Details of the opinicus, and larger photo   


Barber-Surgeons' Hall, Monkwell Square, Wood Street, London EC2Y 5BL

Clerk:  Colonel Peter J Durrant MBE  BA
Email to the Clerk; PA to the Clerk,  Beadle; the Archivist; Webmaster
Telephone (020) 7606-0741
Fax (020) 7606-3857
Hall Hiring 020 7093 1733  

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The Barbers' Historical Society

The Company History

The Company Library

Anatomy and the Anatomy Theatre

The Ordinance Book

Barbers’ Historical Society    

At a meeting of the Barbers’ Historical Group on 4 March 2010, members agreed that the name of the Group should be changed to Barbers’ Historical Society.   At the same time, the terms of reference of the Group were slightly amended to enable the Society to undertake a wider range of activities than in the past and to encourage wider participation in its activities, particularly amongst associated livery company organizations.  The Society has 3 main aims:

1.         To commission a programme of research and presentations for its quarterly meetings.
2.         To encourage members of the Company to use the archives and library for research and to assist the Archivist.
3.         To publish at intervals folios of research and to record public presentations and other work done by members.

The officers of the Society are: 

Chairman:        Geoffrey Preston
Secretary:        Liveryman Simon O’Leary
Treasurer:        Liveryman Gaye Henson

The Historical Society was started in 1987 as the Historical Group, under the chairmanship of Past Master Sir Francis Avery Jones. The aim of the Group was to expand the knowledge of the history of the Company by involving members in original research thereby encouraging greater use of its ever-expanding library and this remains its aim today.

Members are encouraged to prepare presentations for the group.  Many meetings take the form of a presentation and buffet supper and there are often visits.

In June 2013 Charlie de Wet, from The Huguenots of Spitalfields Trust, guided us round Christchurch and the area and showed us her home.


Spitalfields Spitalfields
In June 2012 the Society visited Lambeth Palace Library and an exhibition to commemorate the Book of Common Prayer, and heard a presentation of ancient documents relevant to the Company, Library at Lambeth Palace

Liveryman Jeremy Chichester gives a presentation on the wig making trade, using a Liveryman as his model


A visit to Temple Church

Temple Church

A trip to Highgate Cemetery

Highgate Cemetary Highgate Cemetary
  • Mediaeval Mystery Plays (Dr Ruth Kennedy)

  • The 1st July 1916 - a surgical catastrophe (Professor Harold Ellis)

  • The operation for stone on Samuel Pepys - 1556 (joint meeting with the Pepys Club)

  • Martin Frobisher and the North West Passage (Sir James Watt)

Group members at the Guildhall Library
The Group meets four times a year to hear presentations by members or on occasion by invited sp

Membership is open to any member of the Company, Freeman, Honorary Freeman or Liveryman and guests are welcome at all meetings.

The history of the company

Since the City of London's earliest days the artisans and tradesmen who worked there have striven to organise their trades. Their aims were to ensure that the numbers employed should match the work available, that only skilled people were allowed to oversee work, that journeymen were properly employed and that the training of young people was properly conducted. They also ensured that the prices charged for their labours were reasonable and that the goods or services provided were of a fair standard. They therefore banded together and set up companies of like-minded people to achieve these aims.

A Lambeth Delftware Barber's bowl c. 1680

As time went on the companies were formally recognized and acquired considerable power in the City. Their senior members became the electors of the City and no one could make either political or trade progress without membership and backing of a company. Many companies also grew rich and were able to buy property and to build halls where they could carry out day to day business and meet to discuss trade and political matters. They also used these halls for entertainment of their members and friends. Their added prosperity allowed them to take on the care of poor, old and infirm members. The more senior and distinguished members of each company were allowed to wear a distinctive form of clothing, which was known as a livery, and thus the companies became known as livery companies.  The early days of these companies are not well documented as they were originally illegal organisations and had to hide and disguise their true purposes. This disguise frequently took the form of a religious group who could thus meet and carry on their business without harassment. It is known that several companies were in existence in the twelfth century and their numbers grew considerably as time went on.

