Friday, 28 August 2009

Freeman, Hardy & Willis, Littlehampton and Wimbledon

Two weeks ago I was searching on my computer for a mosaic I could post on this blog, when I realized that I had two pictures, from Wimbledon and Littlehampton, with the same initials. The design was different but both displayed "FH & W." Surely this wasn't coincidence and I thought there could be more than just a local shop behind these initials. An internet search with just these three letters led to nothing. Then one day, on my way to do some shopping in Wimbledon I stopped at the local library to look at old pictures of Arthur Road, but the only ones they had didn't show its lower part. Still stuck! Then last week I passed through Peckham, and after taking a few pictures of the area, including some painted signs, headed towards the library. While looking for some information to legend my photos I came across an old picture of a high street with a Freeman, Hardy & Willis shoe shop! With a full name, it would now be easier to find some information about that chain and see if it was connected with the two mosaics. And indeeed, these mosaics were laid at the entrances of two branches of this once popular chain of footwear retailers, which disappeared in 1996, the very year I came to Britain. Maybe if I had asked the granny next door, my mystery would have been solved earlier...

Freeman, Hardy & Willis was set up in Leicester in the mid 1870s, when Edward Wood sold his boot and shoe manufacturing business, E. Wood & Co., to three of his associates (for more on footwear manufacture in Leicester, click here). Soon after the company changed its name, and Freeman, Hardy & Willis embarked on an ambitious expansion plan which saw its number of retail outlets increase dramatically. Actually, FH & W was one of the first firms, which in the last quarter of the 19th century, opened shops in many towns, thus selling directly to the public and cutting the middleman. By 1890 it owned more than 100 outlets (other companies with such high number of branches included the International Tea Company, the Home and Colonial Tea Company, Eastman's the butchers, and footwear retailers Stead & Simpson and George Oliver). By 1914 the number had increased to nearly 500. The opening of new outlets across the country explains only partially such an expansion. The increase in size of Freeman, Hardy & Willis (and of most other companies at the time, with the exception of W. H. Smith and Boots) was mainly the outcome of amalgations with competitors. At the turn of the century, Freeman, Hardy & Willis took control of Rabbits & Sons and Pocock Brothers. In 1927 though, FH & W and its 551 outlets were acquired by its competitor Sears, which traded under the name True Form. In 1953 after a sensational take-over, Charles Clore took control of Sears, and three years later added Manfield and Dolcis to his portfolio. Clore reorganized his footwear interests into the British Shoe Corporation in 1962 and the same year went on to buy Saxone, and Lilley & Skinners. In 1996 Sears' shoe shops, except Dolcis, were sold to Stylo plc, which decided to consolidate them into its Barratts and PriceLess Shoes brands. Therefore many of those familiar footwear name were axed.

As mentioned above, the two mosaics have different designs. While the one in Littlehampton appears at first sight more elaborate, it is actually quite crude. The letters are not even aligned with the pavement and, in any case, would have looked better if they had adopted the curve of the parchment. The one in Wimbledon on the contrary looks apparently more simple. Yet there is a nice gradation in the letters, from brown to red and grey and the three-tone fan background is quite attractive.

Location: High Street / Picture taken on: 11/04/2009

Location: Arthur Road / Picture taken on: 03/09/2008

Now that I know that Freeman, Hardy & Willis were present in most towns and cities across Britain, I'm hoping that I'll come across some more mosaics, or even a painted sign for them... Who knows?

Thursday, 27 August 2009

At lowest prices, Camberwell

For many retailers, advertising their business only meant painting a basic sign above the door or on the façade of their premises. Unfortunately the upper part of this sign has been lost...


Location: Coldharbour Lane / Picture taken on: 11/04/2008

The Parade Stores, St Margarets

This could be an example of the many fairly simple signs found across cities, but the peculiar typeface used on "Parade", makes it stand out.

The Parade
Boot &

Location: St Margaret's Road / Picture taken on: 21/05/2008

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

White Mantles, Richmond

Since I don't have much time these days, I have chosen a ghost sign I don't have much to write about. Three weeks ago, Yelfy published another of his fascinating accounts about southwest London, this time about Richmond-upon-Thames. Just to add to what he posted, here is a ghost sign that was on his way but is tricky to spot. The sign itself has badly faded, the pavement is pretty narrow, and on the other side of the street is a tiny sloping garden protected by a small railing.

