Tattooing A to Z #21: William Grimshaw

William Grimshaw was a tattoo artist who apparently operated in the Norfolk, Virginia area, during the 1940s and 50s. Little is known of him, including which Grimshaw family line he descended from. The Grimshaw surname originated in Lancashire in the northern part of England, apparently around 1000 AD. There appear to be few records of Grimshaw family lines for the first 200 to 250 years. However, it is highly probable that the family’s roots are connected to the town of Grimsargh, which is a short distance northeast of Preston.

According to Lyle Tuttle, Grimshaw was reported to be an English immigrant. Grimshaw’s work is well known in the “tattoo world” for his beautifully painted “tattoo flash“. Tattoo designs staples such as his famous “Rock of Ages“, was a signature piece for Grimshaw. From a business card of the era, we know that William Grimshaw was tattooing on 210 King Street, Charleston, South Carolina, early in his career. William also had a practice in Norfolk, Virginia, but it is not known which practice preceded the other.

William Grimshaw, Watercolour by Pepe
William Grimshaw, Watercolour by Pepe

Here’s an extract from a featured article published by the Chuck Eldridge, tattoo Archive, about the tattooist Charlie Barrs: “Shortly before the closing of the Norfolk, VA, tattoo shops in 1950, Barrs left San Diego where Bob Shaw said he had been working with Painless Nell. Barrs headed back to the east coast, this time to work with William ‘Bill’ Grimshaw. Grimshaw’s shop was located just two doors down from ‘Coleman’s Place’ on East Main Street”. Another of the few information we have is from the biography of one of his partner in business, the tattooer Amund Dietzel. When he was 17 Dietzel was introduced to electric tattooing in New Haven CT, by William Grimshaw. Grimshaw practiced “a delicate style and touch synonymous with British tattooists for which Amund would later become revered”. The two men became close friends and tattooed each other head to toe. William and Amund traveled as carneys, appearing in sideshows as tattooed men.

They made money by selling photographs of themselves and tattooing between shows. Having worked alongside and nearby other greats such as Cap Coleman, Amund Dietzel and Charlie Barrs, he contributed to create the language of the great American tattooing as we know it today. The watercolor, showing Amund and William working together, comes from a rare b/w picture of this bygone era.