I am not a big fan of getting my hair cut and since my son left school I’ve been scratching around for somewhere to go since I no longer have the occasion to go to J. Moriyama‘s neck of the woods on a regular basis.
Briggs, in a little alley between Jermyn Street and St. James’s Square, is a place I have been going past on a regular basis for several years now as it’s on my favourite route to the library from Piccadilly Circus. It’s a little booth of a place tucked away and I’d often see its barber chopping hair or watching the world go by if he was between customers.
With friends I would speculate as to whether it really was a barbers given its unpromising, indeed improbable, location or whether it was rather some kind of front. A front for a shadowy department of M15 perhaps where those in the service would tap their nose before being ushered through to a shabby beige Le Carré interior that had somehow survived spending reviews, smoking bans and digitisation.
Well, this week I decided to take the plunge and find out for myself. The truth turned out to be no less romantic and a whole lot more interesting. Briggs in fact is run by Fylaktis Philippou, a Cypriot of advanced years (92 of them) who came to London in 1949 as one of the first 3,000 or so Cypriots whose community has now expanded to over 300,000. Mr Philippou (or Phil to his regulars I’m informed, I don’t think I yet qualify) hasn’t done a bad job of helping out on that score as he told me that he has four great-grandchildren (as well as the intervening descendants of course), all growing up in London.
Briggs was the owner of the shop when Mr Philippou came to London and the shop has been on its present site since 1959. To the inexpert eye (i.e. mine) it looks that it has largely been untouched since then, other than the addition of various dignitaries and family that adorn the walls. It really is a historic interior in the right sense of the word in that it is both a record of a certain era but also an organic space that remains useful for the purpose for which it was created. People often describe such a space as being like a film set but of course it’s not. It’s lived in, inhabited by real people.
The technology is historic too. Rather than electric clippers there’s some hand powered shears for your short back and sides, and a bit of scissor work to straighten up your thatch. Mr Philippou doesn’t keep you hanging around so if you choose to visit (and I urge you to) make the most of the ten minutes or so of conversation that you’ll have in return for your twenty quid. There are few people of my acquaintance who have such a long experience of the changing shape of London in the twentieth century at first hand.
It was a good lesson in the art of guiding in that if you want to find out about somewhere you can do all the research in the world but nothing beats walking into a place and asking somebody about it. I’ll be back for more.
Blue Badge guide to London and academic specialising in early twentieth century history. Blogging on history, academia, and food and culture in the capital (and occasionally elsewhere).