Dunstable barber’s light bulb sign was truly illuminating

Dunstable Building Society and Ellis Barbers in West Street.
Dunstable Building Society and Ellis Barbers in West Street.

Ellis’s barber shop (left of picture) was one of the best-known businesses in Dunstable until its site at 7 West Street, near the crossroads, was redeveloped in the 1970s.

This photo, probably taken in the late 1950s, also shows other vanished buildings including the premises of Dunstable Building Society – a reminder of simpler times when virtually every town had its own savings and mortgage facility, watched over by local worthies.

A modern block of shops, including the British Heart Foundation’s furniture store, is on the spot today.

The barber’s building was very much older than it looked. It dated back to the early 16th century and may well have been one of the first shops to be built in Dunstable, replacing market stalls which had previously been the norm.

Over the centuries the original Tudor-style frontage had been covered over by several layers of newer walls. The shop had become a public house called the Old Vine by the 19th century.

During redevelopment of the area the Ellis building was carefully dismantled piece by piece, and taken in numbered sections to the open-air museum at Chalfont St Giles. But funds have not yet been found to enable it to be reconstructed.

Anecdotes about the barber’s shop were sent to Dunstable Local History Society during the town’s recent Medieval Project. These included a memory by Frank Cheevers which recalled Mr Ellis’s useful idea of putting a light bulb in his window next to a little sign saying “no waiting when light is lit”.

> Yesteryear is compiled by John Buckledee, chairman of the history society.