Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Manufacturer of boxes, De Beauvoir Town

Like every year, I went this morning to my local post office to send some Christmas presents to friends living in the far south of the American continent. Having a strong parcel, whose shape is adapted to the contents, is one of the keys to a safe delivery. If the box manufacturer below had still been in business, maybe I could have used one of their products. Instead I had to cut an old one, strengthen it, and then seal it tightly with length after length of tape.

Manufacturers Of
Folding Boxes,
Drapers Stock Boxes,
Shirt & Mantle Boxes,
Collapsible Milliners' Boxes,
Parcels Post Boxes,
Postal Tubes,
Stationery Boxes,
Confectionery Boxes,
Round & Oval Boxes.
Boxes Of All Kinds For All Trades

Here is a real palimpsest with at least three layers but apart from
Rosemary Works
I can't make sense of much of it.

Location: Regent's Canal near Bridport Place / Pictures taken on: 06/05/2008

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Lingfield bakery

Without any doubt the prettiest sights in Lingfield are found in the oldest part of this big village in the southeastern corner of Surrey. There, one of the most beautiful alleys in the county, lined with 17th and 18th century cottages, leads to the churchyard and the large perpendicular church of St Peter and St Paul with its fascinating monuments and brasses. Around the churchyard are some more lovely buildings including a 15th century half-timbered hall-house, which now houses the local library, and a large 17th century house built of red brick. If you come from the station, this will be pretty much your first impression of Lingfield. After that, the rest is slightly less impressive, although a few half-timbered and weather-boarded cottages here and there and the old 'cage' by the pond, where petty offenders were detained, are attractive enough. The shopping area, with its Victorian and post-war buildings, is rather disappointing and one could be forgiven for passing through rapidly. However this is where, as far as I'm aware, Lingfield's only painted sign can be found.

Lingfield Bakery
A. G. Finch
Pastrycook & Confectioner
Cakes & Pastry
Every Description
Wedding Cakes
A Speciality

There is still a bakery in the building, but with a different name.

Location: High Street, Lingfield, Surrey / Picture taken on: 10/08/2008

Monday, 7 December 2009

Alf. The Purse King, Stoke Newington

Stoke Newington Church Street is home to an incredible concentration of ghost signs, one of which has already been presented on this blog. If several of these painted signs advertized well-known products, there's one that displays a more intriguing name: Alf. The Purse King (click on the picture for an enlarged version).

The left-hand side reads
Alf. The Purse King. Reg
A. Rubinstein- &
The right-hand side reads
Leather Goods
Purses, Pouches, Hand Bags, Wallets, &c.
Also At 8 Kimberley Terrace, Gt. Yarmouth
In the phone number, Dal stood for Dalston.

Unfortunately searching the web doesn't throw much light about the London side of this business. In Great Yarmouth however, Alf the Purse King seems to be still in business, but at a new address in Regent Road. On another website, a page about the town's market written in 2007 mentions that
Up until recently, one of the bag stalls on the market belonged to 'Alf the Purse King', who had seemed to go on forever until his recent death.
Back in London, the only information I could find is about the late 18th century house built of yellow bricks the sign is painted on as no. 89 is grade II listed and as such appears on the Images of England database. The building is also mentioned a couple of times, including to say that by the 1980s it was in a very dilapidated state, in The History of the County of Middlesex (Volume 8) edited by T F T Baker and C R Elrington. This seminal work includes a fascinating account of the development of Stoke Newington Church Street from the late Middle Ages until the early 1980s.

Location: Stoke Newington Church Street / Picture taken on: 10/04/2008

Crown and Woolpack, Clerkenwell

A pub with a revolutionary connection

Opened in 1851 the Crown and Woolpack is sadly no more. This pub, which in Victorian times housed the meetings of the Walton and Cotton angling club, closed in 1990, a few months before the collapse of the USSR. What's the connection I hear you say between a Clerkenwell watering hole and the soviet regime? Well, here goes the story... In 1903 the exiled leaders of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, including Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov -better known as Lenin- gathered in Brussels for the party's second congress. However because of repeated harassment by the Belgian police, who thought they were part of an anarchist plot, the delegates decided to move to London before the first session could even take place. Once in the British capital Lenin and other delegates met in the first-floor room of the Crown and Woolpack to organize the event. Although the British authorities were not too concerned, Scotland Yard was informed and a policeman was duly sent to spy on the meeting. Hidden in a cupboard, he later reported his mission had been totally fruitless: those Russian revolutionaries had not ushered a single word in English! The congress began a few days later in a meeting room off Tottenham Court Road and at various locations around central London. If you remember your history lessons at school, you'll know of course that the 1903 London congress went down in history as the one when the party split in two irreconcilable factions, on 17th November: the Bolcheviks, headed by Lenin, and the Mensheviks, led by Martov.
There is no evidence that the future leader of the USSR, who visited London on several occasions beween 1902 and 1911, went to the Crown and Woopack on more than one occasion. He was however a regular at The Crown on Clerkenwell Green, which was near the offices of 20th Century Press where Iskra (The Spark), the organ of the RSDLP, was published (the building, at 37a, now houses the Marx Memorial Library).
As for the Crown and Woolpack, as mentioned above, it closed in 1990. Then for a few years the building housed a Japanese restaurant. Nowadays it has been converted into a hairdresser's / beauty salon.

