Half a Century in Waterloo: An Interview with The Waterloo Barber Shop
By Matthew Allder & Emma Jorgenson
Peter Neocleous has worked in Waterloo as a men’s hair stylist for almost 50 years. Here we discuss the changes he has seen over the decades and what one might expect from Waterloo Barber Shop today.
Peter started his career working on Lower Marsh in the early 1970s. The shop moved to Kennington Road in the early 1980s and it is still there today. Peter’s Hair Stylist now has a new owner, Thanos, who took over in November last year, but Peter can still be found in the newly refurbished Waterloo Barber Shop.
What was the shop like when you first opened?
When I moved into the shop it was the flashiest in the area. The customers wanted shiny surfaces, with everything bright and clean looking – now they want the rustic look! So Thanos has exposed the bricks, timbered the walls and put in old-style barbers’ chairs and traditional barbers’ tools. We’ve almost gone back to the look of the Victorian days, although we have the modern lighting, hair-styling techniques, digital gadgets and wifi!
What was the heyday for Waterloo?
It was in the 1980s: we had four hairdressers working non-stop all day like we were in a factory. We were surrounded by a lot of office buildings, we had MI6, the Central Office of Information, County Hall, Shell, Christopher House and several other big companies. Then offices started moving out. It took time for things to improve, but the area is now on the up again.
What’s it about Waterloo that means you’ve never wanted to leave?
I’ve always been happy here. My entire working life has been in Waterloo and I’d never want to work anywhere else. I’m very pleased that Thanos decided to take over the shop: he first started working for me 20 years ago and he did his original training with me. I’m happy he is making his mark too, refurbishing the shop, reintroducing beard trimming and sculpting and selling male grooming products from waxes and hair tonics to beard oils.
What haircuts do you never get asked for anymore?
The Tony Curtis. And the Elvis Presley quiff. We even used to singe people’s hair, burning it with a candle. I never enjoyed doing that – it’s a cheap gimmick that was 10p on the original pricelist! A lot of people thought it sealed the ends of the hair, which is nonsense. It just smelled bad.
Are there any other businesses from the early days on Lower Marsh that are still around?
I’m the last of the originals on this parade and possibly Lower Marsh. One thing that hasn’t changed on Lower Marsh is there have always been lots of cafes. However, Ryman’s used to be a bacon-curing factory, where my father-in-law worked, and there were all sorts of traders on the market – from umbrella repair men to horsemeat sellers (as pet food!). It’s definitely good to see the market busy again. When I started on Lower Marsh I was the only foreigner. But I was accepted from the beginning because I’ve always been friendly to everyone and the fact that customers still come back to me after all these years does tell you something! In England we can’t go back, and as long as we all learn to live with one another it’s good with me.
What is the secret to running a successful barbers for over thirty years?
I’ve kept it very reasonable here, that’s how we’ve survived for so long. I always believed in giving good service and offering reasonable prices, and people always came back. Quality is in the details, we play close attention to every detail of the hair and scalp to ensure that the cut is pristine without a hair out of place.
What do you want to see here in the next ten years?
When it comes to business, we’ve always benefitted more from offices. In the 1980s at lunchtime you couldn’t even get in here. Now our customers range from MPs to OAPs. We have a good mix of locals living in the area, workers in local offices, plus students from local schools. But, as ever, more businessess still mean more customers!