Esoteric London

No. 494: New Cross Road, SE14

Posted in Shops by esotericlondon on January 19, 2012

New Cross Road, London, SE14. Photo © Roger Dean 2011

London and Londoners in the Eighteen-Fifties and Sixties – Alfred Rosling Bennett, 1924:

In hairdressers’ windows and over barbers’ shops notices relating to bears’ grease were perpetually seen, such as, “Bears’ grease fresh this week”; “Bears’ grease personally prepared” ; “Try our special Bears’ grease.” And less frequently, “We kill a bear this week.” In the 1850s it was an article of faith that even as beer nourished the muscles so did bears’ fat nourish the scalp and what was rooted therein. The benighted early Victorians, poor souls, knew not the late G. R. Sims nor Tatcho, and when they wanted hair went – shall I say bare-headed? – for bears’ grease. The barbers naturally fostered the delusion and sold sweet-smelling unguent in pellucid china pots, nicely packed in lead paper, at the rate of about 2s. 6d. per ounce. This was inscribed “Refined bears’ grease” usually on a semi-circular label surmounting the picture of a bear – sometimes a grizzly on a peak of the Rockies, sometimes an Arctic bruin on an iceberg. Even those not given to scepticism might have doubted the power of fat from two such dissimilar creatures to produce analogous effects but then Nature is very wonderful.
Some barbers even pretended to kill their own bears, they were so very particular and conscientious. One day we heard that a barber on Oakley Terrace had a live bear on view which was doomed to slaughter on the proximate Saturday. We proceeded there “non-stop” and found a small crowd gazing down a cellar grating in front of the shop windows, in which was a notice that a bear of pure race had been acquired at enormous expense and would be killed for the benefit of the firm’s customers. As only a limited quantity of refined grease could be prepared from even the largest animal it was considerately suggested that it would be good business for intending purchasers to give in their orders immediately.

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