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The barber surgeon was one of the most common medical practitioners of medieval Europe - generally charged with looking after soldiers during or after a battle. In this era, surgery was not generally conducted by physicians, but by barbers.

They often took up residence in castles where they also provided medical assistance to the rich and wealthy.

Barber surgeons in the United Kingdom

Formal recognition of their skills (in England at least) goes back to 1540, when the Fellowship of Surgeons (who existed as a distinct profession, but still not "Doctors/Physicians" as they are thought of today) merged with the Company of Barbers to form the Company of Barber-Surgeonsmarker. However, the trade was gradually put under pressure by the medical profession and in 1745, the surgeons split from the barbers to form the Company of Surgeonsmarker. In 1800 a Royal Charter was granted and the Royal College of Surgeonsmarker in Londonmarker came into being (later it was renamed to cover all of England - equivalent Colleges exist for Scotlandmarker and Irelandmarker as well as many of the old UK colonies).

The last vestige of barber surgeons' links with the medical side of their profession is probably the traditional red and white barber's pole, which is said to represent the blood and bandages associated with their older role. Another link is the UK's use of the title Mr. rather than Dr. for consultants and registrars in surgery (when awarded an MRCS or FRCS diploma). This dates back to the days when surgeons gained an RCS diploma rather than a University Doctoral Degree. Even though all surgeons now have to gain a basic medical degree and doctorate (as well as undergoing several more years training in surgery), they still retain their link with the past, except for haircuts, which task the barbers have retained. The surgeons cut the parts of the body which aren't hair, whereas the barbers now cut only the hair.

In fiction

The TV series Children of the Stones featured an enigmatic character described as a Barber-Surgeon (portrayed by Freddie Jones), who had been mysteriously crushed by a fallen stone within the fictional Milbury stone circle.

In the animated series The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack, a recurring character named Dr. Barber is shown to offer both hair cuts and surgery to anyone walking by his shop.

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