Thursday, 16 December 2010

Elizabeth Street, Belgravia

Elizabeth Street probably isn't a London thoroughfare that rings bells with most people. It certainly didn't ring any bells with me until I found myself taking my wife there for a birthday visit to a specialist perfumer with the promise  of a birthday scent not bought from the local Boots. Les Senteurs was the intended destination and, for someone with with a slight  background in the wine trade, I have to admit it was an interesting and less intimidating experience than it might have been. For one thing smelling perfumes is not all that different from smelling wines (and there's certainly a lot less spitting) and for another the assistant was very obliging and was more than happy to provide samples to take away and try. Which is a roundabout way of saying that not only did we get to try a load of perfumes, but I was also spared the pain of actually paying for any (for the time being at least). Result!

Not expecting anything like such an agreeable experience, I'd also taken the camera along, just in case anything interesting took my eye.  Elizabeth Street is a few minutes walk from Sloane Square and the Royal Court Theatre, just off the northern branch of the Kings Road , so one of the last things I'd of expected to stumble across would be a ghost sign. Yet there it was. Almost as soon as we entered the street we could see a small mews off to the right with a still visible "Horse Infirmary and Shoeing Forge"
The view from inside the Mews - not the best of angles
It looked as though there had originally been more advertising on the top section as well as at ground level, but these had long since ceased to be visible. Still, it's a nice reminder of the original status of these small urban spaces.
     From Elizabeth Street the sign is much clearer
So, looking up was a treat, but looking down was quite interesting too. There were a couple of interesting coal-holes still in place, including one from "A. Smellie - Westminster"
Notes & Queries - Oxford Journals 1906

It's a fairly ordinary design, but I did find mention of the construction of a new building for Mr Smellie so I assume he must have been a well established local producer, and in fact Rochester Row is not all that far from Elizabeth Street, so he probably was the local supplier.

 The other designer coalhole is made by  'Luxfer Prisms 13 Hill Street London EC'.

The interesting thing about this coal-hole is that the glass prisms that would have originally helped illuminate the gloomy coal cellar have long since been replaced by concrete infills. Glassian has some more information about the Luxfer company which was producing fairly late versions of coalholes.
Luxfer Prisms - minus the prisms...
 The last items to catch my eye were a couple of plaques flanking a narrow jewellers window.
"Ornaments in Hair Plait and Mounted on the Premises - Gold & Silver Bought"
"English & Foreign Clocks & Watches Cleaned & Repaired By Experienced Workmen
 Although now under new ownership the original plaques have been left in place and make a very attractive setting either side of the main window. The company seems to be called J. Desforges but I haven't been able to find out much about them to date. The fact that working items in hair seems to be a big part of their business would suggest a late Victorian date for the company. It's an interesting use of a garter or belt motif as well although it may just be a decorative notif rather than signifying something like a Royal Warrant. Very intriguing ornaments though and credit where it's due to the new owners who must have been tempted to take them down in order to widen their window space.

I may have to go back to buy some perfume at some point but I have to say that Elizabeth Street provided me with more than a couple of unexpected pleasures!

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

A Balham mosaic

I suppose this is an entry to file more under 'cute' than 'intriguing' as I'm not sure there's much more to it than its aesthetic quality. It's a long thin strip of mosaic with little more than a recurring flower motif that I came across in Balham the other week. It was obviously the threshold of a decent sized premises in its heyday but now it's spread between two different shops and in places it's starting to look a little worn.
Still, despite its simplicity I was quite attracted to it and thought it was worth a brief mention. Although the flowers are simple they're quite effective and it would be interesting to know what the original store was...

