Barber Leon reaches remarkable milestone

WELLS’ most long-established barber, Leon Tooze, is about to celebrate his 60th year in business.

It was on July 12, 1964, that he first opened the doors to gentlemen’s hair stylist Leon’s in St Cuthbert Street. In the 60 years since then he estimates that he has given 360,000 haircuts to his customers, most of whom have become regulars.

“It’s all about talking to people and having a banter,” said Leon. “I get everybody’s opinions here, and of course I’ve got mine.

“It’s been a huge, significant part of my life. It is my life.”

John Kerley has been a customer for 50 years. He said: “Leon gets to know his customers well and he knows how I like my hair cut. He always makes you feel welcome, and there is always an interesting conversation.”

Jeremy Tarrant, a customer for ten years, said: “You do get a good haircut, and a chat. A haircut becomes a social occasion.”

Leon, who was fostered from a young age, left school at 15 and became an apprentice at Mike Howe’s in Street, where he learned his trade before starting out on his own.

As business grew, he said that at times on a Saturday there would be as many as 14 people waiting up to two-and-a-half hours for a haircut. The short back and sides was just starting to go out of fashion and long hair was coming in, and a lot of people wanted their hair washed then.

Haircuts used to start with a comb and scissors, said Leon, whereas now they start with clippers. “Modern haircuts just get more accentuated in their severity,” he said.

Business is tailing off, he added, with more barbers around now, and his older customers reaching the end of their lives.

Leon was 80 earlier this year, and celebrated with a party at the Wookey Hole Inn. Having recently had treatment for prostate cancer, he asked for donations to a prostate cancer charity instead of gifts, and raised £690. Even while undergoing treatment he still cut hair each morning. “I’m convinced this is part of the recovery process,” he said.

Looking to the future, he said: “There will come a time when the economics of it will make it too stressful to continue. But I’ve got no plans to retire.”