Worshipful Company of Barbers

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The Worshipful
Company of Barbers
Location Barber-Surgeons' Hall
Monkwell Square, London
Date of formation before 1308
Company association Surgery, Barbering
Order of precedence 17th
Master of company Geoffrey Robert Preston LL B (2015 - 2016)
Motto De Praescientia Dei
Website http://www.barberscompany.org

The Worshipful Company of Barbers is one of the Livery Companies of the City of London, and ranks 17th in precedence.


The organisation's records date from as early as 1308, recording Richard le Barber as holding the office of Master. Barbers originally aided monks, who were at the time the traditional practitioners of medicine and surgery, because Papal decrees prohibited members of religious orders themselves from spilling blood. In addition to haircutting, hairdressing, and shaving, barbers performed surgery: neck manipulation; cleansing of ears and scalp; draining/lancing of boils, fistulae, and cysts with wicks; bloodletting and leeching; fire cupping; enemas; and the extraction of teeth.

Soon surgeons with little expertise in the haircutting and shaving arts of the barbers began to join the Company, but in 1368, the surgeons were allowed to form their own, unincorporated Fellowship or Guild. However, the Barbers' Guild retained the power to oversee surgical practices. The Barbers' Guild continued this oversight after it became, by Royal Charter of 1462, a Company.

The Fellowship of Surgeons merged with the Barbers' Company in 1540 by Act of Parliament to form the Company of Barbers and Surgeons. The Act specified that no surgeon could cut hair or shave another, and that no barber could practice surgery; the only common activity was to be the extraction of teeth. The barber pole, featuring red and white spiralling stripes, indicated the two crafts (surgery in red and barbering in white). Barbers received higher pay than surgeons until surgeons were entered into British war ships during naval wars.

The first Master of the Company of Barbers and Surgeons was the superintendent of St Bartholomew's Hospital and royal physician, Thomas Vicary. The presentation of the charter is the subject of a painting by Hans Holbein the Younger, in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery.

However, with the rising professionalism of surgery, in 1745 the surgeons broke away from the barbers to form the Company of Surgeons, which became the Royal College of Surgeons in 1800.

The Company no longer retains an association with the hairdressing profession. It does however retain its links with surgery, principally acting as a charitable institution to the benefit of medical and surgical causes. In modern times, between one-third and one-half of the Company's liverymen are surgeons, dentists or other medical practitioners.[1]

Barber-Surgeons' Hall and Arms

Henry VIII presents the
Barber-Surgeons' Company Charter
to the first Master, Thomas Vicary.
Hans Holbein the Younger

The Barbers' Hall was established in Monkwell Street in the 14th century.

After the licensing of dissection in 1540, public demonstrations took place four times a year in the Great Hall of Barber-Surgeons' Hall - with a crowd surrounding a table. Attendance was compulsory for all 'free' surgeons. By 1568, the Court of Assistants of the Company ordered wooden raised seating to be erected in the Hall during anatomies. By the 17th century, travellers noted that the universities at Padua and Leiden possessed purpose-built anatomical theatres. Inigo Jones was commissioned to design and build one for the Surgeon-Barbers, but died (1652) before it was finished. The work was completed by John Webb in 1636, but this theatre was destroyed by the Great Fire (1666).[2] It was rebuilt to the design of Christopher Wren, but demolished in 1740, when the Surgeons transferred their work to the Royal College. The dissected corpses were buried in the churchyard of St Olave's, Silver Street.

The Hall (other than the anatomy theatre) survived the Great Fire, but was destroyed by enemy bombing in the London Blitz. The modern hall was rebuilt approximately 10m to the east of the former site, in Monkwell Square, Aldersgate ward, within the precincts of the Barbican.

With the merger of the Barbers' Company and Surgeons' Fellowship in 1540 to become the Company of Barbers and Surgeons, the Hall was called Barber-Surgeons' Hall - a name that continues despite the fact that the Company is once again the Barbers' Company since the secession of the surgeons.

Similarly, the arms of the present-day Company[3] continue to be those granted in 1569 after the merger: a quartered combination of the arms of the Barbers' Company (granted 1451, with fleams - 1st and 3rd quarters) and the badge of the Fellowship of Surgeons (1492, a crowned rose on a 'spatter' (or spatula) - 2nd and 4th quarters).

  • The crest is an opinicus - an English heraldic variation of griffin.
  • The supporters are collared (by a crown) and chained lynxes - presumably suggesting the keenness of vision necessary for surgery.
  • The motto is De Praescientia Dei (Latin for From/through the Foreknowledge of God) - possibly referring to the uncertain outcomes of the surgeon's attention which, good or bad, were attributed to God.


  1. "Barbers' Historical Society". barberscompany.org.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. The Dissertation: An Architecture Student's Handbook Iain Borden, Katerina Ruedi Ray, Katerina Rüedi pp. 92–97(Architectural Press, 2005) ISBN 0-7506-6825-3
  3. Bromley, John; The Armorial Bearings of the Guilds of London, 1960, London: Frederick Warne & Co. Ltd

External links