Monday, 18 October 2010

The Ghost Signs of Bath - Part 2 (Faded London on Tour 2010)

Part two of the ghost signs of Bath takes us around the Pultney Bridge area, starting off with a couple of choice ghost signs in Argyle Street. This first is a building that was once a veritable billboard, with practically all of its surfaces covered in text. Although almost illegible the odd word still peeps through. It's noticeably grubbier than its neighbours as well which shows that the owners are probably conscious of their heritage potential and not keen to lose it!
Very tantalizing - your very own deciphering puzzle!
I thought this building was worthy of a couple of close ups to help with the reading process so good luck with these ones...
Also on Argyle Street was this brilliant effort at integrating ghost signs, ghost windows, modern art and a sense of humour! As you can see what was a lending library now has an 'interior view' painted on its ghost window. This is either a nice example of whimsy or ironic post-modernism, you pays your money and takes yer pick...
This was actually taken from the embankment of the river over to the other side. An example of extreme range ghost sign hunting and a slightly out of focus picture! A. Wills & Sons Ltd are now lurking just behind what looks like a bar or riverside pub.
A. Wills & Sons Ltd
Here are a couple more examples of faded yet preserved signage from the Pultney Bridge area. After a while ghost sign hunting in Bath becomes a bit like shooting fish in a barrel. You can't turn a corner without bumping into one!
SIGN 1...
...and SIGN 2
Back in the centre of Bath, right next to the Roman baths themselves, there's an unashamed ghost sign proudly declaring its pre-cholesterol love of cream!  (established in 1850 apparently. No idea when the cream business bit the dust though)
Just off of Beau Street there's a very nice modern spa complex called Thermae and if you look opposite there's an old pump room, again with the browned and stained painted signage carefully preserved
And finally for this post, just in case you're starting to find all these West Country ghost sign just too much of a good thing, here's some interesting vents, oxidised glass and wooden infills of a fine old London cellar light from Hayward and Sons!

Friday, 1 October 2010

Hanging on with a Southfield's ghost sign

There is a neat and orderly grid of streets in the vicinity of Southfields, South London known to local estate agents as 'The Apostles', on account of their number I'm told, as none of the streets are actually named after saints. When built it seems that every corner house on the grid was constructed as a shop, and although many have been converted to houses, you can still tell what they originally were by their shape, lack of front garden and (in the case of the one featured below) by the faintest of ghost signs!

I spotted this one on the way into Wimbledon Park down Revelstoke Road on the corner with Normanton Avenue and it didn't look too promising at first
Ex-shop now highly desirable residence!
OK, one look at the picture above and you know this ones not going to be the most visible or easy to decipher of ghost signs, but then sometimes there's a strange satisfaction to be gained by being able to pick out the odd phrase or name from a sign very much on its last legs.
I thought this was going to be an old Hovis sign at first
The spalling brickwork doesn't help here either but when you zoom in as close as you can you can just make out the old two-colour lettering at the top for and then pick out the proud boast

Just what it was George Brown was selling isn't clear, although I suppose a trip to the library and a search through some old Kelly's Directories might provide an answer. Good to know the locals were getting a good deal off of him though

Well it may not be the clearest ghost sign in Southfields - that honour must go to the Tote one near the High Street - but it does still have a bit of charm about it that i hope might last for another couple of years at least.
One more view for luck

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Ghost Signs of Bath - Part 1 (Faded London on Tour 2010)

