Saturday, 26 July 2008

Hercules Cycles, Cambridge Road, Kingston

Well I'm going to hazard a guess that this Ladbrokes was once a cycle shop and a main stockist for Hercules cycles. I don't know if Hercules had a set template for their signage, like Gillette or Hovis or whether this was a local choice of typeface but as they were the largest suppliers of cycles for decades I would imagine that some consideration must have been made of advertising. It looks as though that corner was designed with signage in mind though..!

Thursday, 24 July 2008

"Ask not for whom the bell tolls..." Sadly Faded Alarms

Not as poignant as ghost signs, intrinsically interesting as a well-designed coal hole cover or as old as some tile-work on a Victorian shop-front. Nevertheless there is still something of an air of melancholy about an alarm whose time has long-since passed. No more waking the neighbours up in the early hours, no more regular tests and servicing, no more sleepy key-holders checking them out after calls from the local police... Are the companies still trading? After all it probably wouldn't take more than ten years for a shiny new box to deteriorate to a rusting hulk.

These were all collected over the space of a single day or so...

Upper Tooting Lane, Tooting
It's close but I can't quite make this one out. Looks as though you could put a finger through it though...

Raynes Park, South London
This one is actually attached to the rear wall of an old shop and is danger of growing old gracefully.
Upper Tooting Lane, Tooting - Metroploitan Alarms
What's this? Evidence of a touch of tampering? Looks like they've pulled the old 'spray liquid foam in the cavity' routine. Works a treat every time and certainly finished this one's useful life.

Putney High Street, SW15 - Auto Call
The ladies toilets in Putney High Street have long-since been defunct and so, I would guess, is this alarm.

Upper Tooting Lane, Tooting - AIA Burglar Alarm
Not the best shot, but it was on the other side of a busy high street. I don't think it serves as much of a deterrent though.
Upper Tooting Road, Tooting
Nasty attack of flaking here - but at least there's no doubting where it came from.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

A Ghost Sign in Upper Tooting Lane

Well it just goes to show doesn't it? I mean I've walked up and down this street on several occasions but was never was on the right side of the road to spot this great sign above a shoe shop. Having seen it I wasn't then able to get a decent shot of it - certainly not clearly enough to work out the name of the company.
However, not to be put off I had a word with the manager of the shoe-shop underneath it in the vain hope that I might be able to get up on the roof for a clearer view (well, you've got to ask haven't you?). As it turned out there were some fire escapes around the back which led to a small flat roof with a much clearer view of the sign. And here it is ... Perry & Son, Money Lent To Any Amount ... It's in pretty good shape as well, with only some of the centre section damaged.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

The Nelson Touch - Looking for a Hero in South West London

(Merton High Street Map Reference)

I was thinking the other day how odd it was that the particular patch of South Wimbledon I work in - a fairly undistinguished housing estate in an area of Victorian light industry - should have been described as 'Paradise Merton' two hundred years ago. That was when an attractive local house called Merton Place was purchased by Vice-Admiral Horatio Nelson , hero of the hour and saviour of the nation. He lived there with his mistress, Lady Hamilton, from 1801 until 1805 when, after hearing the French armies were massing for invasion, he lost his life fighting the combined Spanish & French fleets at Trafalgar.

Of course the greatest monument to Nelson is the famous Nelson's Column at Trafalgar Square but I was intrigued to see how much evidence there was in the immediate area to commemorate his presence. Did Nelson still cast a spell over this patch of South London? Were there burger bars named after him? Statues or commemorative plaques? A 'Victory' wine bar possibly?

Well there was certainly evidence of his presence but it was mainly confined to the few streets that comprised the house and its grounds.

Nelson Trade Park
Just outside the boundaries of Merton Place on London Road is a small trade park. Nothing special really. The Plumbase is quite good and the Staples Stationary warehouse has it's own charm I suppose...
Nelson Gardens
Opposite the Trade Park is a narrow strip of land given to Merton by a Great-Nephew of Nelson on the 100th anniversary of his death. In fact quite a lot of the tributes seem to have dated from that particular occasion. No idea who the lady is stuck on the nameplate is though.In the garden are the best bits of Nelson memorabilia - a couple of 12pdr cannon that apparently used to sit on the lawn of Merton Place itself. The gardens themselves were in need of a bit of a trim and the weeds looked a little on the lively side.
And here's that dedicatory plaque in all its glory.

