For two generations Jesse Garland and his son Sam Garland were the local barbers. In the days before safety and electric razors became widely available they made their money from shaving their customers as well as cutting their hair.
Jesse was the son of Samuel Garland, a miner born in 1855 who came originally from Winterbourne in South Gloucestershire just north of Bristol. His father, also a miner, probably worked in one of the nearby mines at Coal Pit Heath. Samuel moved north to Yorkshire where he married Mary Emma Hutchinson from Oulton in 1879.
Their first child Eliza, named after Samuel’s mother, was born in Woodlesford in 1880 but soon after they moved to live in Lofthouse where Jesse was born in 1882 followed by Mary Ellen in 1883. At some point in the next few years they moved back to live on Quarry Hill in Oulton near to Mary Emma’s parents.
In 1901 Mary Ellen Garland was working as a “servant” at the Old Masons Arms in Oulton. Meanwhile Jesse was a 19 year old soldier with the Kings Royal Rifles at Gosport in Hampshire on his way to serve abroad with them in the Second Boer War in South Africa.
After his discharge from the army he became a miner and in 1906 married a miner’s daughter, Ruth Matthews. She was born at Clay Cross in Derbyshire but by the time of her marriage to Jesse her family was living at South Hiendley near Hemsworth. Earlier, in 1891, they had lived at East Moor in the Stanley district so it’s possible that their fathers worked at the same colliery. Samuel Garland and Ruth’s father, Mark Matthews, may have struck up a friendship as Mark was also from “down south”, having been born at Downton in Wiltshire.
Jesse and Ruth’s son Sam was born in 1907 and in 1911 the family were living at 6 Aberford Road in Oulton.
This memoir of his grandfather was written by Sam’s son, Peter Garland, and was originally published in Yorkshire Journal.
My Granddad Jesse – Jesse Garland – was one of the best-known characters in the villages of Oulton and Woodlesford, and for that matter all the villages around. My father was a character too and like Granddad Jesse he was the local barber, but Granddad Jesse was unique.
In many ways he is most remembered for his greatest failing – alcohol. No one liked a drink better than Jesse did, and when the pubs opened he was the first to be in there for an opener. He was quite famous (infamous you might say) for his regular habit of trotting off to the pub at lunchtime as soon as the clock showed it was opening time. Now it didn’t matter at what stage he was with cutting your hair or shaving – important things came first, and he downed tools and rushed off to the Midland Hotel to have a quick pint.
As a small boy I always felt embarrassed when locals would tease me about this. My mother tried to protect me from Jesse, but I would often creep into his shop and sit next to the stove and listen to the gossip of the village. I never saw him the worse for drink and he must have taken a fair number of pints each day, as he never had any money.
Most of the stories about him were told to me by my father, Sam Garland, and some I picked up listening to him talk about his father when he was telling tales in the barber’s shop. Both of them were old-fashioned barbers. You just sat in the chair and they cut your hair – short back and sides every time. There wasn’t much in the way of styles then, but my Dad did give way a bit at one point so you could, for example ask for a square neck if you wanted, but woebetide you if you came with long hair. Dad used to say: “Now then lad, has tha come for an estimate?” and eventually he put up a notice saying “No long hair”. It’s a good job he retired when he did, otherwise he would have just gone out of business.
Granddad Jesse was reputed to be the fastest shaver in Yorkshire, but I guess by that they meant as far afield as anyone knew from Oulton. The local solicitor once checked him when he shaved sixty-one customers in an hour with my dad acting as a lather boy.
His greatest feat, however, was to shave the man with the strongest whiskers in Yorkshire (with three weeks’ growth on his face) lathering and shaving him on his own, without drawing blood. He did this in the Midland Hotel at Woodlesford as a bet for a gallon of beer, which he drank after completing the challenge in the time.
He was up to all sorts of tricks, and would have been in jail these days for his antics. His tricks were all in the past by the time I knew him but he always had a twinkle in his eye. One time he had problems with the pig man from Clumpcliffe Farm on Methley Lane. The pig man, a tall Irishman, used to come in the shop with his leather leggings heavily doused with pig muck and would sit right next to the paraffin stove, so that within a few minutes of his coming in the place smelled like a pig sty.
“I’m goin’ ter get rid of yon pig man,” Jesse told my dad.
“Be careful dad,” he said. “The knaws he’s a big un and you’re only little.”
“Doan’t worry lad, I’ll show thee.” And he did.