Location: St John Street / Picture taken on: 14/08/2008

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Picture House, Barnes

Sometimes you pass through a street on several occasions, and don't notice a painted sign. That was the case for me with this one. I even had several pictures of the building but failed to spot there was something written by the street corner. After all the name of the venue, Byfeld Hall, was already engraved in stone. Why should there be anything else? And then, on a rainy day, while travelling on a bus that passed nearby, I happened to look down Church Road and suddenly realized there was a painted sign I hadn't taken a clear picture of. That was three months ago, and last week I finally made a little detour on my way to the supermarket to capture it.
Built possibly by J. Harrison (although the name of Arthur Osborne has also been mentioned) Byfeld Hall opened in 1906 as a venue for meetings, plays, music and dancing with a capacity of 500. In 1910 Byfeld Hall received its first cinematograph licence. It opened with a documentary about the funeral procession of Edward VII, which had taken place a couple of days earlier. This experience didn't last for long though and the venue soon reverted to its original purpose. However with attendance and revenues declining it became in 1923 the Barnes Picture House. The management team must have got it wrong though, and two years later Byfeld Hall was reopened as the Barnes Theatre by Philip Ridgeway. The producer staged two adaptations of Thomas Hardy's works, Tess of the D'Ubervilles in 1925 and The Mayor of Casterbridge in 1926 as well as five Russian plays by Chekov and Gogol directed and designed by Fyodor Fyodorovich Komissarzhevsky. Yet once more the operation ran into financial difficulties and the Barnes Theatre closed in 1928. For the next 25 years Byfeld Hall was mostly used as a cinema under a variety of names: the Barnes Cinema Theatre in 1928, the Ranelagh between 1930 and 1940, the Plaza between 1943 and 1951, and finally the New Vandyke between 1952 and 1953. In 1960 the building was purchased by Guild TV and transformed into a film studio. Nevertheless it was with its subsequent owners that Byfeld Hall became one of the music industry's most famous places.
Indeed in 1965 that building with a troubled financial history was bought by Cliff Adams and Keith Grant's Olympic Sound Studios. One year later they moved their recording studio from London's West End to Barnes. The Rolling Stones were among the first artists to record their LPs there. The Beatles, The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, David Bowie, The Eagles, Eric Clapton, and many others came to Barnes during the studio's heyday. The history of the Olympic Studios in Barnes was narrated by Pierre Perrone in an article for The Independent shortly before its closure on 30th January 2009.

The exterior of Byfeld Hall is of red brick dressed with stone in a Dutch baroque style. Until the early 1960s, a cupola on columns topped the corner tower on which the sign for the Picture House is painted. Originally the ground floor housed several shops. Their Edwardian windows were replaced by dark opaque-glazed ones when the studios were totally rebuilt and the exterior refurbished in 1989.


If this sign was painted in 1923 by the Barnes Picture House, it must have been boarded up by subsequent cinema operators keen to advertise their name rather than that of their failed predecessor.

Location: Church Street / Picture taken on: 26/11/2009

Thursday, 26 November 2009

YWCA, Sevenoaks

Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women so a painted sign put up by an organisation that has been offering women support, including providing safe havens to those who suffer from domestic abuse, and has been campaigning on key issues that affect them seems appropriate enough for the occasion.
The Young Women's Christian Association was founded in 1855 when two groups, led respectively by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts, joined forces. The former had set up hostels for young women from rural areas who had come to the cities for employment but who also needed protection, while the latter had formed a prayer fellowship to protect young women. The movement then rapidly spread throughout Britain and part of its empire, as well as to European countries and the US. Over time the objectives of the YWCA movement evolved and from the late 19th century social concerns started to take precedence over spiritual ones.
Unfortunately I couldn't find anything online about the history of the Sevenoaks branch of the YWCA, but at least the ghost sign is still there.

Young Women's
Chritian Association
Home of Rest, &

Actually the date of November, 25 to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was chosen to commemorate the murder in 1960 in the Dominican Republic of three of the four Mirabal sisters on orders of dictator Rafael Trujillo: Patria Mercedes, María Argentina Minerva and Antonia María Teresa, together with Bélgica Adela who survived to tell their story, were involved in the underground opposition to the country's strongman. Known as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies) they were detained on several occasions, tortured, and finally murdered. Their story through the lens of fiction was told by Julia Álvarez in In The Time of the Butterflies. As for Rafael Trujillo, he was the central character of Mario Vargas Llosa's brilliant novel La fiesta del chivo / The Feast of the Goat ('The Goat' was one of his nicknames).

Location: London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent / Picture taken on: 13/07/2008

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Plumber, Catford

"Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin isn't a book I'll buy (the thought of a single penny of my money ending in her purse is enough to give me nightmares) but its publication brought back some images of the last Republican campaign for the US presidency: the hockey mum speech, her surreal / hilarious / pathetic / visionary (delete as you wish) answers on her interview by Couric, or the phone call from the Masked Avengers pretending to be Nicolas Sarkozy to mention but a few. And of course, who could have forgotten Joe the Plumber? Certainly most people by now. Still, when a plumber came last week to check our heating, I wondered for a split second whether his name was Joe. Fortunately for him it wasn't. As for the plumber on that ghost sign...? Well, that will remain a mystery...

