All posts tagged ghost signs
All posts tagged ghost signs
OK, enough with the ghost signs for now – I’ll write about something else soon. But here’s a ghost tube sign to be signing off with. It isn’t actually related to a station; this was just a hoarding hiding a car park on derelict railway lands near Tate Modern.
Above: ghost tube sign, “Underground”, Ewer Street, Borough, London SE1, 2005. Or Sewer Street as some graffiti wag once dubbed it.
I love evocative road names, especially if they’re painted on brick – it’s a very niche area of the ghost sign. Here are a few that have caught my eye.
Below: “No 1 Oxford Street”, Oxford Street, London W1, 2003. What a pity this is blurred, I just snapped it in passing, not realising the entire block would one day be demolished for Crossrail. So now there is no No 1 Oxford Street any more.
Below: “Creek Street”, Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002. Roads with Creek in the name are always worth exploring; Creek Street, now called Creekside, runs through an arty area housing many creative studios and the Laban Dance centre.
Below: “Paradise Street”, Poole, Dorset, BH15, 2004. There are loads of roads called Paradise Street, and they’re often pretty grim. This one’s fairly quaint, though most of Poole isn’t.
Below: “Cleveland Street”, London W1, 2005. On the corner of Tottenham Street, opposite a corner of this attractive Fitzrovia backwater which was later demolished for a misbegotten Candy Bros “luxury” development, now stalled due to the recession.
Below: “Goodge Street”, Goodge Street, London W1, 2002. Well, it dosn’t actually say anything, but it would say “Goodge Street” if it did – it was later neatly repainted.
Below: “Almond Road”, Bermondsey, London SE16, 2002. A DIY job in an alley running beside some railway arches.
That’s all – find them also on Flickr.
Lots of people seem to like ghost signs, so I’ve dug out a few more. These were taken in London and Liverpool docklands in the early noughties, before mega-development swept them away. I wish I’d shot more now, so beware: today’s ghost signs are tomorrow’s soulless new buildings – record them while you can.
Above and below: Ghost signs, “Johnsons Tea Warehouses”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. A city centre area now redeveloped less colourfully: in those days, the door featured a useful diagram of a penis.
Below: Ghost signs, “GR Dennis Electrical Wholsalers”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. I’m not sure if this building is still there – the area is almost unrecognisable compared to how it looked in 2003, and far less attractive in my opinion.
Below: Ghost sign, “Refiners”, Argyle Street, Liverpool L1, 2003. A type-fancying pigeon appreciating some barely-there lettering.
Below: Ghost sign, “Clarence Graving Dock’s”, Waterloo Road, Liverpool L3, Merseyside, 2008. Love the rogue apostrophe. The extensive docklands area north of Tate Liverpool (to the right as you face it) is compelling; some semi-derelict, some still working, all grand and evocative. And there’s a good art gallery round there too – Ceri Hand at 12 Cotton Street.
Below: Ghost sign, “Lovell’s Wharf”, Pelton Road, Greenwich, London SE10. Shortly afterwards, this entire historic area was razed for a sorely undistinguished housing development – they didn’t even retain the name. Here’s a link to see it being built on Google Streetview.
Below: Ghost sign, “Victoria Wharf”, Dragoon Road, Deptford, London SE8, 2005. A wharf named after me – as so many things are – now given over to self-storage. It’s in Dragoon Road, a name evocative of the area’s martial history.
Below: Ghost sign, “Evelyn Wharf”, Creekside, Deptford, London SE8, 2002. Roads with Creek in the name are always worth exploring; Creek Street, now called Creekside, runs through an arty / light industrial area housing creative spaces such as Cockpit Arts and the Laban Dance centre.
That’s enough wharves – there’s more on Flickr.
A few images related to my previous post – “Ghost Signs and the Typography Gene” – about the ghost sign project. Read that, enjoy these, then go out and find some more!
