It's well known that Sweeney Todd — the 'demon barber' of Fleet Street — is little more than a grisly myth, concocted in the pages of 'penny dreadful' serial The String of Pearls.
Of course, there never was a Sweeney's Todd's barbershop on Fleet Street... except, well, there WAS.
The above photo, posted recently on the excellent Old Photos of Essex Kent & London Facebook page, reveals an establishment at what is now 152-3 Fleet Street, proudly bearing the the name: SWEENEY TODD HAIRDRESSER.
The photo is corroborated by a section in the Nottingham Evening Post from 7 October 1926, called Echoes from Town. In it, an anonymous journalist enthuses:
Walking along Fleet-street yesterday afternoon the thrills of boyhood were recalled by the appearance of a sign: "Sweeney Todd Hairdresser." Was this indeed the "Demon Barber" whose atrocities formed the subject of entrancing tales in the boys' journals of my time!"
'Bobbing', 'shingling' and 'waving' are among the services, he continues — matching with the above photo, and suggesting that the 1920s Sweeney Todd had female clients, as well as male ones.
The writer goes on to explain that the sign is "newly painted", so we can assume the controversially-named shop opened around the mid 1920s, 80-odd years after the idea of a maniacal hairdresser, who slits the throats of his customers then turns them into pies, first terrified Londoners.
In lieu of Mrs Lovett's infamous pie shop, the picture shows a sweet shop, Prosperity Kandy Stores. Today, the premises (which would have presumably housed the dodgy meat establishment in the fictional version) is home to... a McDonald's. It's temporarily closed though.
We don't know how long the real-life Sweeney Todd remained in business. The Nottingham Evening Post writer suggests: "The adoption of a name with such associations is odd, and it will be interesting to see whether it repels or attracts."
A dubiously-named chain of barbershops exists in today's London: Jack the Clipper. Unfortunately, the shops' namesake was all too real.