... & Hot Water Engineer

There was an earlier sign painted on this wall but it isn't possible to read anything.

Location: Catford Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

Printers' ghost signs

Printers' signs, part 1 (Go to part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

On Saturday I returned to the British Museum to have a second look at the current exhibition of Mexican prints, a worthy follow-up to last year’s American Scene (although I don’t agree with the legend that accompanies the poster for the 1952 meeting of the Confederación de Trabajadores de América Latina...). Some of the prints on show are absolutely superb and testify not only to the talent of the artists but also to the skills of the printers.
Obviously not all printers would have been able to master the techniques required for fine art printing, and in any case many wouldn’t even have needed them to honour the orders placed by their customers. But did the painted signs some printers paid for reflect their versatility? Below are a few examples of such signs, ranging from simple to more elaborate ones, from bare to pretty descriptive ones.

Examiner, Printing works, Forest Hill

Printer's ghost signs, part 2 (Go to part 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

To start with, here is what we could call a minimalist sign: because of a lack of space, only the nature of the business appears between the first and second-floor windows.

Printing Works

Location: Dartmouth Road / Picture take on: 23/07/2009

Printer, Elephant and Castle

Printers' ghost signs, part 3 (Go to part 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7)

At first sight this is another very basic sign. A closer look reveals at least two more lines were painted above "Printer" but they have faded too much for me to be able to read anything but a couple of letters. Maybe the local library has a picture which could give us some answer. I should check next time I'm in the area. The location of this sign may explain why there is nothing fanciful about it. Indeed the building is only a few meters away from the viaduct carrying the Herne Hill to Blackfriars line opened by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1864, and since the sign was painted so high, we can assume its primary targets were not people walking or travelling northwards along Newington Causeway but rail passengers. From passing trains, a simple typeface would have been more efficient than an elaborate one. Of course, back then, the view wouldn't have been party hidden by the tree on the left.

Location: Newington Causeway / Picture taken on: 16/07/2009

Pring & Rose, Fitzrovia

Printers' ghost signs, part 4 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)

The location of our next sign couldn't be more different: a tiny passage between Margaret Street and Wells Street. Here too the typeface is pretty simple but at least the premises and the range of products Ping & Rose could supply were clearly advertised, and the composition of both signs is slightly more eye-catching.

Pring & Rose
Tickets Writers
And Printers


Location: Marylebone Passage / Picture taken on: 17/04/2008

Clutten, Swan & Co, New Cross

Printers' ghost signs, part 5 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7)

In another part of London, one of Pring & Rose's competitors used a more elaborate typeface, if not for its name, at least to describe the nature of its business to the passing public.

Clutten, Swan & Co.
Artistic Ticket-Writers

This sign was painted over an earlier one. I can't make out a name, but the business they were in is still clear:
Sanitry Engineers
Inspectors of General Repairs

Location: Amersham Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

W. E. Baxter, Lewes

Printers' ghost signs, part 6 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7)

Moving up the ladder, we find these signs with gilded letters for W. E. Baxter Ltd, both of which seem to have been repainted shortly before the firm relocated from Lewes to Mitcham a few years ago. The printing and publishing business was originally set up in 1802 by John Baxter, who is credited with the invention of the composition ink roller. One of his sons, George Baxter was a celebrated engraver and printer, who invented a colour printing process that made reproduction of paintings possible and cheap. However George Baxter had very little business sense and died an empoverished man. It was under John's grand-son W. E. Baxter that the family business, which from 1837 included the Sussex Agricultural Express, expanded. In 1888 the firm was successful enough to become a limited company.

W. E. Baxter Ltd

W. E. Baxter Ltd
Order Office
Door on Right

This sign was painted over an earlier one which read:
W. E. Baxter Ltd
Printers Stationers
Wholesale Accounts
Bookbinders ...rers
Order Office
... on ...

Location: High Street, Lewes, East Sussex / Picture taken on: 27/06/2009

Cutts & Co, Peckham

Printers' ghost signs, part 7 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Finally, to conclude this series of printers' signs, here is a wall where the mix of different typefaces and colours ends up making a very attractive palimpsest. The white background hides an earlier sign but it is virtually impossible to make any sense of it. As for "Cutts & Co" (notice how the last letter ends up forming an arrow that comes back to underline the name), is there any connection with Bromhead, Cutts & Co, the fine art printer and publisher based in Cork Street behind the Royal Academy of Arts, which seemed to have enjoyed a short period of prosperity during the 1920s?

For Business
Cutts & Co
Office Phone
New Cross 50 [?]

Location: Chadwick Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Friday, 13 November 2009

East German neon signs (2)

Today I continue my small digression from the title of this blog to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with some more East German neon signs.

The largest concentration of neon signs in Leipzig is found just outside the city centre, near the beginning of the avenue that leads to the former grounds of the Leipzig trade fair. Just off the inner ring road, on Grünewald Straße, two blocks of flats separated by a small square provided the necessary height for those signs to be visible by anyone passing through the southeast corner of the city or travelling to the fair.
The corners of both buildings are crowned by signs for the Volkseigene Möbelkombinate der DDR (People-owned Furniture Combine).

