Professor Norton

Professor George Norton - Dundee and Aberdeen 1910-1912

Sign writer, Magician, Army officer, multi-linguist, inventor and even a killer...some of the words used to describe Professor Norton tattoo Artist.

Every tattoo artist in the early part of the last century had a 'backstory', norton artwork

A colourful narrative providing a history or background that served to highlight how they’d arrived at their chosen profession.  Most were based on some loose facts and peppered with liberal amounts of fiction. This information was used to create an air of mystique and intrigue around the story of the tattoo artist’s life and journey.  Professor Norton’s was no exception and his backstory read like a script written for a Hollywood feature film.

There is no doubt that he was an all round talented, skilled, artistic and creative individual but he wasn’t born into a life of privilege.

George Norton was born George Huddleston in Bolton around 1880.  His early life involved a spell in The Bolton and County of Lancaster Certified Industrial School after his father, an iron dresser from Blackburn, had abandoned his wife and five children.

Norton's backstory suggests that he ran away to join Buffalo Bill's Circus (lot's of tattooist around this time made this exact same claim) and he learned to perform magic tricks and illusions and also picked up the trades and skills of both the sign writer and the tattoo artist.

Tattooing was beginning to become popular with the working classes throughout Britain and shops and makeshift parlours were popping up all over. There were at least 50 professionals making a living (of sorts) from tattooing by 1910.

This was the year that George Norton decided to relocate to Dundee, Scotland and began tattooing from a shop at 36 Greenmarket, a popular, busy location near the shores of the Firth of Tay. Dundee was booming economically at this point in history and was famous worldwide for its Jute, journalism, shipbuilding and jam.

norton dindee 1910 small

He worked at this location for 3 years, tattooing under the title of Professor Norton, Society tattooist. There’s no doubt that he would have also used his other acquired talents and skills to help boost his income and would have still been performing magic in the evenings and perhaps sign writing locally when required.

He also formed a close friendship with another English Tattoo Artist named Joe Kitteridge who had been tattooing in Aberdeen, Scotland since 1906.

Joe Kitteridge and Professor Norton must have hit it off as they tattooed together several times over the next few years in Aberdeen and Lerwick in the Shetland Islands.

1912 was the final year that Norton tattooed in Scotland and in 1913 he was working in Burnley, Lancashire, England.  In 1913 George was tattooing in Paris.The picture below show George working at the exhibition tattooing a young lady.

norton postcard

The outbreak of the first Wold War began in 1914 and many young men were called up to fight. George Norton claimed that he was travelling in the United States of America at this time and near the end of the war had joined the American Expeditionary Force that landed in Arkhangelsk, Russia in 1918. It is said that he became fluent in Russian during his 6 year stay in Moscow. He had a talent for foreign language and could also speak Arabic, French and German.

Around 1920 he returned to Britain and later travelled over to Ireland, as a member of Sir Robert Fossett's Circus.

He met his first wife, a tattooed lady while performing in Ireland and legend has it that one evening while walking in a local park, they were both attacked by local youths. Professor Norton came to his wife's defence, killing one of the assailants. The local Police, accepting the killing was in self-defence, advised Norton to leave Ireland immediately for his own safety as the murdered man was a member of a local IRA unit. He quickly departed but left the tattooed lady behind.

He returned to the relative safety of County Durham and continued to sign write, perform illusions and magic trick and work as a Tattoo Artist.

He got married for a second time in 1929 to Martha Oakes and they lived in Shildon, County Durham. They had 7 children, 3 boys and 4 girls, and for a few years lived in a caravan at Toft Hill, Bishop Auckland.

Around 1930 Britain was suffering the after effects of the Global Depression. Particularly hardest hit by economic problems were the industrial and mining areas in the north of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales. Tattooing was viewed as a luxury and the art fell into a slump. Few Tattoo Artists could make a living strictly from their trade alone and many worked part-time or only opened a few days a week to keep their hand in.

Around 1933 George Norton was working full-time as a sign writer for George Tallentire of Tow Law who owned local coachworks. Although he still tattooed in the evenings Professor Norton also accepted private engagements and performed at local fetes and fairs as a magician/illusionist.

In 1938 Professor Norton moved his family to Polar Terrace in Roddymoor, Crook a small mining village in County Durham. He continued working in the daytime as a sign writer, and was commission to refurbish a travelling fair that had been requisitioned by the British Army at the start of WW2.

The outbreak of WW2 saw a massive resurge for professional tattooists, working on squaddies and sailors heading off to fight in the war in Europe. Professor Norton tattooed lots of local soldiers from the Brancepeth Castle Camp and was revered as a naturally talented freehand tattoo artist who drew the designs straight onto the skin with ink.

After the war he lived and worked in Crook until his death in 1953. He is buried in Crook Cemetery.

Professor Norton once said he was born to live in a castle, but he ended his days in 1953 in a council house in Crook.

However, he’d lived an exciting and varied life and had had put all his talents to good use. He couldn’t ask for more than that.

His 3 sons, John, Barry and George Jnr all became tattooists in the North of England. John tattooed in Blackpool for many years right up until 2000. Barry Tattooed in various locations between Blackpool, Preston, Leyland, Kirkham and Warton.