When my grandfather came to the UK from Jamaica he was 19, alone, with a single bag and pair of threequarter length trousers,” says Nadine Knight. “He was aboard the SS Conti Biancamano for three weeks. People’s hair began to get too long, and that’s how he first became a barber,” she adds. Ugent Robert Knight was still to be found cutting hair at the age of 83, but by then he was far from alone. He had three children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.
He was a well-known and well-respected figure, not only throughout Hackney but far further afield too. “When Marvin Gaye and Mohammed Ali visited London, granddad would be called to their hotels to cut their hair. He cut the hair of loads of famous soul singers. But he never boasted about it, we just saw the photos of them all framed in his house,”says Nadine. Born in Jamaica in 1929, Ugent trained as a sheep shearer before taking a ship to the UK. In London, he shared a flat with three other young men, at a rate of three shillings a week.