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Afro comb restyles first million-pound black business

OLD AND NEW: Artist Jennie Pedley with young people from Seven Sisters Primary School show off their collaboration of the afro comb.

AN ARTS project that celebrates the history of the afro comb is paying homage to Britain’s first black business empire as part of plans to regenerate the north London area in the aftermath of the 2011 riots.

The Afro Comb Adventures, comprised of stunning silhouettes of local children from Tottenham, in north London, explores the historic hair tool in an initiative funded by the Arts Council. It is also part of a £50, 000 regeneration scheme by Haringey Council. 

The installation, which will be on display at West Green Road, was inspired by a Bruce Castle Museum project last year which examined the area’s unique connection to the afro comb through Dyke & Dryden - the UK’s first distributor.

The pioneering hair care firm, founded on Tottenham High Road in the 1960s, became Britain’s first black-owned multi-million pound business empire and made and sold the combs at its West Green Road shop until the 1990s.

It was set up by the late Jamaicans Lincoln ‘Len’ Dyke and Dudley Dryden, along with Montserratian Tony Wade, at a time when black entrepreneurship in Britain was practically non-existent.

Following Dyke’s death in 2006, writer Nia Reynold wrote in The Guardian: “In its heyday, Dyke & Dryden was synonymous with all things black and beautiful: hair sheens, pomades, wigs, weaves and cosmetics.


“In the beauty industry of the 1960s, 70s and 80s, when black women were virtually invisible to many manufacturers, within the black community Dyke & Dryden signified black pride, refinement and elegance.”

Ade Sawyerr, a partner at Equinox Consulting - a firm that formulates strategies for the social and economic development of black and ethnic minority communities - says projects like the Afro Comb Adventures could be used to inspire a new generation of black entrepreneurs.  

He told The Voice: “Dyke and Dryden built a business at a time when black people did not have access to premises or finance, when they were discriminated against by the banks, at a time when they were not fully engaged with and contributing to wealth creation. 

ORIGINAL ENTREPRENEURS: The story of the founding fathers of Dyke&Dryden was told by partner Tony Wade.

“Despite these challenges the company took advantage of the captive ethnic market, provided a service which met the needs of African Caribbean communities and went on to enjoy great success.”

He adds: “Unfortunately many of the programmes that were put in place to address these inequalities are now being taken away. But this should not deter black people from setting up businesses. What Dyke and Dryden proved is that businesses could be successful even in difficult times.”

The project was guided by Tottenham artist Jennie Pedley who worked alongside pupils from Seven Sisters Primary School to develop the art. Pedley says the project promotes an interest and a deeper understanding of the different cultures in the multicultural neighbourhood.

She explains: “The history of the afro comb, which dates back 6,000 years, is very much about the history of Africa and the sheer beauty of the objects used in the culture and the meanings that were attached to them.

“But it was also about connecting with a more recent history.  It never occurred to me that when people moved from Africa and the Caribbean that they might not automatically have access to the right hair products.” 

She adds: “The experience did not only encourage cohesiveness among the children who participated, some of whom were recent migrants and are still learning to speak English, it also brought the community together in a very special way.”

Councillor Alan Strickland, cabinet member for regeneration, who unveiled the artwork under the rail bridge on Thursday (March 27), says: “Creating welcoming high streets that allow our small businesses to flourish is a central part of our regeneration plans to improve facilities and support a Tottenham fit for the 21st Century.”

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