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Philip Cunningham’s Dead Signs

January 18, 2021
by the gentle author

Inspired by Saturday’s post, Philip Cunningham sent me these photos of dead signs from the seventies

“When I was a student at Ravensbourne College of Art, I became very interested in photography. A tutor used to come and have an occasional drink in my local, the Three Crowns on Mile End Rd, and we would walk around the streets which were still derelict, either from the war or slum clearances. He was a painter not a photographer, but he impressed on me that all we were looking at would change and that I should document ‘everything,’ which I tried to do.”

Philip Cunningham

Edward Mann Buildings, Stepney

At the entrance to Mile End Place, Mile End Rd

‘Motor spirit sold’

‘Nordsten was a fantastic place where you could get anything sharpened – saws, lawnmower blades, chisels, planes, etc’

S H Defries & Co Ltd

Corner Cafe, Bethnal Green

Brady St

‘Brady St Dwellings were poky flats with a small coal bunker next to each front door that would not even hold enough fuel for one night. At the end of the courtyard was a chapel with these signs urging the tenants to work harder.’

Brady St Dwellings

St Dunstan’s Estate

Ritz Cafe

McCarthy O’Connor Snooks can eat three Shreaded Wheat (at least) ”We eat three Shredded Wheat’ was a slogan of the Labour Party in the seventies’

The People’s Arcade, Limehouse

The Ship, Stepney Way. ‘The pub was bombed in the war and I believe a lot of people perished.’



Springfield Lodge

The Three Suns, Wapping. ‘The Three Suns refers to a rare astronomical optical phenomenon that occurred before The Battle of Mortimer’s Cross on 2 February 1461 in the War of the Roses.’

St Dunstan’s Wharf, Limehouse

Shelter entrance, Bethnal Green

Mile End Rd

Photographs copyright © Philip Cunningham

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Philip Cunningham at Mile End Place

12 Responses leave one →
  1. January 18, 2021

    Brilliant and beautiful. I especially liked the juxtaposition of “labour is life” and “we can eat three shreaded wheat” as the slogan of the Labour Party. (what it means is completely baffling to me).

  2. January 18, 2021

    Very evocative (& also many thanks for Saturday’s images which resonated a lot too). The first image above is the railway bridge on Watney Street looking south to Cable Street : there still is, on the other side of the bridge, out of camera sight, a sign saying what to do in the event of a road accident damaging the railway bridge. The two Brady St. Dwellings photographs very resonant for me too : I knew people who lived there around 1974, just before it was pulled down (& I mention the Dwellings in a couple of my poems). Finally the sign ‘By Order Of The Education Committee You Must Take Care Crossing The Road’ is classic local Council ! ‘The Three Suns’ brickwork is also still there (as are many other ‘dead signs’ still, even now). Many thanks for these & Saturday’s.

  3. Jill Wilson permalink
    January 18, 2021

    These signs are very evocative of a bygone era, and it is great that Phil managed to record them all.

    I wonder how long it will be before all the social distancing instructions which are everywhere at the moment become ‘dead’ signs?
    Perhaps it would be a good idea to record as many of them as possible so that future generations can look back and wonder at all the restrictions we have had to obey in these challenging times.

    Let’s hope it isn’t too long before they can be ‘killed’ off….

  4. Wendy Lowe permalink
    January 18, 2021

    Such interesting photos. I’m off now to read about the three suns event of 1400s.

  5. Pauline Taylor permalink
    January 18, 2021

    Thank you Philip Cunningham, great photography !!

  6. Christine Thomas permalink
    January 18, 2021

    Brilliant choice of pics – similar sites not unknown in the early 1980s when I arrived in East End to look after actress friend’s flat for 3 weeks to stop it being squatted whilst she was on tour. She never came back and I somehow for some reason I can’t remember exactly why other than being absolutely bedazzled living in the midst of so many time and social zones slap bang next to the City – and of course so cheap to rent and within walking distance home from West End after hours. Couldn’t get a taxi for love nor money – not out of fearsome reputation East End where most taxi drivers sounded like they came from, but because they knew they wouldn’t get a fare back into town. And as for the last bus – one had to start preparing to get off opposite ‘Woolies’ (now MacDonalds)already at Liverpool St Station, as it took barely 3 minutes for the bus to whizz down the literally soulless Bethnal Green Road once shops had shut at 5pm. So unlike today where it
    same preparatory procedure Liverpool St even more necessary to be able to make one’s way through packed jam packed throngs visiting, frolicking and living in what has become a Mecca to all sorts -what estate agents like to call a vibrant area, a kind of Mecca to global all sorts. My days!

  7. Eric Forward permalink
    January 18, 2021

    Another set of incredible photographs. Thought I recognised St. Dunstan’s Wharf – used to cycle past it on the way to the gym at Canary Wharf. Checked online and indeed it was the one. Amazing, as externally it hasn’t changed at all. Looks like it is also for sale for a smidge over £2m if you want it!

  8. paul loften permalink
    January 18, 2021

    The Education Committee orders me to take care when crossing the road. Now that is a sign to command respect! It brings back the memory of the training we had at infant school. Look left, left, right, and then if all clear quick march. We need more of these signs.

  9. Linda Granfield permalink
    January 18, 2021

    I keep trying to read the even older writing underneath the “Globe Garage” printing. Early 19th century? Lovely font.

    Can anyone read it?
    So many eras of history on one sign.

  10. Joy Milligan permalink
    January 18, 2021

    Wonderful images – Thankyou

  11. January 19, 2021

    Hi Linda. Happy New Year! The text on “Globe Garage” was ‘Taxi for Hire’. There was an old fashion Taxi garaged at the end of Mile End Place next to the dairy. The Taxi driver was a lovely old man, he came down the street once but must be gone now. The cows in the dairy had zero grazing and for exercise they were walked round the block!

  12. January 24, 2021

    I love these photos. So poignant and haunting. So glad you recorded this slice of London history.

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