4d Sunlight
[written at a 65° angle on each side of the window]

White Mantles 4d

Location: Richmond Hill / Both pictures taken on: 21/05/2008

Friday, 21 August 2009

Sunlight soap, Ravenscourt Park

Let's hope this badly faded Sunlight Soap sign (one of several across greater London) will make the sun come out this weekend. A former student of mine is celebrating her birthday on Saturday and I shall be in charge of the barbecue. If I remember well what happened a couple of years ago, grilling meat under the rain isn't much fun, even if there's someone to hold an umbrella for you... So please, let's have some sunshine... and happy birthday Ewa!

Largest Sale [In The World]

Location: Boscombe Road / Picture taken on: 31/07/2009

Thursday, 20 August 2009

The Stores, Dorchester

Here is a lovely Victorian doorstep mosaic in the largely Georgian county town of Dorset. Actually the building itself dates from 1820-1830 but the shopfront was later remodelled. I particularly like the floral pattern with its different shades of brown, green and blue.

Location: 24 High East Street, Dorchester / All pictures taken on: 16/08/2009

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Vedette, Sambin

Inspired by the battle taking place right now in my ears between Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 3 and a spinning washing machine, here are two painted signs spotted earlier this year on a house and the farm building a few metres away, at the entrance of the tiny town of Sambin, France. I should thank my dad for making a last minute stop on the verge of the road and letting me take those pictures. Fortunately there was no gendarme around as I stepped out without wearing a high-viz jacket... (click on the picture to enlarge it)

Left (with the lighter blue bakground):
Mer Tél. 56

Réfrigérateurs - Machines à Laver - Congélateurs
R. Bauer


Part of the sign on the farm building has disappeared but one can guess what is missing.

Réfrigérateurs - Lave-linge
Machines à laver
Mer Ets. [Établissements] Bauer
4 et 6, Place de la Halle

In 1947 French company Vedette launched its first washing machine. Although sales remained limited immediately after the war, they rapidly increased throughout the 1950s and 1960s and Vedette became a household name. Fridges (réfrigérateurs) and freezers (congélateurs) followed and were equally popular. Between 1972 and the early 1980s, a whole series of TV ads for Vedette washing machines starred Jeanne Marie Le Calvé, better known as La Mère Denis, a washerwoman from Normandy, whose accent, smile, good nature, and laugh became rapidly known throughout France and even as far as Japan.
Since we didn't have any TV at home until I was nine or so I can't say I remember thoses ads but the name of Mère Denis is familiar indeed. What I remember though is the old Vedette washing machine my parents bought in the mid-1960s, and which lasted until the early 1990s. As for the fridge of the same brand, it is still in the kitchen after 45 years...

With regards to retailer Bauer, a search in the yellow pages shows they are still doing business from 4/6, Place de la Halle in Mer, a small town of 6,000 inhabitants between Blois and Orléans, about 40 km away from Sambin. And the last two digits of their phone number are 56.

Location: Rue du Bourg Neuf, Sambin, Loir-et-Cher, France / Both pictures taken on: 29/05/2009

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Baths, Putney

Those of you who ventured on Putney High Street heading north towards the bridge have certainly noticed the modern painted sign for Spanish restaurant La Mancha (just in case you wondered, the food is rather average, so is the service, and the place can be very loud).

But how many have spotted that this modern sign covers almost entirely a much older one? Nowadays, the only visible words are: "...ic Baths." A look at old pictures of the High Street confirmed what I thought: it was for the local public baths.

So here we have a sign which, looking at what is left of it, was neither beautifully-designed nor eye-catching, but which reveals some aspect of our local history.