As promised some time back, I've finally found some time to post up some of the ghost signs I spotted whilst spending a couple of days in Bath in mid August.  And I have to emphasise 'some' here, because it seems to me that Bath is a city bursting with ghost signs of varied types and for a city whose prosperity relies on its history and it's architecture, I suspect there might be a reluctance to remove them, just in case in another 50 years they might be tourist attractions in their own right!
Everyone else in the parade has had a bit of a spruce up, so could that explain the survival of this old store sign?
As though to emphasise the abundance of ghost signs, this particular clutch were all spotted as we were actually leaving Bath on the London Road and heading out toward the motorway. A quick detour to find a parking bay on a housing estate and I was off with the camera for a happy ten minutes.
The current owners not only seem happy with the old signage but have actually named their shop 'The Old Pet Shop'. They're all designers though so I expect it fits in quite nicely with their ethos...
This one's on the corner of Cleveland Place Way, approaching the river
I realise this doesn't look particularly exciting but if you click on the picture and zoom in on the brickwork you can still make out tantalising glimpses of some quite elaborate lettering.
Maybe a bit of a close up might help a little
On the London Road, Just by Cleveland Cottages
This is quite a prominent building on a very visible stretch of road. I believe it was originally a dairy which accounts for the very nice Nestle sign which is still quite visible.
Definitely worth a bit of a close up to savour its nuances, I believe it reads Nestles (Swiss)Milk Richest in Cream Sold [by] H.J.Archard You can still make out some of the blue but sadly the red Swiss flag looks a bit washed out.
Several layers of lettering make the front of the building difficult to decipher but you can still make out the word Dairy at the bottom, which is a bit of a clue!
Best of luck with this one. Lots of very intriguing traces though.
Just off the A4 London Road - looks as though it might have been painted over at some point
I had to stop the car for a second time to photograph  this one. Looks as though the local reverence for the ghost sign includes old garages as well and they certainly carried out a decent range of services.

That's all for the leaving of Bath. Part 2 of this look at  Bath ghost signs will concentrate on the historic and tourist heart of the city and, I'm sure, only scratch the surface of what's out there!

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

A Brick Lane Coalhole... OR IS IT???

Or is it indeed....! I was visiting the Brick Lane area a couple of weeks ago and of course had half an eye out for anything of interest that might take its fancy. As it happened, just by the mosque, something did - a very unusual coal-hole which when viewed from one side didn't seem to make much sense, but if you took the trouble to walk around it - voila! a perfect little planet Earth in miniature
 All the World's a Coalhole! - Brick Lane
I couldn't help but be more than a little suspicious though. It was the right size for a coal-hole, it was the right shape for a coal-hole, it was even in the right place for a coal-hole but to be honest it looked a bit too arty to be a coal-hole. Certainly none of that symmetrical 'design made on a wheel' look about it that's typical of the true ironmongers coal-hole.

There was nothing else around to give any clues as to what else it might be though, so I had to wait until I was home to find out what it was I'd actually stumbled over.

What I found after a bit of searching was that it wasn't a coal-hole but something called a 'Spitalfields Roundel', one of a series of 25 individual images by local artist Keith Bowler that were created and placed as the result of the Bethnal Green City Challenge in 1995. This was a five year regeneration project for the Bethnal Green area and the roundels were one aspect of much of the work that took place in the area. The roundels were cast in iron locally and depicted scenes and images of importance locally. The globe outside the mosque was there to signify the historic  importance of immigration to the area

The 'Know Your London' website has lots more information on them including some nice sepia photographs. One thing that I did wonder and which wasn't clear on the website, was whether these roundels were sited in existing coal-holes or were they in effect plaques embedded in concrete? What I also find quite surprising and a little sad is that of the 25 roundels put in place in 1995, only 12 are still known to be in existence. Presumably the others have fallen victim to pavement repairs or rebuilding and their fate is not known. With 13 gone within 15 years you'd better get looking quick if you want to see any of the rest!

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Shop Mosaics of Bath (Faded London on Tour 2010)

Faded London has taken the opportunity of a few days in the fair city of Bath to have a look around to see what there is to tantalise and tickle the taste-buds of a capital city snapper. As it turns out there was quite a bit. In fact I'd go so far as to say that the whole city revolves around the notion of the 'fade' to the extent that ghost signs especially seem to be treasured items, especially in the city centre, as you'll see in a later post. 

