Enoch Williams obituary

Other Lives: Pioneering businessman who set up black hairdressing salons and an afro hairdressing school

My uncle Enoch Williams, who has died aged 80, was a pioneering businessman who set up black hairdressing salons for men and women, a hairdressing school and the first black British-owned factory selling hair care products. He was well-known for his upbeat attitude and his determination to provide opportunities for others.

Enoch was born in the village of Swetes in Antigua to Ernest Williams, a trade union leader, and Sarah Andrew, a cook. He came to the UK as part of the Windrush generation in 1958, taking up his first job as a factory worker before becoming a postman. Friends from those days recall his driving ambition; rather than joining them for a drink after work, he would study at evening classes.

His initial plan to take a university degree changed after he decided to address the dearth of professional afro hairdressing services in the UK. He trained at the Morris School of Hairdressing in London in 1970, then saved up to do further training in afro hairdressing in New York, which meant spending a year away from his first wife, Jenny (nee Boyles), and their young sons.

Enoch Williams (right) giving his brother, the boxer Maurice Hope, some hairdressing tips in 1978
Enoch Williams (right) giving his brother, the boxer Maurice Hope, some hairdressing tips in 1978 Photograph: From family/UNKNOWN

On his return in 1973, Enoch launched his first hairdressing salon, called Glamourland, in Hackney, east London. Within a year he had bought the neighbouring premises and the salon spread over three floors, becoming one of the largest and most popular black hairdressers in London.

Enoch received enquiries from students around the world, eager to learn from him. He responded in 1978 by setting up the Ebony School of Hairdressing, which offered the first accredited afro hairdressing qualification in the UK.

After the 1981 Brixton uprisings he set his sights on establishing a large, state-of-the-art salon called Ultimate above Brixton tube station, partly in order to support the development of the community. Enoch’s initial proposal was turned down. The same plan was agreed, however, after he enlisted the help of a white friend who posed as the business owner.

Enoch’s activities expanded to include a factory manufacturing hair-care products, after years of experimentation in his kitchen. A further salon followed in Brooklyn, New York, enabling him to bring the latest US trends to the UK.

He was a hard-working and caring man who encouraged people around him to strive for excellence, including his half-brother Maurice Hope, who became a world boxing champion.

He was also very creative, and loved making things – hair products, his legendary cakes and, as he liked to joke, great children too. He had a love of learning, and in later life took up piano and Spanish lessons. He also became an active member of Hornsey Moravian church.

His marriage to Jenny ended in divorce. He is survived by his second wife, Fiona Bartels-Ellis, their children, Sholah and Uche, four children from his first marriage, Emile, Cordell, Karl and Duncan, and six grandchildren.

Claire Hynes

The GuardianTramp

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