Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Bits of Brixton

 Brixton Market: I spotted this advertising plaque on the window of a store in Brixton market a week or two ago when I was visiting a very impressive Colombian cafe. It has a nice sort of late-50s feel about it (the sign, not the cafe) so I decided to have a look and see if I could find out much about the company itself, not being familiar with Avia as a brand.


As it turns out, I'm not the only one and the internet seems to be full of people not being able to find out much information about old Avia watches they've acquired! Some snippets of information that were floating around seem to suggest that the company had its roots in 1830, but then doesn't seem to have been registered as a brand until 1910. It was a London company and it's quality seems to have been thought of as being pretty good, at least up to the advent of quartz watches when it seemed to tail off somewhat. The company was bought by an American business in 2001 and still has a presence mainly providing inexpensive watches to department stores.

It looks as though this sign may have been put up during the company's heyday in the 1950's although interestingly 'guaranteed Swiss watch' doesn't necessarily mean that the whole watch was of Swiss manufacture. It could be that certain elements of the movement were assembled and checked in Switzerland but that the majority of the watch was made elsewhere, as described in this article. Nice advertisement though.

Having finished the  Colombian lunch (huge portions, two courses, lovely flavours £7ish) I thought I'd have a little stroll before heading off home. Then a couple of other items caught my eye.

Coldharbour Lane: Moving off down the road out of the arcade I went past the ever-impressive Sanitary Steam Laundry that I recall as being situated close to the unemployment office on Coldharbour Lane. Judging by the vans in the forecourt it's still in the same line of business which is quite impressive. I'm not sure that the unemployment office has had the same longevity, although I do know that the old UB40 is no longer in existence.


Of course it's the clock tower and the bold fascia lettering that really do it for me on this building and with a frontage like that you just knew that there would be some information around about it somewhere on the internet. As it turned out I didn't have to look very far because, in a very heart-warming sort of way, not only does Walton Lodge still have the same sort of business on the premises, it actually has the same company in it,  which was a bit of a surprise!

Walton Lodge Laundry Services have a page on their website devoted to the history of their company and an interesting read it is to.  Walton Lodge was acquired in 1895 and since then the business has had to develop and move with the times, from dealing mainly with domestic laundry to that of laundry for hotels and of linen hire. Still going strong by the looks of it.

Atlantic Road: I recall there being a David Greig shop in Battersea when I was young and being taken every Saturday for a bit of shopping. Quite a pleasant type of place if I recall correctly - a large thistle mosaic in the middle of the floor and counters around the sides with a single payment box in the corner. It was a sort of dairy cum grocers I think, the sort of place to go for a nice bit of cheddar and some ham wrapped up in greaseproof paper. Although much earlier than my own memories, there's a nice wartime photo of a David Greig store on Flickr.
 Apparently, according to Wikipedia, this Brixton store was the first ever David Greig and actually opened in 1870. I couldn't say whether the tiles are of the same vintage but I wouldn't have thought they would have been too far off - maybe they were part of a later development as the chain grew in size?
The Scottish-ness of David Greig's was a big part of it's public image and the thistle was it's main emblem, as you can see here with this attractive bit of tile-work. Strangely enough - and a bit of a surprise for me - was the fact that the company was a North London one, and not some exotic import from the Highlands! I assume that they had very strong Scottish roots though and decided to celebrate them in their shop designs. And why not...
 The colours of dark green, golden-yellow and a sort of russet red all suggest to me the colours of autumn in the glens. Very rich but quite subdued as well. I've no idea whether it was intentional or not but the overall effect is quite tasteful I think. The chain was sold in the 1970's and the name has pretty much disappeared now, apart from the odd preserved shop front like this one.

Brixton Road: Just beside the Ritzy Cinema is a ghost sign whose picture pops up with great regularity around the world of the blog. Bovril (in a Quite Interesting sort of way) was named after Vril a magical foodstuff in a book called The Coming Race, combined with the first part of bovine, hence Bo(vine) Vril. That little snippet of knowledge is courtesy of a dissertation I did on Utopian and Dystopian Literature of the 19th century and I'm very pleased that my copious research has finally come in useful!
However what most of the ghost sign pictures miss out is the interesting stink-pipe with electric light brackets in the foreground, next to a very solid looking public convenience. Three for the price of one!


(Coma y Punto was the Colombian Cafe, and I'm happy to recommend it to anyone looking for something slightly different and value for money!)

39 comments:

Sam Roberts said...

As ever, fascinating digging. This is the other iconic Brixton Ghostsign, easily missed as it's tucked in an alleyway in the streets behind the station: Our Sons

Anonymous said...

Thank you, from a Brixton Scot who had noticed & wondered about the David Greig tiles

felix said...

I never knew the origin of the vril moiety of Bovril. It sounds like virile. A quick search reveals one reference...
** We apprehend that the noble author [Sir E Bulwer-Lytton] coined his curious names by contracting words in classical languages. Gy would come from gune; vril from virile.

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Is lovely to see that London lives between the past and present in such a unique way!

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