Origin of the Barbers Company

In 1308 there is the first reference to an organisation for barbers when Richard the Barber was elected to keep order amongst them. He was instructed by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to make diligent search through the whole of his craft every month, and if he shall find any brothel keeper or other disreputable folk to the scandal of the craft, he shall detain them and cause them to be brought before the chamber. This company also included surgeons in its number, the first such member being recorded in 1312. Barbers not only attended to the hair and shaving of their customers but took on surgical and medical tasks, including dentistry, particularly after the Pope ordained in 1163 that members of religious orders should not assist in the shedding of blood. Bleeding was an almost universal way of treating medical conditions; it was also a regular discipline, for health purposes, of many religious orders. Monks wore tonsures which needed constant care from barbers adept in the use of the razor and it was thus logical that barbers should add minor surgical skills to their trade.

The Barbers Company and the Surgeons Guild

Such major surgical work as was undertaken in the middle ages was done by surgeons and in 1368 those practising in the City were licensed to form a Guild of Surgeons. Eight years later the Barbers Guild was allowed by the Lord Mayor and Aldermen to exercise some supervision over the surgeons and in 1376 two surgeons were chosen Masters of the Company for that purpose. Over the following years, however, a power struggle arose between the Barbers Guild and the Guild of Surgeons which was ended for a time in 1462 when Edward IV granted a Charter of Incorporation to the Barbers and thus made legal their long standing practices in the City. The relationship continued, not without strain owing to demarcation problems, but in 1493 the Company and the Guild came to an agreement by which they followed the same rules regarding the practice of surgery in the City. At the same time they agreed to select two masters each who would be responsible for the control of surgical and barbers affairs. They were able to fine defaulters and, in more serious and persistent cases, could refer them to the Lord Mayor and Aldermen for judgment. They made rules and in 1497 granted what appears to be the earliest English diploma in surgery. This was sealed by both the Company and the Guild. Successive Monarchs confirmed the Barbers' Charter but in 1511, early in King Henry Viii s reign, an Act of Parliament was passed which placed the approval and licensing of surgeons in the hands of the Bishops. In the City it was the Bishop of London who took on this responsibility. Parliament also laid down that guilds should have their new ordinances approved by the legal profession and in 1530 new rules for the two were agreed by the Lord Chancellor, Sir Thomas More, in a document which the Company still holds.

The Barber-Surgeons Company

In 1540 the Surgeons Guild and the Company of Barbers were amalgamated by Act of Parliament which, among other privileges, allotted the new Company the bodies of four executed criminals for dissection every year. The functions of barbers and surgeons were separated and they were not permitted to undertake each other's work. The writ of the Company lay within a radius of one mile from the City and Westminster. At this time the Barber-Surgeons had the largest number of Freemen of any City Livery Company. This new organisation continued with some difficulty for a hundred years but it was seldom peaceful and there were always disputes between the factions, which had to be resolved. The Company continued this dual role into the seventeenth century. Until 1745 the Company also undertook the examination of Surgeons for the Navy.

Although the association continued, the old strains arose again in the eighteenth century. The surgeons were becoming more skilled and numerous and they petitioned the House of Commons to be allowed to separate from the Barbers. Amidst much acrimony this was agreed and the break was made, the Bill receiving the Royal Assent on the 2nd of May 1745. The Barbers retained the Hall and many of the treasures and the Surgeons departed to form first the Surgeons Company and later, in 1800, the Royal College of Surgeons of England. The Barbers' influence in their own trade grew less as time went on and membership became diffuse, men of many professions joining with only a slight interest in barbery. The Company's control over the barbers trade became virtually non-existent. Today the Company has little connection with the trade but maintains a strong connection with medicine, especially surgery, with between a third and a half of the Livery being members of the profession.

Among the traditions of the Company is the Garland ceremony, performed when each new Master takes office.  The Master and the Wardens have individual Garlands, that they hand to the new incumbents of the office.

