A Cut Above the Rest at the Barber’s Comb

barber 4 - pavelTo describe the Barber’s Comb in the Market Place as successful would be an understatement. Established 22 years ago, its services are so popular that booking is essential.

Owner Richard Skillen has been cutting hair for 27 years. His co-worker Samantha Hinchliffe has been cutting hair for 14 years and joined the Comb in 2011. Neither of them had harboured plans to go into hairdressing before they started, and both of them began in ladies’ salons before moving into barbering.

The small size of Oundle allows them both to get to know every customer personally, and the location of the shop is perfect. Relative newcomer, Samantha said that her customers are ‘chatty, lovely and friendly; the school-kids are nice!’

The history of barber shops is not quite as ‘lovely’. Centuries ago barber-surgeons used to perform a variety of medical treatments, primarily blood-letting. Post-surgery, barbers would hang up their scarlet-stained white cloths, which led to the familiar spiral pattern we see today on the barber’s pole, originally erected to advertise their blood-letting services.

But nowadays, according to Samantha, the key qualities of barbering are somewhat less stressful. Apart from having ‘a flair for cutting hair’ a barber must have ‘personality and charm. If you have patience too, that helps!’

The schoolboys’ haircuts are arguably the most fun. ‘We’ve seen it all: chunks out of their hair, eyebrows cut off…’

Last year, one student decided to let his friends shave his head, and ended up with tramlines running through. He scampered towards Richard and Samantha with his tail between his legs, begging them to try and save him before his interviews for both a potential job and a university place, which were scheduled for the following morning.

Samantha lent him an eyeliner pencil, which she used to shade in the gaps in his hairline, so that the disaster wasn’t too noticeable. And it worked. A short while later, they received a letter, pencil attached, thanking them for their ingenuity in salvaging his hair: ‘You saved my life!’

The best moments are like these: ‘When you turn someone’s hair from an abomination into something they are happy to walk around with.’

Admittedly there are some challenges to manage. ‘The worst cuts involve little kids screaming blue murder!’

Nevertheless, as the boys fall into the routine of regular visits to the barber, Richard and Samantha watch generations of boys grow up, from the first haircut of the nervous toddler to the latest style that will see the young man off to work or university.

If you are planning to get a haircut (or beard trim) with Samantha and Richard, then walk in before one o’clock for an £8 cut. Alternatively, you can book an after-lunch appointment in advance for £10.

George Carmichael – 11 May 2016
Photo by Pavel Lipskiy