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Ghost Signs Of Stoke Newington

July 31, 2014
by the gentle author

This is the epicentre of ghost sign activity in Stoke Newington Church St. On the left is a triple-layer painted wall of the Westminster Gazette, Criterion Matches and Gillette Razors – all merged into one glorious palimpsest – and on the right is a double layer painted sign advertising “Fount Pens Repaired.”

Sam Roberts was walking past one day in 2006 when he had a moment of inspiration. “I thought that’s neat, nowadays we just have disposable pens,” he admitted to me, “The sign was from a different world to ours.” As Sam’s fascination grew, he began to compile a map  London’s ghost signs and cycled around to photograph them all. Recognising that these curious signs comprise a powerful element in the collective psyche of urban life, he approached the History of Advertising Trust to develop an online archive containing more than six hundred specimens of which he is now the curator.

Recently, Sam has been studying the ghost signs of Stoke Newington, researching the stories behind their creation. The people and the businesses are mostly gone long ago and these fading signs are their last vestiges on this earth. Yet not everyone shares Sam’s recognition of their importance, as the painting-out of a huge intricate ghost sign upon the wall above above Stoke Newington Post Office demonstrated recently.“Many of these signs are over a hundred and twenty-five years old, “ Sam explained, “if they were a pieces of jewellery or furniture, people would immediately recognise their value.”

Thus, Sam is now leading walking tours to tell the poignant and compelling stories of the signs, revealing a local perspective upon the history of the streets and ensuring that these fragile traces of former generations are appreciated for their beauty and significance, as signposts to our shared past.

In Northwold Rd: R. Ellis. Ironmonger. Stoves, Range & Bath Boiler Works. Gas Fitter & Plumber. General House Repairs. Est. 60 Years. – Robert Ellis was born in 1835, died in 1898 and was buried across the road in Abney Park Cemetery. Note usage of bricks to define the height of the letters.

On Cazenove Rd: F. Cooper,  Job Master for Wedding Carriages, Broughams, Landaus, Cabs

The faded illustration on the ceramic panel is captioned “The Duchess of Devonshire canvasses the Jolly Butchers to vote for Fox in 1784”

Eloma Preparations was here in Carnham St from 1947 until the eighties

Richardson & Sons, Shirtmakers, Hackney, Leyton & Walthamstow – painted in 1955 on an older panel

On Stoke Newington High St, painted over an earlier indecipherable sign: John Hawkins & Sons, Cotton Spinners & Manufacturers, Preston, Lancashire (Painted between 1926-1939 when the company was concentrating on increasing their home market when the struggle for Indian independence took away their overseas trade)

Walker Bros, Fount Pen Specialists, Phone Dalston 4522, Agents for Watermans Ideal Fountain Pen (A sponsored sign dated to the early twenties and repainted later on the left with “Any make” added.)

Hurstleigh’s Bakery – Daren – Brown Bread (Daren flour mills were in Dartford, Kent, on the banks of the river Darent)

Alf the Purse King – A Rubinsten & Sons – Purses, Pouches, Handbags, Wallets

In Stoke Newington Church St : Crane, House Decorator, Plumber, Gas & Hot Water Fitter, Contractor for General Repairs (Dating from 1890, this believed to be Stoke Newington’s oldest ghost sign.)

Visible from Stoke Newington Station, a narrow fragment of a double layer sign advertising “6  Tables”, “A Speciality”  and “Debossing”

Find out more about Sam Roberts’ tours at his Ghost Signs website or visit the History of Advertising Ghost Signs Archive

You may also like to read about

The Old Signs of Spitalfields

16 Responses leave one →
  1. July 31, 2014

    Great idea to capture the ads before they sooner or later disappear for ever!

  2. July 31, 2014

    Yes, I recognize these signposts to the past regularly, when a house is demolished and a vintage commercial message does appear… It’s always incredible! And very sad, that in most cases they can’t be conserved…

    Love & Peace

  3. July 31, 2014

    Thank you for this article, I love to see ghost signs.

    I’ve been ‘collecting’ them in my local area for the past year a deliberate hobby and hadn’t realised I’d been doing the same on a trip to New York a couple of years ago, I think it laid the base there for the interest to grow. I think they are fascinating. Need to do some more work on my blog.