And Progress
For Modern Housing]

A search on the web gives two possible dates for these neon signs. Someone remembers seeing them in 1977, while another source states they were installed there in 1985. Somehow, looking at their design, I'd rather go for the mid-1980s date. Neon signs produced in the 1970s were slightly funkier, even in the rather grey GDR.

The next sign on Grünewald Straße definitely dates from the 1980s as it incorporates the 1981 Jenaer Glas logo. The company’s origins date back to 1884, the year Otto Schott, Carl Zeiss and Roderich Zeiss founded the Glastechnische Laboratorium Schott & Genossen (Schott & Associates Glass Technology Laboratory) in the city of Jena. A few years later they set up the Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen (Schott & Associates Glass Factory) to handle mass production and marketing of borosilicate glass, a glass invented by Otto Schott in 1887 that can resist high temperatures and thermic variations as well as degradation by chemicals. The shorter brand name Jenaer Glas made its apparition in the 1920s. It was during the inter-war years that famous artists, including Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy, began designing modern, stylish products for the company. In 1945, 41 of the company’s best specialists were captured by US troops and brought to Mainz, where they set up Schott Glaswerke AG. Meanwhile in Jena, the goverment of the new GDR took over the company and the name was changed to Jena Glaswerke VEB (People-owned Jena Glass Factory). Thanks to their high quality, Jenaer Glas products continued to be exported successfully throughout both the east and the west, and were a major foreign currency earner for the GDR. After the reunification the East German factory was acquired by Schott Glaswerke AG.
In the background: JENAer GLAS in aller Welt

Two more neon signs can be seen on the Windmühlenstraße side of the building. The first sign is for Traktoroexport, the trade department of the USSR in charge of exporting Soviet tractors and other agricultural machinery. If in Russia tractors were sold under the name of their respective manufacturer, from 1961 all those sold abroad by Traktoroexport came under the brand “Belarus”. Traktoroexport still exists today.

As for the second neon sign on Windmühlenstraße, it reproduced the slogan of the VEB Leipziger Färberei und chemische Reinigung (People-owned Leipzig Dye and Dry Cleaning Works), located in the northwestern Wahren area of the city (the large building is now abandoned).

[Neat As a Pin]

The strange thing about it is that "durch" at the end doesn't make any sense (not even to Germans...)

All picture above: location: Grünewald Straße / Windmühlenstraße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

Finally here is the little happy chap from the neon sign from VEB Käsefabrik (People-owned Cheese Factory) located in the town of Sangerhausen. Production of cheese using curdled milk began in 1906. In the late 1950s the newly-nationalised company started producing sliced and soft cheese. This proved so successful that it entirely concentrated on these products and stopped making cheese with curdled milk. The factory was privatised in 1993.

Location: Dr-Wilhelm-Külz-Straße, Sangerhausen, Sachsen-Anhalt / Picture taken on: 01/05/2009

Monday, 9 November 2009

East German neon signs (1)

Twenty years ago, I was preparing a presentation on some obscure point of French constitutional law for the following week, with the news radio in the background. Then shortly after 7 pm, the newsreader announced they had received a cable from East Berlin: the spokesman of the politburo had just given a press conference about the new regulations for East Germans wishing to travel abroad. It was pretty confusing but it seemed all East Germans, and not only those who had been veted, would be allowed to travel. And when he had been asked when these new regulations would apply, he had declared: “Immediately, right away.” For one month people had been demonstrating in Leipzig and then across other cities in favour of democratic reforms. But could this be true? Would the old guard of the regime finally give in and open the borders? After all, the security forces had sometimes intervened violently to repress demonstrators in Leipzig and Berlin. Earlier that year, on the other side of the world, demonstrations on Tien’anmen Square and other parts of China, had been harshly crushed by the Communist regime. Hopes for change had been dealt a severe blow. However in parts of Eastern Europe, the situation seemed to be moving in the right direction: in May Hungary had started dismantling the fence along its border with Austria before removing restrictions on travelling abroad, in June in Poland Solidarność had won the first semi-free elections and one of its leaders had been appointed prime minister. Could change finally reach the German Democratic Republic? For a while that evening confusion and caution prevailed. I went down to have dinner with my mum. My dad was away on a business trip. We sat by the fireplace in the dining room listening to the radio. Shortly after 8 pm it was mentioned the West German ARD TV station had announced East Germany had opened its borders to everyone. After the main course, we took our dessert upstairs to watch TV but nothing was happening. Streets on the other side of the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate were desperately empty. Then the news filtered that a few people had begun to gather at the Bornholmer Straße border crossing and the guards were letting some of them through. Before long, a few people became a huge crowd and similar scenes began to repeat themselves at other crossings. By 11 pm that night, unable to contain the mass of people chanting “open the gate”, it was decided to raise the traffic barriers. Until very late that night, we watched, full of excitement and hope, as the Berlin Wall came down. Little did I know then that among those demonstrators in Leipzig was my partner, a young student back then, who was watching the country she had grown in disappear.
Since the reunification in 1990, the eastern lander have been changing dramatically, especially their cities, but traces of the old regime can still be found here and there. In the small town where my in-laws live, a few murals and monuments of socialist inspiration survive. On a cobbled road, darker cobbles laid on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the GDR still spell “25 DDR”. In Leipzig, where the centre has undergone impressive changes, what really catches the eye are the few East German neon signs that have been preserved.