When the pig man next came in, Granddad Jesse put a cut-throat razor into the little pan he used for boiling water to clean the lather brushes, and it sat in there until it was the pig man’s turn for a shave. He sat down laying his head back to expose his neck for the shave. Jesse took out the razor from the scalding water and drew it blunt side down across the big Irishman’s throat.
With the heat of the razor and the way Jesse drew it across his throat from ear to ear, the Irishman thought his throat had been cut and he leaped to his feet clutching his throat and rushed out of the door backwards. As he did so he banged the back of his head on the top of the door and cried out “You’re not content with cutting mi throait, but you’re trying to knock mi bloody head off as well.” Needless to say, he never came back.
A drunk used to come in to the shop on a Saturday on the train from Leeds. A smart man with well brushed hair, mutton chop whiskers and a moustache. He used to get in the chair and fall asleep. Jesse got really fed up with him. One Saturday, with only this one customer who mumbled ‘tak some off” before falling asleep, he decided to do just that.
He cut off all his sleeping customer’s hair – and his moustache – and his mutton chop whiskers – and then he lathered him all over and shaved his face and head, eyebrows and all. He then took off his boots and tied them round his neck and put him out into the street. By some miracle the man found his way home, but his wife wouldn’t let him in and he had to spend the night in the coal shed.
This was before safety razors, so most people who wanted a shave had to go to the barbers. Working cass folk couldn’t afford to shave daily and would often go three weeks between shaves. One such character was fond of swearing in the shop. Now a bit of normal swearing was always alright, but not obscenity, and my granddad told the man that he didn’t want “pit talk” in front of the lad – that was my dad.
His customer replied with the usual expletives, so when it was his turn to be shaved Jesse shaved him down the middle, leaving him half a face clean and the other half with three weeks’ growth, and no matter what the man said Jesse was unbending. “When thi can learn to talk reight in front o’ t’ lad the can have rest of thi shave.” The swearer held out for another three weeks until he was forced by his wife to seek forgiveness.
Jesse was a fisherman and a poacher of some repute, and could catch fish where people had been fishing without luck for weeks. He especially liked to fish for pike and would bring young pike home with him, alive, and put them in the quarry behind his house so that he could fish them again at his leisure.
He used to bring his bigger fish to the Midland Hotel in Woodlesford on a Saturday night and sell them to people from Leeds. He said that Jewish people especially like pike and he would get half a crown for a decent fish. One day he had a specially fine pike he brought back to the pub wrapped in wet newspaper to keep it alive and tied on his bicycle handlebars. Unfortunately there were no customers for the fish, and Jesse tried to persuade the new landlord to buy it.
“How am ah sure that it’s as fresh as tha says?” he asked Jesse, who didn’t like the idea that he might be thought to be dishonest. “Fresh pike have soft pink tongues”, he said,” so if you doan’t believe me, open its mouth and press thi finger on its tongue.”
The landlord unwisely followed this advice, and of course the pike was still alive and nearly took his finger off. This meant a change of pub for a week or two, but he was too good a customer to be kept away.
He used to sit round the fire in the pub and was often called to perform a feat of strength to entertain visitors. The fender was made of half a wagon wheel from the quarry. No doubt it weighed more that Jesse who was only about five feet four inches tall.
When a visitor came into the pub, one of the locals would say: “Tha sees that little fella ower there? I’ll bet thee a quart of ale that he can lift that wagon wheel wi ‘is teeth.”
The visitor would usually try out the weight to be sure Jesse could not move it, never mind with his teeth, and would take the bet. Sure enough, Jesse would wrap a bit of rope round the wheel, get it in his teeth and lift it off the ground, and then settle in to his new drink.
On a Saturday night in the Midland there were often visiting entertainers from Leeds. One such man came along claiming to be able to eat anything. Jesse decided to put up a challenge, and the next week when he arrived Jesse produced the biggest live crab he could find from Leeds Market and presented it to the visitor. Without a blink of an eye the entertainer proceeded to eat it alive and left not a morsel – flesh, shell and claws. That was one time Jesse lost a challenge.
My favourite story was one he told me when I was a boy and I asked him if he had ever caught a really big fish. He said he had and I asked how big. “Well I can’t really remember how long it was, but when I pulled it out, t’ river at Ulleskelf went down two feet. When I went back next week t’ landlord was using t’ head as a dog kennel.”
Some fish! Some Granddad!