A brief history of Cecil Rhodes (1880 - 1951)

We are proud to be the owners of a collection of unique artwork and equipment that use to belong to Cecil Rhodes, Dover's first tattooist. John Henry Rhodes (Cecil Rhodes). Tattooist, Sign Writer, Photographer and father to four children, Silvia, Cecil, John, and George.

We have examples of his different tattoo machines, needles, designs and photos on display at Merlin's. Even if you're not quite ready for a tattoo yourself, please feel free to drop in and see this remarkable slice of history!

About Cecil Rhodes

Cecil served in the army during World War 1, where he would tattoo his fellow servicemen. After his service in the army he set up his first tattoo shop in a local arcade at 173 Snargate Street in Dover. He was one of only five tattooist at this time. Another was his brother, Dusty, who was based in Grimsby and had his own shop. Dusty also served in the armed forces during the war.

Cecil offered an electric tattooing process that was a recently new to this part of the world at this time as tattoos were normally done by hand in places such as the Polynesian, Hawaiian islands and New Zealand and only seen on sailors that had sailed those sea's such as William Bligh, Sir Martin Frobisher and James Cook. He would offer high standard tattooing to holiday makers, the local workmen and the armed forces forced based in and around Dover. He would also tattoo the soldiers based at the Shorncliffe barracks in Folkestone.

The shop in Snargate street was bombed during the second world war so Cecil worked for the local council replacing the road surfaces. At this time, he also sold handmade ice cream from his elegantly painted cart and from his motorcycle and sidecar.

At this time Cecil was tattooing people in the back of the Prince Regent pub until he eventually set up his tattoo shop in his front living room of his house in No.5 Liverpool Lawn, Liverpool Street, where the Dover Leisure centre and swimming pool stand today.

Business was slow for tattooing as the war was still raging and at the time, tattoos were not very popular among the common gentry and possibly considered to be the marks of ruffians and hardened sailors!

Times were hard even after the war and Cecil took photographs of Dover's holiday makers which he sold to make ends meet.

All of Cecil's tattoo designs were hand done and he used his photography in his tattooing too. The machines he used throughout his tattoo career some date back to the early 1900s to the later 1940s (the Joseph Hartley Machines) were chrome dipped but are all originals.