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Gavin Cornwell, A Haircut At The Morgue

December 9, 2009
by the gentle author

If you go down to the morgue today you are sure of a big surprise, because now you can get a haircut there from Gavin Cornwell.

My last haircut was done on the morning before I wrote my first daily post to you, more than a hundred days ago in August. Over recent weeks, I have taken to wearing my sheepskin hat, not just because of the cold weather but to conceal the straggly mop underneath. So last week, I pointed my nose northwards and walked from Spitalfields up the Kingsland Rd to Stoke Newington to visit Gavin the hairdresser who lives in a morgue.

At end of  a quiet street of well-kept nineteenth century terraces is an unassuming building that you could walk past without noticing, if you did not know. It has a large chocolate-brown rolling door with signs that say GARAGE IN USE 24 HOURS and more stridently VEHICLES OBSTRUCTING THIS GARAGE WILL BE REPORTED TO THE POLICE AND MAY BE TOWED AWAY. You might assume this is merely a garage but in fact this is the morgue where you can get a haircut.

For over ten years now, Gavin has been trimming my hair regularly. I first met him when I worked in Clerkenwell. I used to rent a tiny office at the top of an old building in Clerkenwell Close where I went every day to write. One summer’s day, as I was walking down Exmouth Market to buy my lunch, I noticed a bowl of water set upon the pavement for dogs. The next thing I saw was the head of a string mop making its way towards the dish for a drink, like some strange Dougal dog. Like a marionette, it was moving by means of a line attached to a stick and at the other end was a skinny guy almost apoplectic with laughter. This was Gavin.

Exmouth Market was enjoying a moment then as the most fashionable street around. As Carnaby St was to the nineteen sixties, Exmouth Market was to London in the mid-nineties, and it was a few charismatic individuals like Gavin (who had a salon there at the time) that brought this about. Before I met him, getting my hair done was an experience comparable to visiting the dentist or the bank manager, but having my hair cut by Gavin has been one of unrivalled hilarity. Each time I sit down in his chair, an hour of carefree good-humoured banter passes quickly and at the end I discover my hair has been cut.

But I have not yet disclosed the reason I keep coming back to him. The first time he cut my hair something extraordinary happened, as I walked away down the street, someone said to me “Nice haircut!”. It had never happened before in my life. At that time, I was working a lot in New York and there complete strangers came up to me all the time to compliment the haircut and ask who did it. It was ridiculous but it was wonderful too.

Please understand that these are modest haircuts, not show-off hairdos, though I guess he could do that too if you asked. What I particularly like is that when Gavin cuts my hair, it never looks like it has just been cut, there are no harsh edges to give the game way. Best of all, the cuts get better as they grow out, so there is none of that “just walked out of the salon” phenomenon that looks like a wreck two weeks later.

When he cut my hair last week, I tried to discover why he is so good. He explained to me that he does what he calls “classic” haircuts that he learnt at the Vidal Sassoon School of Hair Dressing where he trained after he ran away from Kent to London as lad. As a rising star there, he was responsible for cutting the hair of celebrities like Kim Wilde and Dale Winton in the West End salon. I think it was a relief for him to move East and do haircuts for indie types like Adam Cornish and Louis Theroux.

Gavin’s approach is to respond to the quality, texture and form of your hair, and he cuts it to enhance the natural growth. I regret to disappoint you with the news that he does not do highlights, colouring or perms, he works with what you have. He cuts both women’s and men’s hair, and while for women the styles are diverse, for men his inspirations are Steve McQueen and Jean Paul Belmondo.

As for the morgue, there is nothing there you would recognise from “Six Feet Under”, it is now a happy family home where it is my delight to go and get my hair cut in peace and quiet with no fuss. If you ask him nicely, I am sure Gavin could be persuaded to cut your hair too and you can discover the magic for yourself. He can be reached on 07984 636678 or

5 Responses leave one →
  1. December 9, 2009

    just posted about you – hope it’s o.k. and that accordingly gavin is not so mobbed with new clients that he will have a hard time fitting you in, you have made a very good case for us beating a path to gavin’s door. cheers as always!

  2. Deborah permalink
    December 9, 2009

    Well put – I can personally recommend Gavin and the morgue for an excellent haircut experience!

  3. December 9, 2009

    cheers for the recommendation. I’m booked in for Monday!

  4. Nick permalink
    December 9, 2009

    Gavin is not only to be highly recommended as a master cutter of hair, and terrific company while he goes about his artful business, but he is also a muse – to me, at least. My poetical offering, ‘The Double Crown’, is dedicated to Gavin, and can be found in FROM THE WORD GO, Bloodaxe Books, 2007.

  5. the gentle author permalink*
    December 9, 2009

    Matt, all the readers will be waiting for your haircut report next week – please post it here!

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