Joe Kitteridge

Joe Kitteridge Aberdeen 1906 - 1915

Tattooing!  That’s my business.  To have it done is yours…. so get a move on!’

kitteridge nuff sewd

This was one of the many newspaper adverts placed by tattooing legend Joe Kitteridge over a career that lasted 20 years.

Born Josiah Samuel Kitteridge in Acton, Middlesex, London in early 1871.  His mother died when he was 3 years old and he was brought up by his father who worked as a carpenter.  Josiah spent his early childhood years in and around the area of Brentford before travelling the world in search of a better life.

Like a lot of young men he had a sense for adventure and when he was 17 he travelled to Pictou, Nova Scotia, Canada in 1888.  He spent a year there and then seems to have migrated down under to Stratford, New Zealand around 1900.

It’s safe to assume that he also visited Australia on these travels as he later recalled in an newspaper interview how he was ‘initiated into the mysteries of the (tattooing) profession, by a Japanese couple while in Syd­ney, Australia.’  This may have not been entirely true (more likely an interesting 'backstory' that most tattooists invented) as there's evidence to show he had a business or personal connection with George Burchett on his return to England.

Tattooing had become fashionable among the Victorian British gentry and was enjoying a strong period of popularity among the upper classes.  The newly introduced electric tattooing machine offered tattooists faster working techniques, and more scope to operate professionally.  George Burchett had embraced this new electric technology and had gone from part-time bootmaker/cobbler to full time tattoo artist in a few short years.  He opened his first shop at 438 Mile End Road, London.

By November 1903 Joe Kitteridge was tattooing out of the same address!. Whether he approached Burchett and asked to be trained/set up in the business of professional electric tattooing or if he simply occupied Burchett's old premises when he moved to Waterloo Road is not known at present.

kitteridge 1903 mile end road londow smaller

During that period of history there were very few professionals tattooing in Britain and Joe Kitteridge would find himself practicing his art among some of the early giants of tattooing. He would have need some pretty intense training or natural born skills to compete with those already working in London at that time.

His contemporaries would have included Sutherland MacDonald in Jermyn Street, Tom Riley in The Strand, Alfred South at Cockspur Street, George Burchett had moved to Waterloo Road, William McGrath was tattooing in Blackfriars Road, Edward James Taylor in East Rd, Walworth and William Thomas at West India Dock Road.

In 1906, With at least seven tattooists operating within a 15 mile radius of Woolwich, Joe must have found it too crowded. Newly married to Annie Elizabeth Newitt he decided to up-sticks and travel to the opposite end of the country. He'd spent 3 good years tattooing in London and it was now time to try his luck in another city.


In 1906 he began tattooing in the City of Aberdeen on the far North Eastern shore of Scotland.

At this period of time Scotland only had one real tattooist of note: Prince Vallar who was based in Glasgow.  Other tattooists had visited Aberdeen before Joe Kitteridge but these were the ‘professors’, the travelling tattooists who worked the Waxworks, Zoos and Fairs for short periods of time before moving onto the next city.  These tattoo artists included ‘Professor Barelno’ from Edinburgh and Albert Edward Lloyd from Bow, London who tattooed for a season at Humber’s Waxworks 112 George Street.

Joe Kitteridge opened a tattoo parlour at 14 New Market Gallery, Aberdeen and worked here for a few years before moving a few doors along and working at  8 New Market Gallery.  He was a prolific advertiser and self publicist, well ahead of his time for back then, and his varied newspaper adverts announced ‘artistic tattooing in all colours/prices moderate/thousand of designs/master of the art etc.

market gallery

By 1910 Joe Kitteridge had formed a friendship with another English tattoo artist who had relocated to Scotland from Bishop Auckland. Professor George Norton was tattooing 70 miles further south of Kitteridge in the City of Dundee and the two struck up a friendship.

In 1911 Joe Kitteridge invited George Norton to tattoo with him (an early version of the ‘guest spot’) in his Aberdeen parlour. Joe took out several newspaper adverts announcing the arrival of Professor Norton and, not to be outdone or overshadowed, also bestowed the title of Professor on himself for the occasion!

The short engagement must have worked out well for both tattooists as later in the summer of 1912 they embarked on a trip to Lerwick in the Shetland Islands in order to capitalise on the booming herring industry. They tattooed at a small shop at 33 Commercial Road before returning to Aberdeen on the mainland after the summer season was over.

norton and kitteridge shetlands smaller

After another year in Dundee Professor Norton returned to England and was tattooing in Burnley in 1913.

Around 1914 Joe Kitteridge got himself into a spot of bother locally and subsequently found himself before the local Magistrate Baillie Young. He was fined £5 with the alternative of 30 days imprisonment. This must have left a sour taste in his mouth as he left the Granite City forever shortly after.

He returned to his old stomping ground of Woolwich around 1915 and was soon tattooing again at 89 High Street. He remained at this location until 26th August 1923, aged 49 when he sailed to Canada with his wife Anne onboard The Empress of Scotland. He sold the tattoo shop to Jim Goalen who worked at this address for the next 12 years or so.

Joe settled in Toronto Canada for the next 20 years until his death in 29 Nov 1941 aged 70.

It’s not known if he tattooed again while living in Canada but his death certificate states that his occupation was that of a ‘Seaman’. It’s safe to assume that he tattooed to supplement his income at night but there are no records of him owning a shop at this time.

Joe Kitteridge’s contribution to Scottish tattooing history cannot go unrecognised. He came up to Scotland and made a good living for the best part of a decade. He was a professional Tattoo Artist during an era when tattooing was still considered a magical, mystical, secret artform and he helped to popularise it in the north of Scotland. He was years ahead of his time when it came to self publicity, offering guest spots and travelling to tattoo in other areas. It’s a shame he’s not been more widely written about but seems to have been overshadowed by the achievements of Burchett, MacDonald, South and Riley.

Thanks Joe for all your efforts!