Friday, September 7, 2012

Two Hundred Years Ago

Two hundred years ago my Great great Grandfather, Balthasar Dietz was born in the small village of Nordeck, Hessen, Germany.

This was the year of the virtual defeat of Napoleons army at Moscow, haveing captured the city, he found it burned out with none of the anticipated  supplies for his army of half a million men.  Being faced with the prospect of the advent of the Russian winter there began the great retreat of his army , commemorated in the 1812 overture.

One Hundred Years ago

A hundred years ago, my dad was aged twelve and spent his Saturday in a barber shop in Old Gravel Lane, as a Lather boy.

Most of the customers were dockers who worked a five and half day week, and went into the barber shop on their way home from work to have a shave, before the Saturday afternoon bath.
 Most of them did not shave during the week, so had a weeks stubble to be lathered up ready for the barber to shave them with the cut throat razor, normal in those days.  In order to speed up the process the lathering was usually done by a lather boy who spread the lather with a brush onto the face, and then used their fingers to massage the first lathering into the stubble to soften them up for the razor.  Dad commented that the tips of his fingers were red raw by the end of the day.

Not many men go to the barbers for a shave these days, and even those that do would not expect to be lathered up by a young boy. Those familiar with shaving in a modern barbers will understand that at George Warner's shop in Old Gravel Lane, Wapping he could not afford to supply all the little niceties that happen today.  Not for a halfpenny shave !!  That's right halfpence. (or appence)

So it didn't start with hot towels and then on to moisturiser before the lather brush.  Oh no, there was a saucepan of hot water simmering on a gas jet in the corner with a tub of liquefied soap alongside.  Dad had a variety of brushes to choose from and he never mentioned how he chose which brush to choose, perhaps there was no system, maybe the one that wasn't used on the previous customer.  So after putting the apron round the customers neck, there was a quick dip of the selected brush in the hot water, a swish around the soapy stuff and then straight onto the face for the first lather around.  Then came  the hard part.  rubbing the lather into the bristles in the hope that they would be softened up ready for the cut throat razor.  Dad was of the opinion that this to help George make his razors last longer rather than for the benefit of the customer.  Then it was on to the next customer to lather up and rub in with the fingers.  Back to the first one for a second lathering and the hope that George was ready to do the shaving, otherwise another rub in with the fingers would be needed.

As well as not shaving for a week, most of the customers  didn't
change their shirts or vests either.  Imagine the sweat resulting from  a week working at the bottom of a barge heaving coal up to the dockside.  Then there were the carmen who brought in a week of working with horses and who didn't smell any sweeter than their charges.   All hard graft in those days.  Carrying a hundredweight of coal (over 50 kilos) up staircases or from the bottom of the lighterage barge up to the dockside was no joke and it was a while after finishing work before the good humour of these men returned.  And it was no joke either for the lather boy close up and personal to all this, on the go for the whole time to earn sixpence from George and whatever tips the customer would hand over.