  4. ROBERT GREEN permalink
    July 31, 2014

    I love these sign’s, for year’s I myself have identified lot’s of these fascinating relic’s of a bygone era as I have walked my way around London, I think they give an invaluable insight into both the social and commercial attitude’s of a more gentile past, sad that so many people seem to have scant regard for the importance of preserving these wonderful example’s of social history, but with so much important research apparently already having been done, surly there must be a commercial opportunity hear for a fully illustrated book ?

  5. Philip Marriage permalink
    July 31, 2014

    Sam Roberts deserves our thanks for recording these glimpses to the past – though some have ‘ghosted’ almost to the point of invisibility, it is remarkable how many still exist as demonstrated by the History of Advertising Trust’s online archive:

    You have of course in the heart of Spitalfields a fine example – that of ‘Donovan Bros The noted house for PAPER BAGS’ in Crispin Street though it’s a pity that the painted panel that once hung on the brickwork above has long gone in the gentrification of the market area.

  6. Peter Holford permalink
    July 31, 2014

    I’ve always loved these signs. My favourite is one in Bridgnorth Shropshire, next to the River Severn. It seems to be one that is well looked after and maintained even though it advertises a seed merchant established in the 1690s! Thank you for this posting.

  7. Patricia Celeveland-Peck permalink
    July 31, 2014

    Rather than destroying such a sign, a house which must at one time have been a baker’s in the village of Groombridge Sussex, has proudly had the sign re-painted so that it is no longer a ghost.

  8. Pauline Taylor permalink
    July 31, 2014

    How interesting all these signs are and so good that they are being recorded before they either wear away or they are obliterated by modern development. We were lucky where I live in that developers not only retained the sign of the long established business that had previously occupied the mediaeval premises but they restored and made a feature of it, I admire it on my journey into work each day.

    The ghost sign here in Northwold Road is of great interest to me as it must have been a familiar sight to my grandparents who lived in Northwold Road at the turn of the century.

    Thank you again GA for all these fascinating insights into how the East End of London looked when my great grandparents and grandparents lived there. I am amazed at how much I have learnt from your site already!

  9. July 31, 2014

    Thanks for all the kind comments.
    Peter Holford – is this the one in Bridgnorth?–Agriculture
    It is a quite unusual sign that has had the paint kept relatively fresh. Do you know if the business is still trading?

  10. Katya permalink
    July 31, 2014

    This was a delight to read about.
    We, too, have many old signs in New York on the sides of buildings, though none that I know of from the 18th century. Lucky you!
    It sends a shiver to look up at them because unlike reproductions in print, there they are, before our eyes, true living reminders of past ways that so many decades ago defined the way life carried on.

  11. Sheila Hanson permalink
    July 31, 2014

    Lovely and interesting. Makes me wish I could visit London again with more time to look for these sorts of hidden treasures. Your writing is delightful and I look forward to your next post.

  12. Peter Holford permalink
    July 31, 2014

    Dear Sam Roberts

    That is indeed the one I was talking about. But it would seem to be almost 100 years older than I remembered (established 1616)! I was working from an increasingly erratic memory!

    I don’t know about the business but a quick search suggests that it was subsumed by Wynnstay of Bridgnorth. Apparently the building is an old warehouse used when the Severn was the main form of transport and the sign faces the river – a beacon for the boats approaching it!

  13. Janet M permalink
    August 1, 2014

    I love these old signs that preserve a memory of what was. I have been photographing some of the local ones for a future blog post, but they are not from such a distant past.

  14. Don McKernan permalink
    August 1, 2014

    I was happily surprised to see Sam featured on this blog. He also has a project called ‘Better Letters’, featuring modern-day sign-painters around the world, keeping the craft alive:

  15. Melvyn Brooks permalink
    August 4, 2014

    Thanks for this.

    If anyone wants a scan of the Jolly Butchers Pub showing the corner of Stoke Newington High Street and Garnham Street, I have an unused postcard of this view. The state of the wall tiles are excellent and the rubric can easily be read by enlarging the image. Gratis of course.

    Melvyn Brooks Karkur

  16. August 20, 2014

    Thanks Peter. The sign itself is presumably more recent that the date of establishment of the business? The age of the building itself may offer some clue, as can archival photos help to date the sign itself.

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