One area that might have a hint of the more 'accidental survivor' about it than most is the shop mosaic, of which there seem to be a fair few around. I didn't particularly take note of the locations of these items, although if I can vaguely remember the area I'll indicate its whereabouts, but  really I was just interested in recording the items themselves and I'm sure some local preservation society has them all mapped out and recorded for the local connoisseur!
Now a beauty salon, I was lucky enough to spot this one having stopped to photo a ghost sign whilst heading home toward the A4. Usually it's the name of the company that's recorded, not the business itself.
I think this one was in the vicinity of Poultney Bridge, near the weir. One of those examples where subsequent owners took the time and the money to remove the original owners name, without putting their own in its place!
If I recall correctly, this was the entrance to a bank on the High Street

Duck, Son & Pinker - a bit of an unwieldy name but still a music shop just beside Poultney Bridge. One of the more colourful of the Bath shop mosaics.
I thought this one had a thirties feel to it. It's still owned by the same company so whatever they've been doing it's obviously been ok.
One of a pair of fine mosaics in the shopfront of a now empty building. Most recently a beautician's, I'd love to know what they originally sold.
At the top of Union Street I believe. Payne is long gone but the mosaic lingers on
The same goes for L. T. Pound. No suggestion as to what he might have been involved with.
Why do I immediately think of yellow rubber gloves?
It's still the Bath YMCA with a grand mosaic to match!
My favourite Bath mosaic. A complete list of all branches in the town, even though the name of the business is missing! It's just around the corner from the Royal Crescent and next door to an Austrian shop selling cuckoo-clocks, strudel and a superb cherry flavoured hot chocolate!

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Mitcham Obelisk

The Faded London eye has been a bit busy over the last few weeks so things have been rather quiet on the posting front. However a recent stroll through Mitcham did reveal one of those intriguing items that are so big you never notice them. Or rather you notice them but totally misinterpret what they are.

Side view of the Obelisk
In this case it was a large, dark and rather foreboding obelisk at the far end of the Cricket Green. I've driven past it many times and had always assumed that it was a war memorial of some sort and not paid it a great deal of attention.  This time I was on foot and as I approached could make out two distinct plaques - One recorded the date of 25 September1822 whilst the other seemed to be a few biblical verses. Intriguing stuff!
 The inscription and verses - as best I can make out - were these
????? to the goodness of GOD through whose bounty water has been provided for this neighbourhood
God opened the rock and the waters gushed out. They ran in dry places like a river  Psalms C105 V41
He turneth dry ground into water springs Psalms CVII V
For everything that hath breath praise the lord Psalms CL
A fountain shall water the valley ?????
The dedication and biblical inscriptions
Well there's obviously a strong water theme going on here and the date reminded me of the recent post I did on the Tooting artesian well a few weeks back which had a date of 1823 upon it.

Quite imposing but a bit on the austere side
My suspicion was that with the boring for water in Tooting such a success, there must have been a temptation for other local villages to get in on the act whilst the borers were still in the area. This seems to be confirmed by an article in Journal of the Society of Arts of 1877 which noted
"The Wandle valley presents a probably unique feature in the number of overflowing wells it contains. The oldest of these the public well near Tooting Church, was bored in 1822. Owing to the success of this boring another was bored by Mr Cranmer at a house called 'The Cannons' in September of the same year."
 Mr Cranmer wasn't just Mr Cranmer but actually the local Reverend and descendant of the famous Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury for Henry VIII and leading light in the foundation of the Church of England. No great surprise that that the inscription was so biblical then!

If this letter to The Mechanics Magazine of 1825 is to be believed it seems that not only was the well still flowing but that the Rev Cranmer actually had more than one well sunk. This account notes there were three, presumably separate, wells bored on his land.
To instance a few wells thus bored, - there is one on the coach road side at Tooting, five miles from Westminster Bridge, bored at the expense of the parish; and another at the same place on the premises of Mr Rolason, nurseryman, both abundant springs; there are three wells on the estate of the Rev. R. Cranmer, Mitcham Surrey and one on the premises of Messers. Holden, Coach proprietors, Mitcham.
The Mechanics Magazine 1825
It might well have been flowing in 1825 but it seems that the joy of Mitcham with its new water supply was short-lived
It's starting to feel its age a bit
"Erected 1822 by the Rev. Mr Cranmer then rector, who lived here, in order to commemorate the happy discovery of water by the sinking of an artesian well. It bears an inscription of thanks to Almighty God for the discovery which really was a boon to the poor at that time, the village not being well supplied. Shortly after the erection of the monument however, the supply of water failed [and]  the inscription has been allowed to become illegible."
Greater London: A Narrative of its History, its People and its Places by Edward Walford