The Trafalgar
Carrying on down High Path to its junction with Pincott Road on the left you'll see the first of three local 'Nelson' pubs - The Trafalgar. This has to be one of the smallest pubs in London. It really is as wide as shown in the photo and has a very snug 'snug'. What it lacks in size though it makes up for in quality, having just been awarded the CAMRA Real Ale Pub of South West London. I believe the landlord might well be an AFC Wimbledon supporter as well, which is all the more reason for paying it a visit.
Mosaics - Pincott Road
In an effort to brighten up some typical '60's high rise flats, the ground floors of each block have been decorated with a range of Merton-specific scenes. In this case a sort of whimsical Nelson/Lady Hamilton sort of scenario with a sailing ship floating by. For some reason they've made Nelson look like a woman in drag with little cupid lips. Not only that they've given him an eye-patch (which he never had) and, as Nelson actually lost his right eye, they've put it over his good eye! Not that I want to criticise mind...Nelson Grove Road
Our first Nelson Road cuts accross Pincott Road - Nelson Grove Road pretty much runs outside the front door of what would have been Merton Place. I've no idea about Dowman but I think Stane Close got its name as Merton High Street is the old Roman Stane Street, a key route up from the coast to Londinium.
Merton Place
On the site of Nelsons villa is a modern block of flats. With a great sense of civic pride this too have been named Merton Place, to ensure the name lives on for evermore in the hearts of Merton-ites. (see also below details the plaque on the other end of the building facing Merton High Street)The Princess Royal
Situated at the end of Nelson Grove Road where it meets Abbey Road there's our second pub, the Princess Royal. This is another pub with low ceilings, small rooms and real sense of character and as you can see it continues with the naval theme, although this one is a bit more problematic. As far as I can see Nelson never served on a ship called the Pricess Royal, and although there was a ship so-named it wasn't at Trafalgar and doesn't seem to be significant in the Nelson story (I could be wrong on that though, not being a Nelson scholar). However, I did find out that HMS Britannia was at Trafalgar and that she was subsequently re-named HMS Princess Royal in 1810. Which is close enough for me...The Nelson Arms
Considering he had one amputated, I always feel this should be called the Nelson Arm, but anyway it's the crown jewel of local Nelson pubs. Although the new pub sign looks as though it's been knocked up on photoshop (at least it doesn't have an eye-patch!) the original tile-work is amazing and the company that produced them eventually went on to do a lot of the higher quality ceramics for the London UndergroundUp above the main entrance is a fine picture of HMS Victory which is still around in Portsmouth.Then fronting the High Street there's a very ornate portrait of the man himself...and another view of the Victory bobbing around in the middle of an elaborate laurel-wreath.
The 'Kiss Me Hardy' Pub
Well from the sublime to the, well frivolous I suppose. Walking a few minutes toward Colliers Wood tube and just past the Sainsbury's mega store there is a small retail park with its identikit retail park pub. This one goes full on with the 'Kiss me Hardy' theme, combining it with one of those play cages for lively children. For a while it was a lively new addition to the under 8's party circuit but the attraction seems to have waned of late. I took this picture from the passenger seat of a car as we were going past so you'll just have to imagine the view from up close...
Merton Place
Walking back along Merton High Street, retracing out steps, we go past the other end of Merton Place and about ten feet up is this plaque giving the curious passer-by some Nelson info...
The Roads
Crossing over Merton High Street there are a series of 'Nelson' roads. Poor Hardy's role in the myth seems to be solely around the 'kiss', but actually he was a friend of Nelson's who had already sacrificed his ship once to ensure Nelson escaped and was then the Captain of HMS Victory at Trafalgar when Nelson decided to make it his flag-ship.. Anyway, he gets a road named after him so that's better than nothing I suppose.
Nelson Wines - Merton High Street
The only shop on the high street that makes any reference to Nelson is Nelson Wines, a speciality off-licence that stocks and incredible range of bottled beers from around the world. The owner doesn't bother opening up during the day, which is why it's all locked up in the picture below. Thirty Five varieties of rum always in stock as well apparently...

Former site of the Nelson Hospital.
Just opposite South Wimbledon tube, on the road up to Wimbledon, is this little plaque on a house wall commemorating the original Nelson Hospital. The current Nelson Hospital still exists about a mile up the road and if you are going to have anything named after you then a hospital seems a good one to me.

