Barbershop Legends

Barbers used to not only shave mens’ faces but also, in earlier days, performed surgery and dentistry, especially tooth pulling. Therefore, many barbers were called “Bloody” Barbers because of the bloody mess they made, some very unpleasant imagination if you think about it.

A sketch by Monty Python makes fun of the barber-surgeon profession and their
reputation as ‘bloody barbers’:

Legend has it that the Barber’s Pole’s colors are red and white (and sometimes, in the United States at least, blue) resemble the dirty and clean, red and white, cloth that barbers used to hang out around the poles in front of their shops in order to dry after using and cleaning them. Unfortunately, there is no proper evidence for this that I was able to find so far, except for some vague formulations and assumptions made in the book “The Excruciating History of Dentistry” by James Wynbrandt. Following Wynbrandt, the poles were later painted red so that the gory sight would be minimized, with with bandages hanging around the poles. Fortunately, there’s a long article about the history of barber-surgeons by the BBC:

The most prominent (although fictional) barber-surgeon probably is “Sweeney Todd”. Although his tale does not say anything about being a surgeon, he ends up slitting people’s throats with surgical precision using specialized razors.

Apparently, the union of barbers with the semi-professions of surgeons and dentists has originated from a Papal Decree in the Middle Ages (around 1092 AD), because of a series of reasons. The most important reason being that clerical staff would not be allowed to perform any operations or anything involving blood shed in any form. The second-most important reason was the profession of the barber already involving sharp blades, rendering them perfect for the job as surgeons for minor operations, tooth extractions and blood-letting.

To be continued…

Here are some interesting links, though, that tell you more about barbers and surgery:’s_pole


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