It is said that during a meeting between Marshal Tito and Erich Honnecker in the early 1970s, the Yugoslav leader made some comments about the sad look of East Germany. Everywhere you looked, everything was grey. Apparently the comment hurt the new secretary general of the SED enough for the East German authorities to launch shortly afterwards the “Leipzig – City of Water and Lights” Initiative, to bring colours to the city. It was partly under this initiative that these colourful neon signs were designed.
Contrary to the West where the primary aim of advertising is to lure consumers into buying, in a system of state monopolies, like that of the former GDR, advertising fulfilled another function. Indeed, given the lack of choice and sometimes limited availibility of some products, advertising was not there to stimulate sales but instead to show people how well the socialist economy was performing.
The choice of Leipzig by the party’s central committee was certainly not fortuitous: the trade fairs, which date back to the Middle Ages, continued to attract tens of thousands of visitors from both sides of the Iron Curtain and the city would have been, together with East Berlin, a showcase for the GDR.

Situated on Lenin Straße (renamed in 1991 Prager Straße), a major thoroughfare, only a short distance away from the old Messehaus Bugra where the Leipzig Book Fair used to take place, the building of the Leipziger Kommissions- und Großbuchhandelsgesellschaft (LKG) was one few visitors would have missed. LKG was founded in June 1946 by Karl Klaer and Walter Bleck. What was originally a small private company with seven employees became by 1951 the largest book distributor and wholesaler of the German Democratic Republic. It was nationalized in 1963. By 1989 LKG employed 1,200 persons and had a turnover of 1.18 billion East German marks. Yet the collapse of the GDR had dramatic consequences for the company. By 1992 its turnover barely reached 20 million DM and its workforce had been reduced to 60 employees. In August that year it was privatized through a management buy-out. In 1995, as part of the company’s expansion plan, it left its historic headquarters in Prager Straße just south of the city center and moved to Espenhain, 20 km south of Leipzig. The second half of 1990s witnessed a rapid expansion of LKG and in 2002 its turnover reached 120 million euros. In 2009 it became a subsidiary of Koch, Neff & Oetinger, a book distributor based in Stuttgart.

[The more you read
The more you know
The more you can do]

Location: Prager Straße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

The most famous neon sign in the city is the amazing 45 m2 VEB Feinkost Leipzig (literaly the Leipzig Grocers’ People-owned Enterprise) below. Commonly known as the "Löffelfamilie", or "Spoon Family", it adorns what used to be the company's main building. It was one of the first signs produced under the “Leipzig – City of Water and Lights” initiative at a cost of 660 East German marks. It was designed in 1973 by Theo Hesselbarth und Jürgen Mau, who brought together the colours and animation of the Las Vegas “Go West Cowboy” and the traditional image of a family. The “Löffelfamilie” sign certainly brightened the rather dull cityscape and soon became a famous landmark. However the lights were switched off when VEB Feinkost Leipzig collapsed in 1991. Fortunately the building, together with its distinctive sign, was listed in 1993 and restored in 1999 after the local cultural association naTo purchased it for a symbolic 1 DM. The company that had originally made the neon lights provided replacement lights. Sadly in December that year, just before the party during which the sign was to be switched on, the “Löffelfamilie” was badly damaged by the “Autonome Leuchtkommando" to “spoil the fun of the stupid trendy yuppies” (according to the letter in which they justified their action). Having just spent a lot of money to bring the place and sign back to life, there was simply no fund available for repairs to the “Löffelfamilie.” Since then some funds have been collected but much more would be needed to bring the family back to the dining table...

Obst- und Gemüsekonserven,
tischfertige Gerichte,
doppelt konzentrierte Suppen.
[Canned Fruits and Vegetables,
Ready to Serve Dishes,
Double Concentrated Soups.]

Location: Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

More East German electric signs soon...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Deane & Co chemists, Clapham Common

Last night we went to see the fireworks on Clapham Common. Hadn't it been pitch black, we might have been able to glimpse the painted sign below, one of several found in that part of London.

Deane & Co.

Location: The Pavement / Picture taken on: 07/03/2008

I haven't posted many signs or mosaics this week, but to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I'll post several electric signs from the former GDR on Monday...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Laundry, Harlesden

Last week it was announced that the budget for 2010 of the Venezuelan executive had been increased by a staggering 638.6% to reach one billion euros!!! The wage of Hugo Chávez didn't increase much (contrary to Sarkozy's: the French president granted himself a 140% wage increase following his election) and part of the money is redistributed through eight social programmes supported by the presidency. Still, that is quite a rise, and some expenses are simply outrageous. Chávez even declared he was ashamed by some of them but argued they were necessary if he were to fulfil his representation duties: 240,000 euros in clothes and shoes, and 61,000 in laundry... If part of that money had crossed the Atlantic and reached London, maybe the laundry below could have afforded a new coat of paint...