Peter Thomas published a fascinating article in the Winter 1986 issue of The Wandsworth Historian about William Bishop and the Putney Public Baths and this is where most of what follows comes from.
The story began in 1883, when the vestry, concerned by the lack of access to running water of the vast majority of inhabitants around Putney, put forward a proposal for the construction of public baths to be financed by taxpayers. However Putney taxpayers, whose meanness was apparently well-known, rejected the proposal. A few months later, local entrepreneur William Bishop, who had made a small fortune in the building trade, stepped in and announced he would build public baths as a commercial venture. Designed by architects Lee Bros & Pain, they opened on Saturday June 5, 1886 at the corner of Putney Bridge Road and Burstock Road. The baths, which were said to have been rather luxurious, could accomodate between 200 and 300 people at any given time. They included a large swimming pool, private baths, as well as Turkish baths. During the winter months the main swimming pool was boarded over and converted into the "Cromwell Hall", where banquets, concerts, public meetings, music halls, and other kinds of performances could be organized. A strict segregation between genders existed in the public baths, with separate entrances for women and men and an alternance of women's days and men's days. Class was the other dividing line. When they opened in 1868, prices were 9 d. for first class, and 6 d. for second class. Private baths cost 1 s. first class, and 6 d. second class. These were relatively high prices for the time, and were certainly beyond the means of those the baths had originally been intended for (in most public baths across London run by local parishes or metropolitan boroughs, a hot bath and the use of a towel cost as little as one penny or two pence). Additionally under pressure from the Church the baths closed on Sunday, the only day when working classes would have had enough time to go for a swim.
Attendance probably never reached the levels expected and consequently the Putney public baths were certainly never a financial success. They were demolished in September 1986 after years of neglect.

Putney High Street / Picture taken on: 15/08/2008

Prices old English lavender soap, Acton

Good news! Yesterday I went to take some more photos of northwest London and, as passed by Acton, I realized that the billboard that covered the upper part of the Lavender Soap sign in Acton was now gone! (Click on the picture for an enlarged version)

Price's [or Prices]
...on [hidden by the bin shed]

Just looking at the most legible words, one can see easily that at least two ads were painted on that wall, but a close look shows there are many other letters in a whole range of typefaces.

The previously hidden part. Here one can see a large letter (a D maybe) just to the left of the "r" of "Price's". "Price's" also covers two lines written in blue/green letters (somehow, it looks a little bit like Germolene but I doubt it is. The space between the letters doesn't look quite right)

In the lower part as well several lines have been covered when the Lavender Soap sign was painted. Letters appear here and there, but nothing makes much sense.
I had always associated Old English Lavender Soap with Yardley, the soap manufacturer founded in 1770 (and incidently with my grand-parents' bathroom). Yet I can't see any trace of that particular brand name, not even on the pack of soap bars or the card that goes with is. As for Price, ever since my girlfriend first worked in a company based in Battersea riverside, it has been synonymous with candles. A quick search shows that actually Price began producing soap in 1856, using the same base product -glycerine- its candles were made of. Its soap manufacturing rights, together with the soap factory at Bromborough (near Port Sunlight) were taken by Lever Brothers Ltd in 1936.

The card reads:
Old English
Lavender Soap
Ba.. S...
P... L... B...

The six pieces of soap in the box are each wrapped in a paper saying "Old English Lavender" (that looks cheapish for Yardley). Could Price have copied Yardley's design, in particular the Gothic typeface of "Old English"?

Quite a palimpsest this wall! If anyone knows what the ads painted over were and what kind of business Mackie's was in, don't hesitate to get in touch via the comments.

Location: Birkbeck Road / All pictures taken on: 17/08/2009

Friday, 14 August 2009

Update on the ABC Cinema sign

I passed today by Highgate Road and noticed that unfortunately the ABC cinema sign is now hidden behind a rather unappealing board displaying the venue's new name: HMV Forum.
On a more positive note, I came back with pictures of about twenty five more painted signs, including a very nice for Gillette. And it is not blue... Keep checking! In the meantime, have a nice weekend.

Stephen Tulse, funeral director, Lambeth

In the Far East, and to a certain extent in the western world, white is associated with death, but whoever painted that ghost sign over may have taken the symbolism a step too far...

A thick coat of white paint makes any identification pretty hard at first sight. However a closer look and a bit of work in Photoshop reveal a few words. Overlapping letters indicate this space was painted on two occasions at least. The most legible sign reads:

Stephen Tulse
Funeral Director
Ornamental Mason

Location: St George's Road / Picture taken on: 20/03/2009

Today's title refers obviously to François Truffaut's excellent The Bride Wore Black with a sublime Jeanne Moreau in the leading role.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

C. C. Allen, Chichester

I had noticed this doorstep mosaic during a previous visit to Chichester but on that occasion it was snowing heavily and a cold wind was sweeping the streets. Sticking my hands out of my pockets to grab the camera was simply not appealing at all. Fortunately the weather was slightly better when we went back a few months ago.

