school Lionel began his working life as an apprentice Mechanic
at a Volkswagen dealership. At the end of the apprenticeship Lionel
changed jobs and went to work on commercial vehicles, bluffing
his way through the interview with the knowledge that he learnt
has two small tattoos, and this got Lionel into thinking that
one day he wanted tattoos as well. It was the apprentices Lionel
was now working with at his new job that led Lionel into getting
his first tattoo. Some had come into work on a Monday morning
sporting new tattoos that had been done over the weekend. So Lionel
got his first tattoo done in Oxford at the beginning of the 70s.
later after getting an addition to his tattoo collection from
the needle of Bob Smith in Oxford. Fate took a hand, when Lionel
walked into an old curiosity shop in the London Road, Headington,
This old shop
with a large pair of buffalo horns over the door, full of military
memorabilia, unbeknown to Lionel, belonged to ex-tattooist Tony
Malo. Who used to tattoo in Oxford in 1962, and noticing the tissue
and tape wrapped around Lionel's arm he knew that he had just
had a tattoo done and asked about it.
to talk about the art, Malo expressing surprise that someone was
tattooing in Oxford, because it was the lack of business that
made him give up the needles in 1963. He went on to tell Lionel
that he still had his tattooing equipment at home and that he
wanted to sell it, and asked Lionel to tell his tattooist the
next time he saw him.
got thinking about what it would be like to be the other side
of the needle. Lionel asked how much Malo wanted for his gear,
and a price was agreed at £25 pounds - so he put down a £5 deposit
with the balance to be paid the following week.
Now £25 was
a lot of money in 1972, Lionel by this time was a fully qualified
mechanic earning £35 pounds a week. The following pay day could
not come quick enough, pay day came and Lionel went back to the
shop to pick up his new goods only to be told that extra items
had been found and the price had increased to £30 pounds. He only
had £25 pounds on him so he had to go back home and ask his brother
to lend him the £5 that he needed.
lent him the money and Lionel became the proud owner of two tattoo
machines, some colour, needles, design sheets and other bits and
bobs. Like so many tattoo artists, he used his own skin to work
on until he was confident to work on others.
to the kit included a flyer from Spaulding & Rogers, this flyer
had endorsements from Terry Wrigley of Glasgow and Les Skuse of
Bristol. Lionel later made contact with Terry Wrigley which led
to a long friendship.
After a while
Lionel became confident enough to start to do tattoos on his friends,
many of these were apprentices from where he was working. This
led on to them bringing their friends to Lionel, and soon the
word went around there was a new tattooist in town. He soon began
to see some work being done by another tattooist who used to work
in Oxford in the 1960's, this was "Matt" a Scottish painter and
decorator who also did some tattooing.
to ask around and try to track down the address of Matt. He tried
knocking on a few doors in the district of Oxford known as Wellington
Square. As when still at school, Lionel had heard that there used
to be a tattooist in the centre of town in this area. Eventually
Lionel tracked Matt down to Marsh Road, and went the local pub
the Marsh Harrier to see if anyone knew where Matt lived.
Lionel some designs and more importantly he sold him names and
addresses of tattoo suppliers and that was the key that opened
the door (somehow if you paid for information it would show the
tattoo world that you were serious about the art).
Lionel would pay a tenner (£10) just for a name on a piece of
paper and that's how it was in those days, you paid for everything,
much the same as a magician pays for tricks nowadays
tattoo that Lionel did was a small cross on his left arm. This
was followed with two tattoos on his legs. He came to the conclusion
that he was not happy with the machines that he had just bought
and made a couple of new ones during his dinner break. Also luckily
for Lionel was the fact that the fitter that Lionel had been teamed
up with at work, was able to get the parts chrome plated as his
father worked at a local company with a chrome plating plant.
didn't come hard to him because apart from being a mechanic, his
great passion was engineering, which it still is today and its
this that gets Lionel away from everything, engineering being
his hobby. Also Lionel has the plans and drawings for a rotary
four stroke petrol engine designed by him whilst he was an apprentice,
but that's another story!
customers were his work mates who had to take their shoes off
at the bottom of the stairs under the watchful eyes of his mum,
this being a condition of him being able to use his bedroom to
tattoo. The room consisted of a wall covered in designs, a table
with his gear on, one chair and the bed. Lionel used his room
for about two years.
In early 1974,
he was on holiday from work when he saw an ad in his local newspaper
for a room to let above a hairdressers near the city centre. He
thought this would be ideal for a tattoo studio. But first he
had to win over the lady owner who was none to happy about renting
the room to a tattooist. In fact she told him that she had already
turned down someone else who wanted to use it for tattooing. Lionel
did not give up easily and eventually persuaded her to let him
have it for two weeks and if she was unhappy after that time he
would move his gear out.
The two weeks
turned into eighteen months of non-stop tattooing. The only trouble
being that the hairdressers closed early on Saturday's, but Lionel's
clients had to go through the shop to get to the stairs that led
up to his studio. Silly things would go missing, like the odd
bottle of shampoo, the lady who owned the shop was very understanding
and packed everything away that was on the shelves each Saturday
afternoon. Lionel also decided that on a Saturday, he would have
to let his customers in two at a time, and lock the rest out.
This was a
situation he didn't like, and it was not fair on the landlady.
When the chance of a shop on the next corner became available,
he took his skills from number 70 to new premises at 66 St Clements
Street. Lionel was now using a large double fronted ground floor
shop, with it's own front door and things ran along perfectly,
until the landlord there decided to turn the shop into two separate
units, and sell them off. Because business was good he bought
one of the units and the small flat above and stayed there until
of space made it necessary to move to his present location at
389 Cowley Road, this was to become the headquarters of the newly
formed Tattoo Club of Great Britain, and home of Britain's first
One of the
main things that disappointed Lionel was the fact that so much
of Britain's tattoo history was leaving our shores. Many items
of interest were going to San Francisco, where the home of the
worlds premier tattoo museum is situated. It was Lyle Tuttle,
the owner of the San Francisco museum, who was instrumental in
the setting up of Britain's Tattoo Museum, because it was Tuttle's
book 'Tattoo 70' that Lionel read and it got him thinking that
England needed a home to keep its tattoo history.
new shop Lionel now had the space. Lionel still had the old machines
that he bought from Tony Malo. He phoned other tattoo artists
and explained what he was doing and was delighted to find others
who felt the same. Memorabilia soon came flooding in, and not
just from the UK but from all over the world. Today the museum
has everything you ever needed to know about the history of tattooing.
Lionel decided to call it the Tattoo History Museum, Lyle Tuttle
suggested changing the name to the British Tattoo History Museum
to avoid confusion with his Tattoo Art Museum.
Over the years
many people have visited the museum including Students, Press
and Television. The actor Robert de Niro made a visit doing research
into the art. If you would like to visit please phone first.
organised a series of very successful tattoo convention, the first two were held in Oxford. Because
he is now occupied with other duties like running a busy shop
and producing a newsletter which is now in its 20th year, as well
as running The British Tattoo Artist Federation, he decided he
no longer has time to organise any more conventions.
Lionel no longer works in the studio, resident tattooists now are Barnaby and Curly who can be reached on 01865 716877.
studio email - firstname.lastname@example.org