So that seems that a very religious local worthy took advantage of Tootings success with the artesian well, hired the borer, hit water amidst general rejoicing and then commissioned an expensive monument only to have the well go dry soon after. The obelisk must have been a bit of an embarrassment for the Rev. Cranmer and was gently shunted off to a corner of the Cannons estate before finally being rescued and placed on a street corner. Still, if nothing else it does emphasise the importance of fresh clean water to the communities of the time and the lengths to which they'd go to obtain it.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Freshwater, Isle of Wight - "Faded London On Tour" 2010

A quick weekend away near Freshwater on the Isle of Wight provided a couple of ghost signs from the immediate area. Being pushed for time  (OK, the whole set was me grabbing a couple of snaps whilst visiting the local supermarket ),  I decided to concentrate on the signs rather than general items of interest. This was mainly because I'd have a better chance of spotting them when passing in the car rather than any sort of value-judgement coming into play but I can't really claim to have identified anything really spectacular, mainly trade names above shops. The most frustrating part though was spotting a couple of good ones in Newport the island capital and not having the time to stop and photograph them!

Newport IoW -  The one I did get. Moorman & Sons Upholsterers were mentioned in the London Gazette of January 7th 1898 so they've certainly been around for a bit. Sadly it looks as though at least one of the 'Son's' was a casualty of the First World War as the local memorial records that
Arthur MOORMAN - Son of Mr. and Mrs. G. Moorman, of 48, Orchard St., Newport, Isle of Wight, died whilst on active service with the Isle of Wight Rifles in Egypt 15 Oct 1916. An In Memoriam notice appeared from his parents in the Isle of Wight County Press on 13 Oct 1917.
Freshwater IoW - "Cycles must not be left in the passage..." To be honest it didn't look to be the most inviting place to leave a cycle and you can only wonder if it was a sudden spate of cycle abandonment that caused the local council to finally lose its collective patience. I doubt it's been a problem for a while anyway.

Freshwater IoW - 'Twymans' The lettering on this one is quite modern and could have been painted any time from the 70s onward. It's a bit messy although you can see that there was originally a portrait underneath the lettering and what looks like some tents or houses underneath that. The very bottom of the wall has some new painting for 'Fend Pad'. Obviously its quite a complicated bit of signage and it would be interesting to see a photo of it in its heyday. The Twyman family seem to have been involved in both the building trade and funeral business in Freshwater so judging from the buildings at the bottom of the picture I'd guess this one is more to the building side of things.
Freshwater IoW - This is one of those frustrating signs where only sitting on the roof of the neighbouring building would give you a chance of getting a decent picture.  It's also a bit patchy but seems to read "Meader - Fruiterer, Florist, Greengrocer, Pork Butcher and Sausage Maker" which covers pretty much all the bases.
Freshwater IoW - And finally... a sign completely obliterated that is starting to re-emerge as the paint fails to stick to the old lettering beneath. Hours of patient cross-eyed staring at this particular sign produced the legend   "A. Rutland, Ladies & Gents Hairdresser".

Considering that Freshwater is something of a 'blink and you'd miss it' sort of place I'd say that four signs wasn't a bad haul (well five actually, but as the fifth was totally illegible I didn't bother posting it). Newport definitely has more gems tucked away but that's the way of a flying visit - you're always left ruing the missed ones!