This week’s Wisdom Wednesday features one of the most recognizable names in barber history – the infamous Sweeney Todd. The macabre tale of the “demon barber of Fleet Street” is a classic horror story, having first appeared over one hundred years ago in books, plays and musicals. The fascination surrounding this legendary character sparked a morbid interest in traditional barbering that still persists today.
The vanishing trapdoor behind the infamous Barber chair. The story takes place in 19th century London, on the city’s famous Fleet Street. Despite the fact that present-day Fleet Street is a bustling financial hub, it was a pretty grim place in those days, and the barbering trade was very different to what it is now. There was no such thing as electric clippers back then, and barbers relied on straight razors to keep their customer’s beards in shape. There have been many different variations of the story over the years, but Sweeney Todd is said to have been a highly successful barber, before he was convicted of crimes he didn’t commit by a corrupt judge.
So, what’s a vengeful barber to do? Upon being released from jail, Sweeney Todd sets out to get revenge not only on the judge, but society in general. According to the story, Sweeney Todd teams up with Mrs Lovett, a friend of his who happens to own a pie shop. Victims are lured into Sweeney Todd’s barber chair with the promise of a good clean shave, only to be murdered and dumped into the building’s basement via a hidden trapdoor, where their remains are used to make Mrs Lovett’s pies.
Before you develop a fear of visiting the barbershop, rest assured there’s no actual historical proof that a serial killer called Sweeney Todd ever existed. Like many horror stories, this tale seems to have originated from urban legend, and perhaps some dodgy tasting pies. Sweeney Todd has been immortalised in film countless times, perhaps most famously in the 2007, Tim Burton directed epic, featuring Johnny Depp as Sweeney Todd, Alan Rickman as Judge Turpin and Helena Bonham Carter as Mrs Lovett. Be sure to join us for the next edition of Wisdom Wednesday, where we’ll be delving into the history of the barber pole.