There are other Nelson sites within the borough - the Emma Hamilton pub springs to mind- but they are all outside of the immediate vicinity of Nelson's old house. All in all I was surprised by the number of references really, which goes to show that he may be gone but there's a small corner of South West London that is forever Nelson.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A few more Mosaics

A few more interesting mosaics to add to the collection - these four came from two seperate locations, Gerrard Street near Leicester Square (better known as Chinatown), and Putney.

Lower Richmond Road SW15This one is from a block of flats built at the turn of the century and overlooks the Thames. Or at least it would overlook the Thames if the Star & Garter pub wasn't in the way. Never mind though, even a hundred years ago the University Boat Race must have been enough of a draw to have enticed them to name a block of flats after it and things haven't changed much in the interim (as you'll see when I publish my collection of bollards, including my Boat-race blue Putney example!)

Upper Richmond Road SW15This is now a recessed double-entrance to two small shops but I assume when first built it would have been a single establishment. The 'Tailor' part is fairly self-explanatory but 'Habit Maker'? The habit connection that springs to mind is a nun's habit ('You can kiss a nun once, you can kiss a nun twice but you must never get into the habit..'). However it seems that 'habit' was a generic term for women's clothing in the way that tailoring generally referred to men's clothing - although with women now wearing suits the term can now applied to both genders.

Although fairly plain I think you'll agree that it's quite stylish and quite refined. Just the sortof thing you'd expect from Putney!

Gerrard Street, W1The door may look a little tatty if you look at it close up but I bet that at some time it looked quite special. I think the lettering has a hint of Arts & Crafts about it, or maybe a bit of Art Deco in the letter formation. I like it - it's a sort of border collie of a mosaic that you can't resist patting, giving a good scratch and saying 'well done!' to in a strange voice.

Gerrard Street W1
What was Gerrard Street before it became Chinatown? Was there a French town instead? Probably not but there was certainly a French-inspired hotel on the site.
Now a Chinese restaurant this building has obviously had a slightly grander past with it's mix of Nouveau lettering (especially on the E and G) and it's Roman-like mosaic motif in the black border.
Altogether quite an attractive and eye-catching blast from the past.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Oil Jars and shopfronts

Every now and then I've been intrigued to spot what look like halves of oil jars stuck up on the walls above old shop fronts. I had it in my head that these were to signify that the shop sold oil but I couldn't find anything to back it up until I finally came across the Exeter Council website and their historical time-line section website. There, next to a photo of two earthenware pots, was a short note
...giant jars of red earthenware with their distinctive horseshoe-shaped handles were made in the potting town of Montelupo in Tuscany. Jars of this type were used to transport Tuscan olive oil into Britain. The earliest known examples date to c. 1720-50; the trade continued into the Victorian period, when such jars were sometimes mounted on shop fronts as the shop signs of ironmongers who sold Italian oil.
So now that's confirmed, here are a few that I've found dotted around south west London.

Old Town, Clapham
There are more jars stuck on this shop than on all the rest combined! Seven in all and I guess there's no mistaking what it sold.

Merton Road, Merton
These two were fronting what looked like a pretty ordinary shop front but were starting to look a little worse for wear
Merton Road, Merton
Surprise , surprise, just a few doors up from the previous pair there was another one stuck up on a rival shop. This one's in even worse condition...

Lower Marsh, Lambeth
Leaving the best to last I really like the way that this pair live on, still advertising the shop below - except now it's a restaurant and not an ironmonger. Really colourful and eye-catching.

Lower Marsh 'Ghost Sign', Lambeth

I came across this partially concealed and erased sign in Lower Marsh, just behind Waterloo Station. I was actually there to photograph some oil jars but this caught my eye as I wandering around. The main facade of the building faces onto Westminster Bridge Road and although closed up and for sale, was most recently used as a college. I'm not sure what it was originally though - the typography that I can make out seems to suggest a professional catering business and restaurant but it's one of those that has faded just enough to make it impossible to tell. Identification is not helped by later buildings that obscure a good portion of it either.

On a related topic, if you are at all interested in Ghost Signs you might like to listen to a ten minute interview on Radio London featuring Sam Roberts of the Ghost Signs website. The best way to listen is with the slide show that accompanies the discussion. A very enjoyable accompaniment to a cup of tea and a couple of digestives!