Above: Ghost sign, “Refreshments”, York Way, Kings Cross, London N1, 2006. Pictured just prior to disappearing under the never-ending Regent Quarter redevelopment.
My previous post discussed the typographic gene and the beauty of ghost signs, but it was too long to show many examples, so I’m putting them here. Sadly most of my sign photos, while definitely ghostly, don’t match the criteria of the official ghost signs group, which is strictly for advertisments and self-promotional signs painted on brick, not tiled or mosaic ads, and not my plethora of utterly pointless random sign fragments. The definition of the original Flickr ghostsigns group, as set out by its mastermind Sam Roberts, is on the discussion thread “Do These Count”, and there’s an informative essay at literarylondon. Therefore I’ve created two Flickr sets, one for ghost signs on brick, and a ghost signs miscellany for all the others. But personally I prefer to scroll quickly through an edited selection of images and captions on a blog than keep clicking on Flickr’s inconsistent and jumpy interface. So here’s an edit of my own sets… and if you enjoy them, maybe you’ll be inspired to go out and record some better ones.
Above: “Cash Supply Stores” and “Music Roll Exchange”, behind 23 and 29 Clapham High Street, London SW4, 2002. Both were later gentrified away.
Above left: “WJ Perry”, Sutton, Surrey, 2002. Nice the way it fades in and out, Rothko-like, at top and bottom. Above right: “Inch & Co Cash Chemists”, Kennington Park Road, London SE11, 2001. What a fine name!
Above: “Dyson Provisions & Groceries”, Stoke Newington Road, London N16, 2002. Now being encroached on by white paint - see sarflondondunc
Above left: “Beehive”, Poole, Dorset, 2004. A ghost sign on a ghost sign. Above right: “Tyres”, Kennington Road, London SE11, 2005. There used to be several old shop signs in Kennington, but they’re fast disappearing.
Above: “Floor Cover”, Atwell Road, Peckham Rye, London SE15, 2010. Strangely beautiful, as with much of Peckham Rye’s visual tangle.
Above left: “AS Ashby”, Bath Street, Frome, Somerset, 2008. Ah, film – now an almost-forgotten format. Who’d have thought it? Above right: “AXO”, Castle Street, Sheffield, 2010. Not concrete poetry, but an opticians.
Above: “Vye & Son”, Whitstable, Kent, 2002. Must have been hidden behind two smaller signs. Looks 1930s to me, so they’d presumably been going since the 1830s.
Above: “Church Furniture”, Southampton Row, Holborn, London WC1, 2002. Something to do with the nearby baptist church.
Above: “CH N.Katz”, Brick Lane, Shoreditch, London E1, 2003. A reminder of the days when Brick Lane was full of Jewish rather than Bangladeshi / hipster businesses. Curry15 on Flickr, who does excellent research, discovered that Katz, which used to sell string and bags, closed circa 1998.
Above: “Dowell’s Coals”, Norway Street, Greenwich, London SE10, 2005. An old docklandsgate stanchion that disappeared under riverside flats.
That’s enough for now – there’s more on my Flickr page.
Do you possess the typographic gene? If so, you may appreciate the beauty of ghost signs…
Above: Ghost sign, “A Century’s Experience Vye & Son the Kentish Grocers”, Whitstable, Kent, 2002. Must have been hidden behind two smaller signs.
I’ve always been transfixed by typography. One of my earliest memories is the script logo on a 1960s fridge, and once I came of scissor-wielding age I’d cut out the decorative letters from sweet packets in a vain attempt to collect entire matching alphabets (imagine how I felt about all that wasted time when I discovered Letraset). Not surprisingly I went on to study graphic design, and as soon as I got a camera in my hands – one of the many great revelations of art school – I started taking photos of type I liked, which tended to be on crappy old shop fronts.