Garland Ceremony, 2006


The Barbers Company Library

Since 1977 it has been the Company's policy to acquire materials which are likely to have been in its library before the separation from the surgeons in 1745, when the existing library was sold.

The present library therefore includes a good representative collection relating to anatomy and surgery and related subjects, many in English translation, and some in facsimile, from 1540 to 1745. The collection also includes biographies of leading practitioners who have been liverymen of the Company, histories of the Company and of other livery companies, of the major Royal Colleges and London hospitals, as also works on City history and topography, on the Company and the Navy, a few early works on herbal medicine, and on silverware.

The Company has also acquired an outstanding collection on barbery up to the early 20th century, little of which has otherwise survived.

Numbering some 900 volumes, it is essentially a highly specialised research collection maintained for the use of members of the Company. It seeks to reflect the Company's varied history within its context down the years.

Anatomy and the Anatomy Theatre

The extraordinary late Renaissance which saw with Copernicus revised theories of the cosmos and the entry of Columbus into the New World, also saw with Vesalius the exploration of the microcosm of man's body. Demonstrating the uncharted territory of the body in newly-devised anatomy theatres was immensely prestigious to the institutions, cities. and countries which provided them. They were necessary too for the proper instruction of surgeons and to satisfy the new curiosity of the educated public.

The Company's anatomy theatre, presented in opulent Palladian manner and oval in form, made a bold and dramatic statement. Designed by the King's Architect, Inigo Jones, and opened in 1638, it was only the third such purpose-built structure in W. Europe, following Padua (1594) and Leiden (1597). Serving its purpose well for a century until the surgeons' departure from the Company in 1745, it became redundant and was demolished in 1784 - an irreplaceable loss to English architecture.

Prime among senior members of the Company engaged in early anatomical teaching was Thomas Vicary [1490-1562], Chief Surgeon to Henry VIII, and Master of the new Barber-Surgeons' Company in 1541, who established the formal teaching of anatomy at the Hall.

The first designated Reader in Anatomy (1546) was the pre-eminent John Caius, re-founder of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. The sixth Reader (1581), John Banester, like Caius both physician and anatomist, and highly influential in the training of surgeons at this period, is shown here conducting a public visceral lecture at the Hall in 1581, but without benefit of the clear sight-lines afforded by the Inigo Jones theatre of 1638.

The Charter Book

The Company of Barbers and Surgeons purchased this vellum (calfskin) book in February 1604/5 for the ‘entering and fayre ingrosing of our charters of this Company.’ This title page shows the arms of the King, James I of England, at the top.  The middle panel shows the crest of the Barbers Company and reads: 

"This book conteyneth all the Charters which hath bene graunted from the kinges of this realme unto the Company of Barbors & Surgeons of London And also all Acts of Parliament and common Councells which have bene marked & ordeyned for & concerninge the said Company As also all such Ordinances as have bene by the righte honourable the Lord Chancellor Lord Threasorer & Lord Chief Justice of England ratiefied to the said Companie And was begunne in the tyme of Mr John Laycock Christopher Frederick Thomas Martin and Richard Mapes Masters or Governors of the said Companie in Anno Dm 1605"

The four panels containing initials and a pictogram represent the above named Master and Wardens.  From left to right: IL stands for John Laycock, the Master, who is represented by the rebus of a cockerel.  TM stands for Thomas Marten who is represented by the rebus of a pine marten.  RM is for Richard Mapes whose chosen symbols are a tree and a hand.  CF is for Christopher Frederick whose symbol is a green scaled arm clutching a spiked cudgel.

The Charter Book

The Ordinance Book

On the right, the opening page of one of the oldest possessions of the Company - the Ordinance book of the Fellowship of Surgeons, shows the badge granted to the Fellowship by King Henry VII in 1492.  The two patron saints of the surgeons, Saints Cosmos and Damien, flank the crowned rose.

Ordinance Book