Location: High Street / Picture taken on: 17/08/2009

P. F. Butcherd, eletrical, radio and television engineers, Seaford

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the BBC Television Service (which has since then become BBC One). The BBC had broadcasted the first ever television programme on September 30, 1929, but for a few years did so irregularly and using the signals normally used for its radio programmes. Then on November 2, 1936 the Television Service, which broadcasted from Monday to Saturday from 15:00 to 16:00, and from 21:00 to 22:00, was launched. As the Beeb writes on its website:
1936 World’s first ever TV service launched
The world's first public broadcasts of high-definition television are made by the BBC from Alexandra Palace in 1936. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and Baird's 240-line system, are installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and are transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system is chosen in 1937.
With such systems the absolutely amazing images of Life, the nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough, would have looked... less spectacular; but at the time the few people who had access to a TV set certainly found this technological development quite astonishing! The number of viewers would have been extremely limited indeed. Just under 19,000 TV sets were manufactured between 1936 and the beginning of the Second World War, when production was interrupted (in any case, the television service was taken off the air until June 1946 ). It was only in the 1950s and 1960s that the number households equiped with a TV set increased dramatically: from 15,000 in 1947, to 1.4 million in 1952, and 15.1 million by 1968.
By then almost every single town in the country had at least one shop selling and repairing radio and TV sets, as well as record players and other electrical equipments. One of them was Butcherd's in Seaford.

P. F. Butcherd
Electrical, Radio
Television Engineers
Estabd 1925 Phone 2383 [?]
HMV Brunswick
Columbia Decca
Parlophone Regal

Unfortunately this sign is well-hidden in a dark corner, and it was quite late when I spotted it. After walking along the coast from Eastbourne, we stopped on Seaford Head to enjoy the view over the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters in the late afternoon light and only made it to Seaford just as the sun disappeared. Not the ideal condition for a good picture! I'll have to try again next time we'll be there.

Location: Clinton Place, Seaford / Picture taken on: 25/07/2009

T. H. Sanders & Sons, and Wreaths & Crosses, Barnes

In most countries, the Day of the Dead is a pretty sombre, private affair. In France people will have used the bank holiday of November 1 to bring chrysantenums to cemeteries. On the contrary, in Mexico, where Catholic and pre-Columbian beliefs mingle, All Saints and the Day of the Dead give rise to colourful, cheerful, public celebrations wonderfully described by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska in an article published a few years ago. Death is part of life. Everywhere people can buy a sugary sweet in the shape of a skull and add their name on it before gobbling it down. The so-called bread of the dead, shaped like bones, is an another popular treat. The favourite drinks, food, clothes, objects, and, if they died at a yound age, toys of the deceased are placed on altars and tumbs while petals of bright flowers show them the way to their former homes. The death of a loved one is still a tragedy, but at least honouring the dead isn't as morbid as it can be on this side of the Atlantic. Between the two traditions, I know which one I'd prefer...
So to celebrate the Day of the Dead, here are two painted signs for funeral parlours, separated by one century at least.

This funeral parlour is still open today and the sign above was repainted relatively recently.

Location: Barnes High Street / Picture taken on: 21/03/2008

On the contrary, the one below shut several decades ago, and the building now houses a clothing shop. Only a couple of words above the entrance door can give an indication as to the original use of the premises. Just as I was taking my picture, a lady passed by and told me the sign used to extend to the left. Unfortunately this pretty elaborate sign written with an elegant typeface, which would have been visible as people passed along the main street of the neighbourhood, had been wiped out quite some time ago.

Estd 1884

Location: White Hart Lane / Picture taken on: 31/07/2009

Sunday, 1 November 2009

St Andrew's church, Lambeth

For Catholics two important celebrations take place at the beginning of November: All Saints on the first, and All Souls, also sometimes called Day of the Dead, on the second. Even if you are not a Catholic but live in a country with a strong Catholic tradition, there would be something to celebrate as today is a bank holiday. So if Henry VIII hadn't broken from Rome, who knows, we may have enjoyed a day off tomorrow...
Even though St Andrew's wasn't a Catholic Church, this sign seemed appropriate enough for today's post.

St Andrew's

St Andrew's stood in Coin Street, a continuation of Windmill Walk. The church was badly damaged during the Second World War and remained empty for a few years before it was demolished.
Below is a short description of St Andrew's from Survey of London: Volume 23: Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall, edited by Sir Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey, and published in 1951.
During the 1840s population swarmed into the network of mean streets and houses north and south of Upper Stamford Street and in 1846, in accordance with Peel's Act “to make better Provision for the Spiritual Care of populous Parishes,” Prince's Town or Meadows was formed into a new church district by Order in Council. It had no permanent church for 10 years, but in 1854 the Commissioners for Building New Churches, having failed in their attempts to purchase ground from the Duchy of Cornwall, bought a plot between Prince's Street (now Coin Street) and Cornwall Road from Richard Palmer Roupell. This ground had formerly been part of Curtis's Botanical Garden. The Church of St. Andrew's was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon in a style described at the time as “Geometric Decorated.” It seated nearly 800 people and cost just over £ 10,000. One item in the bill was for extra digging and driving piles “consequent upon the tides.” The church was consecrated in June, 1856. In 1874 the vicar, the Rev. Frederick Tugwell, bought additional land and rebuilt one of the aisles, inserting five windows in what had previously been a blank wall.
Location: Windmill Walk / Picture taken on: 06/05/2009