I still remember the reaction of a photography tutor when, in a crit at the RCA, I put on a slide show consisting mainly of bits of text found on decaying signs around Soho. Although the other students (mostly graphic designers too) seemed to appreciate it, and to my gratification found some of the images amusing, the tutor – a highly regarded nature photographer – declared himself completely bewildered. He simply couldn’t understand why I would bother with such boring images, and suspected I was taking the piss. I, meanwhile, was genuinely surprised that he couldn’t see the beauty in these fragments of communication: formal compositions of shape and colour, constructed from words which lent them a narrative. To me, they were compelling urban tales which deserved noticing and recording.
This was well pre-internet, but even then I knew I wasn’t alone. I concluded my obsession must be due to having a “typographic gene”; most graphic designers seemed to document similar things, and plenty of non-designers enjoyed them too. And then came the world wide web, and Flickr – and what a lot of typographic gene owners there turned out to be, as the world’s font fanatics proudly posted their terabytes of type photos online. Except me; despite my enjoyment of recording and categorising tens of thousands of mainly text-oriented images over the years, there’s not that many ways to photograph a dodgy old sign, and I could never see the point in uploading an image a squillion other type nerds had uploaded too. Until, that is, I discovered the Flickr group called “ghostsigns”.
The term refers to faded old wall signs, survivors from the days when business names and product ads were skillfully painted directly onto bricks and mortar – often lingering on in unreachable places, or revealed by building works. Not a new subject, of course; photographers from Atget onwards have been beguiled by such graphics, and there are plenty of individual collections. But it took the internet to enable the possibility of a global collaborative collection, and a member of the typographic genome fraternity called Sam Roberts to give the subject a marketing identity: “ghost signs”. In 2009 he went viral with the term, popping up all over the UK media to encourage people to record these disappearing treasures and, if they wished, to donate the digital rights to his collaborators the History of Advertising Trust (HAT). He tells his own story in this Time Out piece and you can find out more about his project at the Ghostsigns website (although the HAT Ghostsigns archive was throwing up error messages when I last visited). There’s also a blog, a lively Facebook page and a Twitter feed @ghostsigns. However Sam Roberts has since moved to Cambodia for a couple of years and the underfunded HAT seems to have stalled; the main repository is now the Flickr ghostsigns group, where several area-based pools have popped up, and where you can view geotagged ghost signs on a map.
For all its faults (of which I think there are many), Flickr is currently the best gathering place for such image communities, and with so many ghost signs now disappearing, it’s clearly worthwhile to collate them. I don’t personally have many such photos – it’s not one of the main subjects I pursue, more a byproduct – and I’m sure that other people will have posted better versions of all my findings. But ghost signs change over time, as the weather beats and the graffiti creeps, so there’s no harm in having multiple views; and if this post can encourage other typographic gene owners to participate too (ideally donating their images to the HAT Ghost Signs archive – assuming it’s still operative – or even helping them out), so much the better.
I do find the scale of it all rather daunting though. Imagine if every ghost sign in the real world was also preserved on the internet. Then it would be just as random to find interesting examples online as it is in real life, and I’d rather wander round living neighbourhoods than navigate Flickr pools or Google Street Map (addictive as it is) for my typographic fix. And it’s slightly depressing to think that there may one day be no old signs left to be discovered (although an alternative view would be to get over it, and start contemplating the future). Of course, the same could be said for anything that’s migrating online, which is why we need editors. So I shall do my bit by recommending you get started with curry15, a retiree who has uploaded decades-worth of her evocative photos on many architectural subjects, and does absolutely brilliant research and captions. My own Flickr set is here, but I’ll post a few of my own ghost signs in a follow-up entry, as this one’s really long. In the meantime, here’s an art-related ghost sign to be going on with…
Above: Ghost sign, “Hoxton Electrovision” by Bob & Roberta Smith, Hoxton Street, London N1, 2004. This is actually an artwork, one of several similar wall signs placed down Hoxton Street by Bob & Roberta Smith (who is really one person, British artist Patrick Brill) as part of his exhibition Shop Local. But since they were done so long ago they’ve become real ghost signs - or rather, art ghost signs.