THERE is only a month left for gentlemen to get their hair cut in the curious surroundings of a former Italian ice cream café which has swastikas on the floor.

Since 1933, gents’ hair has been cut at Rowell’s in Darlington’s Skinnergate, on the floor above the Three Squares café, but on New Year’s Eve, it is closing, as one of the barbers is retiring and the other is moving to a chair elsewhere.

But the story of this rather grand room, with its unusual wooden columns, goes back to the days of an Italian ice cream maker – as the rose and black mosaic on the doorstep says.

The mosaic bears the name of Giuseppe Iannarelli, who arrived from the poverty-stricken area of Naples in Italy in 1902. He learned the ice cream trade with the Rocco Rea family of Italians who had already settled in Darlington, and in 1910 opened his own confectionery café in Skinnergate.

The café was on the ground floor, where the Three Squares is today, and the Iannarelli family initially lived on the two floors above. In the mid-1920s, as the business thrived, they moved to Duke Street.

The Skinnergate room could have been their drawing room, or, accessed by steep stone stairs, it could have been where customers took their ices.

Not only did the room have its fancy woodwork and its picture bay window, but the floor had a swastika pattern on it. The swastikas are now hidden by lino, but they can clearly be seen on an old photograph.

Today, of course, the swastika has horrendous Nazi associations, but it was an ancient Indian good luck symbol – the word “swastika” is Sanskrit for “auspicious” or “well being”.

At the start of the 20th Century, it was an innocent, fun emblem – Carlsberg etched swastikas onto the beer bottles and Coca-Cola designed them into giveaway keyfobs.

By the late 1920s, when the Iannarellis were decorating their room, the swastikas geometric pattern made it fashionable with architects. In recent years, there have been controversies over the NatWest bank in Bolton, built in 1927, which has swastikas tiled into its floor, and over the Essex County Council offices in Chelmsford, designed in 1928, which has a line of swastikas in its stonework.

Even the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London has ornamental swastikas on it.

But in the 1930s, Adolf Hitler turned the swastika into an emblem of hate and it now has such appalling connotations that no one would ever use it as a decoration.

But it was there on the floor in Skinnergate in 1933 when Arthur Rowell and George Taylor set up as hairdressers in it – and the word “hairdressing” was scribbled across the front of the building.

Mr Taylor emigrated to Australia, but Mr Rowell passed the business down to his son, Ray. When he retired in 1996, he was said to be the last barber in Darlington to practice the art of singeing newly cut hair, by holding a lit taper to the neck until the hair shrivelled with the heat.

This had become popular at the end of the 19th Century. Some people believed that hair had a fluid in it, and singeing the ends sealed it up and stopped it falling out; others said that singeing kept the cold out. Apparently, hipster barbers have recently reinvented the practice of hair singeing in trendy male grooming salons.

Since 1996, the business has been run by Jacqui Sweeten, who is taking a chair in the nearby Hackers shop in Larchfield Street, while her partner, Sharon Lupton, is retiring after a lifetime of hairdressing.

They shut up shop on New Year’s Eve, so it may be some time before their curious room is open to the public again.