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Velosolex, Montrichard

October 29. Eighty years ago Wall Street crashed, marking the beginning of the Great Depression... Since the UK hasn't come out of recession yet, maybe I should try to find something a bit more cheerful...
1390: first trial for withcraft in Paris. Among the accused, Jeanne de Brigue was sentenced to be burnt at the stake... Maybe a bit too gruesome and I don't think I've got any painted sign for barbecues. Let's try something else...
1618: Sir Walter Raleigh is beheaded. Not really cheerful either but at least, Raleigh had a castle in Sherborne, and I've got a couple of pictures of nice mosaics from there. Still, let's check if I can't find anything else...
Ah! Here we go: 1959, Asterix first appeared in the comic magazine Pilote! To be honest, I always preferred Tintin to Asterix but I still enjoyed some of the adventures of the little cunning Gaul, who for better or for worse, has become a symbol of France.
Of course I don't have any painted sign with Asterix, but I've got one of a highly symbolic French product of the second half of the twentieth century, and like Asterix its name ends with an X: the VéloSoleX ! I know, the link is tenuous at best but I don't have much time today, so that will have to do.
The VéloSoleX, or SoleX as it was commonly called, was a moped with a two-stroke motor placed above the front wheel and a maximum speed of around 30-35 km/h. Originally a roller drove the front wheel, but it was replaced later by a cardan joint. Produced in France between 1946 and 1988, it sold more than seven millions. For decades those little black (different colour schemes were introduced later) mopeds became a common sight around high schools, university campuses, and factories. Sometimes one would also turn up in the middle of the countryside, to Mr Bean's delight. Thanks to the simplicity of its design, production costs and consequently retail prices were kept relatively low. In the 1960s a SoleX only cost twice as much as a simple bicycle. Additionally their consumption was limited. They ran on petrol and oil for two-stroke motors, a mixture that ended clogging up the motor. However to avoid cleaning the motor every 4,000 km or so, users could buy the ready-made mixture Solexine sold by BP. To start the engine, one had either to pedal or to push. Since there was no electrical switch, one had to use the decompressor to stop the motor.
I once rode on a friend of mine's SoleX but after 20 metres decided I preferred the good old bicycle I had inherited from one of my mum's uncles.

Sadly most of this sign has disappeared, but one can still clearly read VéloSoleX on it. Actually there is more than just the moped brand to it, but since I've got to check a few things for a day-long course for this coming Saturday, I'll come back to it at a later date.

Location: Rue du Pont, Montrichard, Loir-et-Cher / Picture taken on: 29/05/2009

Monday, 26 October 2009

Auctioneers, Forest Hill

Almost everytime I step into a bus I wonder whether to get my book out or to look out through the window? In most cases the book wins, especially if I know the route well. However from time to time I'll go for a whole day to some part of London I don't know yet, or am not familiar with, and then my head will be moving in all directions not to miss anything I could find interesting, from attractive buildings to unusual sculptures, street art pieces to decaying houses, mosaics to painted signs, and more...
After taking some pictures earlier this year in the New Cross, Greenwich, Lewisham, Catford and Forest Hill areas, my feet were getting a bit tired and I decided it was time for a bus ride to rest a bit. Of course I waited for ages. Then a bus finally arrived. However soon after we passed the first bus stop along the way, I spotted the ghost sign below and made a dash for the bell. I got off, took my pictures, and was making my way back to the bus stop when the next two whizzed passed me! Faced with another lengthy wait I opted to walk. Before I realized, I was in Nunhead then in Peckham. With all the detours I must have walked almost 30 km that day but it had been well worth it!
So, what was this particular sign for? According to many polls, for one of the most distrusted professions in the kingdom...

House, Land &
Estate Agents.
Valuers &
Survey House

Unfortunately the part immediately below the dark horizontal line isn't very legible: only a few letters emerge here and there but nothing I can really decipher. It looks as if one line of text with a larger typeface could have heen painted over two lines. Maybe I should go back when the sun is at a different angle.

Location: Brockley Rise / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Midland Bank, New Cross

Mervyn King's very good speech in Edinburgh calling for a reform of the banking sector was the perfect opportunity I was waiting for to post a painted sign signalling to the passing public the local branch of one of Britain's Big Four. And this sign isn't for any bank but the one where I opened my first account in the UK (although that was up north and not in New Cross), when I came as an Erasmus student in 1993: the Midland Bank. Even though HSBC Holdings had acquired full ownership of the Midland in 1992, the golden griffin surrounded by a circle of golden dots on a dark blue background still adorned my first chequebooks, statements, cards, etc. A few years later Midland adopted the HSBC logo and colours in place of its griffin. Then in 1999 the name itself was dropped and replaced by HSBC.

The origins of the Midland Bank date back to 1836. It was the brainchild of Charles Geach, a former clerck at the Bank of England's Birmingham branch, who obtained the support of prominent merchants and manufacturers from the city. Through acquisitions and mergers, and the opening of new branches across the UK, the Midland rapidly became one of the country's leading banks. In their book A Guide to Banking in Britain, Robert Pringle and Robin Pringle give a short history of the Midland Bank, pages 53-56.


This sign was painted on the side of the New Cross branch of the bank and would have been visible by anyone going westward along the area's main thoroughfare. The neoclassical building, dated 1903, was certainly designed by the firm of Gotch and Saunders. The Midland closed this branch in the early 1980s and the building, which is grade II listed, stood empty for more than 25 years. It is currently being restored and converted into a bar / music venue.