Location: South Street, Chichester / Picture taken on: 11/04/2009

The National Archives hold the account books for Messrs Allen, jewellers of South Street, Chichester, for the years 1937-1969. However the mosaic may predate 1937. Indeed had it been put by Messrs Allen, one could have expected a "&" or "and". Then could C. C. Allen have been their father? Answers in the comments, please...

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Dairy and bakery, Shepherd's Bush

The backstreets to the east of Shepherd's Bush Road, between Hammersmith and Shepherd's Bush, are essentially residential, with the odd pub here and there. At first sight it doesn't look like an area where many painted signs could be found. However Richmond Way has a few shops and, as I looked back before heading towards the hideous roundabout east of the green and then to Notting Hill, there it was! A large but simple sign for the local dairy and a bakery that for once wasn't linked to Hovis or Daren.


A. C.
Noted For
Home Made

Location: Richmond Way / Picture taken on: 31/07/2009

Several painted signs for dairies can still be seen on London walls. The development of shops specialized in dairy products was linked to the urban growth of the city in the second half of the 19th century and the growth of milk consumption in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods, due partly to a greater appreciation of its health benefits (even though at least until the milk grading and testing orders of 1922 and 1923, the milk sold across London was of more than dubious quality: water was often added and cream removed, and even worse, a study published in 1918 found that 99 per cent of samples had traces of cow dung while that supplied to schools and hospitals carried bacilli coli, indicating the presence of manure, and several million bacteria per cubic centimeter, a staggering figure at a time when 60,000 was considered hygienically possible). The first dairy shops opened in the West End and in the City, but soon they were found across the capital. By 1883, 1,941 could be found throughout London. In addition to milk, they sold butter, eggs, margarine and some groceries. Even though many dairy shops were independently-owned, most of the sales were handed by those linked to wholesale suppliers such as the London United Dairies Co., founded in 1915, and which by 1920 controlled 80 per cent of the milk supply to greater London and 470 shops. Large concerns were able to offer a steady supply and the same prices throughout the year, in spite of large differences in production costs according to the season. Their quasi-monopoly often led to accusations of inflated prices though. From the 1920s, independent dairy shops also faced increasing competition from co-operatives, whose share of the milk supply and retail market rose from 7 per cent in 1900 to 9 per cent in 1920 and to 26 per cent in 1939.

Dairy shops were part of everyday's life and remained so for a couple of decades after the Second World War. However technological developments, such as the introduction of UHT milk in the 1960s, and new shopping habits, with people switching to supermarkets, led to a sharp drop in their numbers. Only a few survive, often catering for the upper end of the market.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Candy stores, Richmond

As I look through the windows, now that the sun is shining and temperature rising the red deers in Richmond Park move from the open fields near Roehampton and Sheen gates to Duchess Wood near White Lodge to find some shadow.
That reminds me that Richmond has a few ghost signs and mosaics, including one I noticed only a few months ago, even though I've been crossing the park and walking down Richmond Hill regularly for about ten years... If you know the place, I'm sure you'll understand why I didn't spot it earlier: the view over the Thames valley is so lovely that you're irresistibly drawn towards it, and you become almost oblivious to what lays behind you. Earlier this year though, the southern gate to the Terrace Gardens was closed for some odd reason so I stayed on the pavement, and that's when I spotted this sign. Or rather signs.

At least two signs have been painted on this wall indeed, but only one is clearly legible today.

The Terrace
Candy Stores
High Class Confectionery
Cigarettes & Tobacco

A closer looks reveals a few letters and one word for the previous, larger, sign(s).


