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Stoke Newington’s Ghost Signs

July 2, 2016
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

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The Old Signs of Spitalfields

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Shawdian permalink
    July 2, 2016

    And I thought I was the only person to appreciate ‘Ghost Signs’. Well done Sam for bringing this to public attention and aesthetic awareness. These neglected pieces of art (some over one hundred and twenty years old) which although many people ‘do see’ simply do not register and these delights although with us, are like ghosts shimmering before our eyes and disappear before we we can appreciate them. I admire your courage and determination. Well done for your new position as Curator. I for one am most grateful. I live on the Isle of Wight, we have a lot of Victorian buildings and in our High St we have some wonderful Ghost Signs which we as an island treasure but how long they will remain no one knows. For once building projects start their modernising no one knows how long these little treasures will last. Good Luck Sam and will keep my eyes on your progress.

  2. Toni Bracher permalink
    July 2, 2016

    Thank you, a very interesting article and photos. It is really nice that someone has taken photos, researched some of the history behind each and also combined this with offering a very informative local tour. Also noticed many photos also had a cyclist in the foreground – that also tells us a little of the increasing popularity of bike use despite modernisation.

  3. July 2, 2016

    Great collection of signs! Valerie

  4. July 2, 2016

    This is wonderful. Thanks so much!

  5. July 2, 2016

    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

  6. pauline taylor permalink
    July 2, 2016

    Thank you from me too, my grandparents lived in Northwold Road in 1902 when my aunt was born so I was particularly pleased to see a sign there. It is great that someone is recording some of these fascinating glimpses into the past, and some of the history too.

  7. Nick Gaffney permalink
    August 10, 2020

    Born in Hackney 1952, moved to the US in 83, I look at these pictures and it seems like Victorian times.

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