 'Brylcreem' had taken over from Kolene. One of the outside windows was regularly filled with a display of cigarettes, mounted by the Window Display Co. on behalf of the Imperial Tobacco Company Harrison's wasn't the only barbershop in the area at this time; there was Smith's across the road and Howard Paget's on Leengate. I can recall paying 3d. for a haircut in Paget's just before the war, so likely Harrison's was a little more, being a more prestigious establishment. After Mr. Paget retired and Smith's confined itself to newspapers, Harrison's was on its own in Old Lenton.

Harrison's seemed a popular barbershop, even to the extent of attracting non-local custom. Often I'd be in there and not recognise the fellow customers. When Gordon Harrison engaged them in conversation it became obvious that they were from other parts of the country and had just broken their journey to get their hair cut. Being on a main road, Harrison's was well placed to catch such passing trade. You not only got a good haircut at Harrison's, but also a good line in conversation. Gordon Harrison may have tailored it to the interests of each customer, but with me it was always football. I understand that Jack Wheeler, the Notts County trainer, and Terry Hennessey, the Forest footballer, used to be regulars at the shop, so maybe Gordon got all the latest news of happenings in the local football world from them.

For those of you who remember Harrison's Hairdressers in Old Lenton, I thought I would let you know that Edith Harrison (wife of the late Gordon) died recently [2012]. Harrison's had been established on Abbey Street since 1919 when it was started by my grandfather, Elijah Harrison, and continued until my uncle Gordon's death in 1982.
Linda Colbourn (nee Harrison)

See also Harrison's Abbey Street Hairdressers - 32 Abbey Street, Lenton

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