Location: Friars Stile Road / Picture taken on: 07/03/2009

Monday, 10 August 2009

Iron Jelloids, Holloway

Hadn't the sun come out this weekend, I would have posted either one of the Sunlight soap signs or the doorstep mosaics of the Rising Sun on Tottenham Court Road, in the vain hope of making it appear. However since they both featured on Jane's blog on Thursday, I've decided to keep them up my sleeve for a bit longer. In any case Jane's posting did the trick: after a rather mixed week, it was all sunshine over the South West Coast Path between Weymouth and Abbotsbury on Saturday, and even though yesterday wasn't as gorgeous, the sculptures on the facade of Salisbury's cathedral really came to life in the warm late afternoon light. So, thanks Jane for saving our weekend! By the way, I found a couple of painted signs and mosaics in both Weymouth and Salisbury and shall post them later.
In the meantime, to start the week on a good footing, here is one of the many painted signs for that "great tonic [that] makes healthy, happy homes": Iron Jelloids!

The origins of the tonic and restorative medicine date back to 1895, when Warrick Bros. (also spelt in some journals as Warwick Bros.), manufacturing chemist of 18 Old Swan Lane, London, submitted a new pill made by mixing freshly precipitated sub-carbonate of iron with jujube mass. One year later ads for Iron Jelloids were being printed in medical journals and doctors started recommending it in articles. To handle production and marketing of their new product, Warrick Bros set up The Jelloid Co., of Finsbury Pavement, and by April 1913 The British Journal of Nursing could write that "Iron Jelloids are now well-known as a neutral, palatable, non-constipating form of Iron Tonic." In 1917 The Jelloid Co. was incorporated as a limited liability company and became Iron Jelloid Co. Ltd., with headquarters in City Road / Central Street, EC1, and production lines in Watford, Herts. The company ran several campaigns in the press (example of the 1912 ad) to promote "the great aid to health", and even sponsored in the early 1920s at least two books: The Iron Jelloids Nursery Rhymes Painting Book and A Humorous History of Britain by C. Harrison. Everybody in the household could have his or her Iron Jelloids. Children could be given the gelatinous lozenges No. 1 to help them grow, men and women with anaemia or feeling a bit down could try a fortnight of N. 2, while men could even take the extra-strong No. 2A (examples of a 1921 ad, printed in The Sydney Mail, and a 1924 ad). It seemed there was little Iron Jelloids could not do! In 1922 the remedy even got a mention in James Joyce's Ulysses:

Gerty MacDowell who was seated near her companions, lost in thought, gazing far away into the distance, was in very truth as fair a specimen of winsome Irish girlhood as one could wish to see. She was pronounced beautiful by all who knew her though, as folks often said, she was more a Giltrap than a MacDowell. Her figure was slight and graceful, inclining even to fragility but those iron jelloids she had been taking of late had done her a world of good much better than the Widow Welch's female pills and she was much better of those discharges she used to get and that tired feeling. (Episode 13 - Nausicca)

In 1930 Iron Jelloids Co. Ltd. was acquired by Beecham Pill Ltd. Production continued in Watford before moving to the main Beecham's factory in St Helens, Lancs. Beecham must have discontinued Iron Jelloids in the mid-1970s or 1980s.

The sign below is one of several I have come across in London. Since the prices quoted are the same as those on the 1924 printed ad, it may date from around the mid-1920s.

For Health & Beauty
Great ...
All Chemists 1'3 & 3'

Location: Windsor Road / Picture taken on: 01/04/2008

Friday, 7 August 2009

Daren, Vauxhall

This Sunday, it's my dad's birthday! I can bet my mum will prepare an absolutely delicious cake. Had my parents lived in Vauxhall some time ago, and my mum been unable to bake a cake, she could always have tried to get one at the Bonnington Square Bakery.

For Quality
Cakes [?]
Wedding & Birthday

Location: Vauxhall Grove / Picture taken on: 10/10/2008

Thursday, 6 August 2009

Hairdresser, Leipzig

Not much of a story behind today's pictures, chosen because I finally decided to go and get a haircut. I came across the painted frontage of this ladies' and gentlemen's hairdresser in Leipzig as I made my way towards the city centre after taking some photos of the sadly crumbling Messehaus Bugra (the pavillion of the Leipzig Trade Fair dedicated to books and graphic arts) and of the old electric sign of the Leipziger Kommissions und Grossbuchhandel (the wholesale and book distribution state organisation during the GDR). If the city centre, where the immense majority of historic buildings has been wonderfully restored and new ones are emerging on a regular basis, has changed almost beyond recognition since the reunification of Germany, as soon as you pass the ringroad, you find yourself passing through streets where derelict buildings stand next to recently restored ones. Among the crumbling ones was a block which used to house an eclectic range of shops: a pet shop, one specialized in radiography equipments, and a hairdresser.

