50 years of Ink

In the first 50 years of electric tattooing in Britain and Ireland there were over 130 tattooists working at various dates and locations.  On the pages below you'll read some familiar names and some that may not be instantly recognisable.

The city of London is always featured prominently in tattooing history.  There's a good reason for this as some of the most influential artists worked in the city at some point in their careers. You can see below that Sutherland MacDonald, Alfred South and George Burchett feature many times over the 50 years that are referenced on the list.  They would have no real reason to relocated elsewhere as they were all solidly established in that part of the country with a strong upper class clientel.

Others such as Joe Kitteridge, Billy Thomas and Joe Kilbride feature on the list several times in different countries within Britain and Ireland.  They all tattooed in London at the start of their careers but sought out new locations in other parts of the country like Aldershot, Aberdeen, Dublin and Belfast. Journeymen tattooists such as Prince Vallar, Henri Swiftt, Bill Donnelly, Tom Riley and Jim Wilson all ventured further afield and tattooed overseas at some point in their careers.

You'll also see a female apprentice tattooist  Clare Hannah May on the list who is learning the craft in Bristol in 1911.  This may have been under the watchful eye of Charles Davis who tattooed in Bristol from around 1907 before moving to Greys Inn Road in London by 1920.

The various waxworks Professors who made a living in the sideshows and Circuses are mainly missing from the list as their time tattooing at each of these attractions was usually a short term affair.  They were always on the move it's hard to attribute a fixed address to the artist.

The reader will see that there was some form of professional tattooing in most cities, ports and town of Britain and Ireland.

Some locations had lots of different artists working at the same time. Plymouth, Portsmouth, Chatham and Liverpool were good examples of this. Other major cities that surprisingly seem to have only had one or two main tattooists were Glasgow, Birmingham and Manchester! For such large places this seems strange.

The list below is made up of tattooists that either advertised in trade directories or newspapers. Others were recorded in official records such as the Census and Valuation Rolls. We know there were lots more tattooists who worked 'under the radar' or on a part time basis. Lots tattooed at home, while in the Military or onboard a seagoing vessel and would not have a searchable record of their tattooing.

This list of tattoo artists will be amended and corrected as time goes on but at present it shows a good picture of how tattooing was practiced in that first 50 year period from 1890 - 1940.

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