The gilt knob at the end represents a brass basin, which is sometimes actually suspended on the pole. The basin has a notch cut in it to fit the throat, and was used for lathering customers who came to be shaved. The pole represents the staff held by persons in venesection; and the two spiral ribbons painted round it represent the two bandages, one for twisting round the arm previous to blood-letting, and the other for binding. Barbers used to be the surgeons, but have fallen from “their high estate” since science has made its voice “to be heard on high.”
N.B.—The Barbers' Hall stood in Monkwell Street, Cripplegate. The last barber-surgeon in London was Middleditch, of Great Suffolk Street, in the Borough. He died 1821.
“To this year” (1541), says Wornum ... “belongs the Barber-Surgeons' picture of Henry (VIII) granting a charter to the Corporation. The barbers and surgeons of London, originally constituting one company, had been separated, but were again, in the 32 Henry VIII, combined into a single society and it was the ceremony of presenting them with a new charter which is commemorated by Holbein's picture, now in their hall in Monkwell Street.”
Source: Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, E. Cobham Brewer, 1894
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