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Lives Remembered - John the Barber

Going to John's for a haircut was a unique experience. There's no other barber like him - anywhere. On the rare occasions when I'd turn up for my trim and no-one was waiting, he'd be working on his latest canvas while listening to a Radio Four drama or classical music.

Conversation often started slowly but gradually we'd both get into full flow – so much so that my hair would end up shorter than I had intended. Often we would chat about London in the mid 60s. We'd both hung out at some of the same clubs. But John actually knew many of the personalities before they were famous, eg Rod 'the Mod' Stewart.

I loved his story about there being a knock at the door when he was still living at his mum's house in Hackney. His mum shouted up the stairs in her cockney accent, "John! There's someone here for you! He says he is a poet." It was Allen Ginsburg!

Other times we'd exchange chat about the latest exhibitions we visited. Or he'd explain to me the significance of the painting he was currently working on.

Occasionally, it was suggested to me that I go to a proper hairdressers. But to me John was the best. Sassoon trained and far too reasonably priced. With what other barber could you chat about John Lee Hooker, Rembrant, the latest exhibition at Manchester City Art Gallery and old Hebden Bridge hippies? I'm not sure I'll ever have my hair cut again.

Hebden Bridge has lost one of its great characters.

From Chris Ratcliffe

Monday, 10 August 2020

Photo from 500 Faces of Hebden Bridge

From Barbara Jones

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

I had my hair cut by John for years. In the early days it was hard to get a dykey cut – men’s barbers were a bit wary, and women’s hairdressers always made it too girly – and charged an absolute fortune! John never had any issues about sexuality, appropriate styles, nor did he get hung up on stereotypes.

We always had wide ranging discussions about the past, or current affairs – we shared a history of living in Hackney and both remembered Broadway Market when it was surrounded by squats and a very friendly place to be, rather than the extremely exclusive/expensive place it has now become. Like Chris, I often ended up with shorter hair than anticipated, but it never stopped me going back for more. It was an experience, a dialogue, a time to look forward to, spending time with John, having my hair cut and appreciating his rich life and reflections. I’ll miss him. Barbara Jones

From Jan Bridget

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

John,  I loved coming to have my hair cut because there was so much we could talk about and you accepted me (and my partner) for who we were (lesbians).  We would talk about music, guitars, banjo playing; painting; Hebden Bridge.  Many a time I directed a media person to you to find out about the early days when lesbians first came to Hebden.  I, like I am sure, many others, will miss you terribly.  No more sharing our holiday mishaps with you.  Love Jan x

From Robert Garrett

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

I had my haircut by John from the days when he had a salon on Market Street right through to the Bridge Mill years where I thought he seemed happiest, in his own domain.

He always seemed to have a way in to people to exchange dialogue, at least he always offered that. It was up to you whether you wanted to talk or not. Quite emapathic in his own way.

He knew most members of the acting community in Hebden of whom I'm one and if I needed my hair cut in a certain way for a particular role he would get quite excited especially when I had the forethought to bring a photo with me and would question me about the details of the part, where it was and everything about it. I remember once I had to play DW Griffith the silent film director and John after studying the photo and giving me the appropriate cut delivered a mini lecture on early cinema!

Last time I saw him, he told me his diagnosis and then spontaneously shook my hand and thanked me for being his customer and almost apologised for giving up. Sorely missed!

From Bev Manders

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

John was one of the first people I met when I moved to Hebden in 1986 and was the only person I trusted to cut my hair the entire 30 years I lived there! So much so that despite moving to Stroud in 2016, I still sometimes went to him on my regular trips back. 

But it isn't only as a barber and his wonderful studio and amazing artistic talent that I have great memories of. I'll never forget the quizzes at the Nutclough back in the early 90's, a crowd of us crammed around small tables trying to stretch our brains far enough to answer the extremely difficult questions he always set. Nor will I forget the fascinating conversations covering all sorts of subjects including memories of Hackney, that I had with him over the years of friendship which started in the days I worked at the Nutclough. 

The last time I saw him was when I visited at the end of 2019 and he was as chatty as ever, still asking after how my son Jake was getting on and wanting to know about my life down here. John was one of the most genuine, open, accepting, empathic, caring, intelligent people that I have ever met and I shall sorely miss seeing him when I come up to Hebden visiting. He will be missed by all who knew and loved him. Thank you John for being a part of what made Hebden Bridge a fantastic place to live in.

From Julian Harber

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

I can’t remember who recommended John the Barber to me but after my first visit – sometime after moving to the local area in 1991- I went nowhere else

I should have kept a diary of  some of his stories -  at school in Hackney being in the same class as Alan Sugar (who purloined a brazier from a local building site and used it to sell roast chestnuts);  a Young Communist League visit to East Germany;  being aghast  on discovering a bench in a local pub on which various well-known poets and writers had left verse and signatures had been destroyed by its new owners (it would probably have fetched a small fortune had it been auctioned).

But my best story about John is second-hand and perhaps apocryphal. Sometime after Hebden Bridge became famous as “The Lesbian Capital of Britain” some media type heard that John the Barbers was the preferred hairdresser for many local gay women.  “What do they talk about when you cut their hair?” asked the intrepid reporter. “Can’t say” came the answer “Hippocratic oath”.

From Claire M

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Since moving to Hebden in 2007, my husband and son only got their hair cut by John - he had the knack of making everyone who went in feel comfortable.

Conversations with John were fascinating, whether it be about art, London, music, sport, current affairs. His studio/salon was an oasis full of curios, plants, fine art and fashion magazines dating back to the '80s - John said no point in getting rid as it all came around again anyway!

I adored the Roman busts on display and I remember him taking one of his books down off a shelf to show me the full sized Hermes with the baby Dionysius on his shoulder - I always felt like I knew more after coming away from John's.

He was a unique, lovely man, a real character with a wonderfully wry sense of humour and he will be greatly missed by everyone.

From Judith and Alan

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

We have such fond memories of John and he will be sadly missed.  So talented, modest and a true gentleman.  Our deepest sympathies go to his family.

From Andrew Beck

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

It was always a real pleasure to visit John for a haircut and to hear some great stories from a life very well lived.

A genuinely lovely person and one of the greatest raconteurs I have had the pleasure of knowing.

From Anthony Costello

Monday, 24 August 2020

Gutted to hear John has died. He cut my hair for many years and our talks on art and literature was more important than the haircut, which was always good. John lent me a volume of Van Gogh's letters which got me started on my pamphlet I Freeze Turn to Stone, which he was delighted to see published. Very sad news. 

From Helen Burgess

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

We have fond memories of John from the 1980s to 1990s when we lived in Hebden Bridge. A true gent and a cultured and funny man. We still remember him now after all this time. Rest in Peace... and much sympathy to his family and friends From Helen and Derek Burgess.

From Shaz Kirkby

Thursday, 24 September 2020

I echo everyone else's comments and am gutted I won't see John again, either in the shop or running down Keighley Road with his man bag. He was an institution and a hero. He treated people like we mattered and we learnt from him. Everyone recognised a John hairdo. We were a tribe. John the Barber is a legend.

From Jim Brierley

Sunday, 2 May 2021

I was in a Nutclough quiz team with John in 1985, we were beaten by one point in that year's final! Amazingly interesting man, whose range of interests exceeded even Nutclough quiz standards! We always stopped for a natter when we bumped into each other, and he later moved into my old cyber cafe in Bridge Mill, where he remained for the next twenty or so years. Lovely man, we miss him, he was truly a "face"...

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Lives Remembered

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