Location: New Cross Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Wood and coal merchant, and guesthouse, Stralsund

Autumn has definitely arrived: everywhere trees are turning from green to glorious yellows and reds, and temperatures are dropping. To stay warm (and cook), most people in the western world rely these days on gas and electricity, but there was a time when wood or coal were the only sources of heat, and for many around the world still are.
In the former German Democratic Republic, shortages and the presence of a large coal industry meant the switch to gas was limited to new blocks of flats and a few new houses. Until very recently large ceramic stoves were a common sight in the main rooms of older houses (and a pain for their inhabitants). Thus coal merchants continued to trade well after their counterparts in other parts of western Europe had gone out of business, and it is still possible to find here and there traces of their activity. Earlier this year my in-laws took us for a week on the island of Rügen on the Baltic Sea. From there we went one day to the beautiful Hanseatic city of Stralsund, where in one of the few streets of the centre still to be renovated, I discovered this little gem of a coal merchant.

Several houses in this street still had signs painted above their doors or windows but none of them could compare with this one at Frankenstraße 29.

The main sign above the door would have read:
Holz- und Kolhlenhandlung Paul Schröder
[Paul Schröder Wood and Coal Merchant]
How do I know this? Well, you'll discover how further below, but first let's look at the other painted signs...

Indeed a closer look at the entrance shows another sign, painted on wood this time, for a guesthouse or boarding house.

Actually the name of the guesthouse, "Zum Frankenwall", was painted on both sides of the entrance, on the lower part of the facade. Not necessarily the most noticeable place, but maybe they only accepted long-term lodgers and didn't really need to be spotted by more casual visitors to the city.

The name of the guesthouse refers to the street that runs behind the house, where the city wall once stood. "Frankenwall" comes from Vranko or Franken, a family of wealthy city merchants who gave its name to several streets of Stralsund, and "Wall" or "ramparts". Until the mid-19th century Frankenwall street was called Frankenmauer, although following the demolition of the city walls the names of Wallstraße and Am Wall were also used. Then in 1869 it was changed to Frankenwallstraße, before being shortened at some point between 1956 and 1971 to Frankenwall. Thus even if there may already have been a guesthouse, the two signs date from the GDR period.

Finally here is how I could tell what was written above the door.

On both sides of the door were these unusual signs with a hand rising out of the ground and holding a coal brick. On the coal brick itself are the logo (an anchor with a rope wrapped around it) and name ("Anker", which means, you'll have guessed it... "Anchor") of the company that manufactured it.
The name of the guesthouse, "Zum Frankenwall", is painted below this sign but is now barely visible.

I can only hope that whoever restores the house will keep those signs, as some have done in other parts of the city.

Location: Frankenstraße, Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Germany / All pictures taken on: 05/05/2009

Monday, 19 October 2009

Money advance, Hounslow; Old gold bought, Dulwich; and Perry & Sons, Tooting

I've been neglecting this blog a bit lately so to compensate, today's posting features several painted signs.

Last week the expenses scandal came to haunt MPs again. With the leaders of the main parties insisting that those seeking reelection would have to pay some money back, I thought I should give those who struggle to raise the funds they may have to repay a couple of addresses where they may get some help. I don't guarantee they're still open.

The first address isn't too far from the constituency of the right honourable gentleman whose name sounds a bit like an English county. Being accused of using around £100,000 of public money to fund his own research company, he may find repaying the total sum tricky. However since he has now annouced he would stand down at the next election, he may not need to repay it at all...

Jewellery / To Any Amount

Even if he decides or is obliged to repay part of that large sum, he may drive past this sign without noticing it as it is largely obscured by an evergreen tree growing a couple of meters from the wall. A close view reveals that the upper and lower parts were used twice ("/" indicates ovelapping text written at the same level)

Location: Staines Road / Picture taken on: 19/07/2008

If Hounslow if a bit far for some MPs, here are another couple of places closer to Westminster where they could trade in their goods for some cash.


Old Gold

The right-hand part of this sign covers an earlier one. Part of it can still be seen:
Special Low Rate
Over £2.00

Since the price of gold has been going up lately, those who enter the premises will undoubtedly be given a better deal than the then chancellor, who decided to sell part of the country's gold reserves back in 1999-2002 at a time when the precious metal was at a 20-year low.

Location: Lordship Lane / Picure taken on: 24/08/2009

Finally for those MPs in need of cash but who don't have much gold or jewels, there is Perry & Sons. This may not be obvious from the picture below but they do accept a much wider range of goods and valuables. Indeed for a while I wondered what the words hidden from the street level could be, but then one day traffic was horribly slow so I hopped on a double-decker bus, and had enough time to read this sign before getting off one stop further. Actually not many people may have ever been able to see it in full. On a 1904 picture of the High Street (and the sign can't be much older) it is already partly hidden by the pediment of the building next door. The latter was demolished at some point but the Art Deco building that replaced it wasn't low enough either...

Money Lent
To Any Amount
Diamonds, Precious Stones
Miniatures. Works of Art
Furniture &

Perry & Sons
Gold & Silver
Second-hand Furniture

Location: Tooting High Street / Picture taken on: 11/04/2008