A good hair day: Lloyd’s barber Leon goes to Chelsea
By Antony Delderfield
Most people are familiar with the history of Edward Lloyd’s coffee shop, but the story of Lloyd’s barber shop is not so widely known.
Just over 300 years ago, syndicates prepared to underwrite the long voyages of the many four-masted clippers were developing in one of the many coffee houses within one square mile of Tower Reach, where most of the cargoes in London were landed from long boats.
Edward Lloyd who had run a small coffee shop was offered a large space in Great Tower Street of several hundred square feet. He wanted those premises because they were the nearest to the unloading bays and more importantly the nearest to the largest stables for the horse and carriages of wealthy businessmen coming to the City to conduct business.
Within two years he had the largest and most successful coffee house in London. He provided tea and coffee usually laced with rum, gin and ale straight from the barrel. As an additional service he ‘poached’ a barber whom he had known from earlier days, and set him up with a small stall at the far end of the tap bar, used by the longshoremen, sack heavers and other labourers. Most of the deals were struck in the saloon bar.
Some 279 years later, the Lloyd’s Committee gave permission to a barber named Leon to corner off the far end of the members’ cloakroom in the 1958 Lloyd’s building and “ply his trade” for underwriters, names and brokers five days a week from 10am until 5pm. He has cut my hair ever since, at his chair in the old building and then having moved with the market at large into the current 1984 building designed by Richard Rogers.
I once asked him why he did not adopt the title of hairdresser to which he replied “Dear me, no Mr Delderfield, I am a simple barber who cuts hair and I am not what is now known as a stylist, such as Vidal Sassoon, nor do I wish to cut and style ladies’ hair”.
Four weeks ago, I was released from Chelsea and Westminster hospital where I had been admitted to casualty “for severe internal bleeding”. The doctors caring for me said that had the ambulance arrived 40 minutes to an hour later I would have been pronounced “dead on arrival”. My usual luck prevailed and I am now at home recovering.
My hair was almost shoulder length, and each morning I looked more like a mad scientist than a broker, but I was too weak to visit Leon in Lloyd’s. Taking a chance I obtained his telephone number from the waiter in the members’ cloakroom who kept his appointment book. Now aged 82, Leon works only two days a week. I reached him by phone and asked him if he ever did house visits. “Oh dear me no, Mr Delderfield, ” he said, and asked how I was as he had heard from one of his customers that I was unwell. I told him that I was on the mend but desperately needed a haircut and if I offered him £50 (his usual fee is £15) plus my driver to take him home to Clapton, if he would come to my home in Chelsea and cut my hair. Without hesitation, he said: “For you, Mr Delderfield, it would be a pleasure, but where is Chelsea?” I explained where I lived and he said he was happy to travel by Tube and would find his own way.
He cut my hair (no electrical gadgets, just as I prefer) after which I offered him some light refreshment and he accepted a (very weak) whisky Mac. After a pleasant 20 minute chat, I sent him home by car.
Several of my friends at Lloyd’s and elsewhere in the market had heard of my plan and bet me various sums of money that Leon would never make a home visit. I took bets totalling £150, which I intend to collect in full, to send to my favourite charity, the RNLI.
For the sake of any Doubting Thomases, I persuaded my neighbour, Lucia Biglin, to take a photo of myself and Leon together in my home.
Wonders will never cease!
Antony Delderfield is a veteran marine broker and consultant to AJ Gallagher (UK), London