Tattoo trends: The inking of London from the Victorians to the present day

The inking of London from the Victorians to the present day

Tattoo trends: The inking of London from the Victorians to the present day

Image copyright Image caption The exhibition offers a window into the world of the professional tattooist Sported by luminaries from King George V and Winston Churchill’s mother Jennie to David Beckham and Samantha Cameron, the tattoo has been in and out of fashion since Victorian times. As a new exhibition opens at the Museum of London, the BBC looks at how tastes and trends have changed over the generations.

Exhibition curator Jen Kavanagh has a mallard duck tattooed on her forearm. She had it done recently in memory of her husband.

"I was widowed last year," she explains, "and he used to call me duck, as a nickname." It’s a way, she says, of keeping a bit of him close to her.

It’s the same impulse that led to a surge in demand for Blackstar tattoos – the five-pointed star that appears on the cover of David Bowie’s final album – on the weekend after his death, according to tattooist Lal Hardy.

The death of Motorhead frontman Lemmy prompted a similar trend. With a tattoo, "sometimes you feel you’ve got a piece of that person with you", says Hardy.

London music and street style have driven the capital’s tattooing fashions ever since the 1970s.

Hardy, who has a "bodysuit" – about 80 artists have worked on him – started getting tattoos in the 1970s, inspired by the rockabilly revival in London during that decade. "All the Teddy Boys had tattoos and that’s what really pushed it.

"And then a guy that I was friends with who lived in Finchley… he came to my bedsit to tattoo me and brought his suitcase with this tattoo stuff. And I saw the stuff there and I thought ‘I can do this’."

Setting up as a tattooist has always been easy. No qualifications or training are required – only a licence from the council. The biggest problem back then, says Hardy, was other tattooists: "There was quite a lot of intimidation, it was very territorial." He […]

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