Herren Friseur
The Nürnberger Straße frontage

Damen u. Herren Friseur
The Auguste-Schmidt-Straße frontage

Location: Leipzig, Sachsen, Germany / Both pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

Maybe one day I should digress from the title of this blog and post some pictures of former East German electric signs, some of which were pretty elaborate... Anybody interested?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

Bryant & May, Croydon

Together with Gillette and Hovis, Bryant & May may well have been one of the most prolific companies when it came to covering Britain's walls with painted signs. Yet not all of them are as colourful as this one for Swan Vestas matches.

The Swan brand emerged in 1883, when Collard & Kendall of Bootle, near Liverpool, launched the "Swan Wax Matches". After a few years the company was bought by US-based Diamond Match Company and in the mid-1890s they launched the "Swan White Pine Vestas" ("Vestas" derives from Vesta, the Roman goddess of household and fire). These matches appealed especially to smokers as a wooden stick burnt better in the open air than the cotton or paper dipped in wax sticks that were more commonly used at the time. In the early 1900s the Diamond Match Company merged with Bryant & May. The British match maker kept the brand but redesigned the label of the matchbox: the white swan peacefully gliding on a pond with rushes in the background, that had adorned matchboxes from the very beginning, was turned, given a green background and moved to the left, leaving a field on the left where the brand's name could be displayed in yellow letters against a red background. This basic concept has not changed since then. A couple of years after the merger, "White Pine" was dropped from the name and the mention "The Smoker's Match" was added (it disappeared in the 1980s). Obviously as decades passed a few changes were made to the design of the label: the swan, in particular its wings, acquired a more simplified outline, and so did the background, before completely disappearing (although in the 1980s, a background of foliage was introduced, which was then replaced for a short while by the Houses of Parliament at night. Actually the image was quite sinister, the absence of light on Big Ben bringing back memories of the Blitz...). The most significant change took place in 1959 when the swan changed direction, gliding no longer towards the left but towards the right, as it did originally. In the 1990s the label changed radically but that led to such a drop in sales that the manufacturer returned to the original concept, with a much more stylized swan though.

Looking at the different models of matchboxes, it appears that the painted sign below dates from the 1950s. Indeed the swan faces left and prior to 1950 the mention "British Made" did not appear on the front of the boxes, under the swan.

Smoker's Match
British Made By Bryant & May

This sign is remarkably preserved and was undoubtedly almost entirely hidden for quite some time by a hoarding. Only the part on the left has faded because of its exposure to the elements. Still, since it faces south, the colours have been washed out a bit by the sun: originally the orange on the box would have been a bright red, and the green would have been darker. A fantastic sign nonethless!

Location: London Road / Both pictures taken on: 17/06/2008

Monday, 3 August 2009

Hotel de Boulogne, Soho

Just to continue with yesterday's theme about French presence in Soho, here is the doorstep mosaic of the former Hotel de Boulogne.
27 Gerrard Street was built in 1783 but it was only in 1874 that a hotel opened in its walls. The street facade was 'Victorianized' that same year and one can assume this took place prior to the arrival of the first guests at the Hotel de Boulogne. The leaseholder at the time was a certain Philippe Ganosse, a Frenchman born in 1843, and who, according to the 1881 census had his residence at nearby 84 Dean Street. With such a name, I would strongly suspect he came originally from southeastern France, something that the name of the hotel clearly does not reflect! Following the death of Philippe, his English wife Kate and later on their daughter Eugenie Elise Jeannette took over the business. The Hotel de Boulogne was certainly popular enough and around 1910 the ground floor front was glazed in Art Nouveau style. However the First World War must have dealt it a serious blow. The hotel closed in 1917, only to be replaced one year later by the Restaurant de Boulogne. Documents of the 1920s and 1930s point to a growing presence of Italians interests in the building itself and the running of the restaurant. In 1962 the Restaurant de Boulogne was still occupying the premises and may have done so for another number of years. By the mid-1970s though, many of the traditional businesses of Gerrard Street were closing down and were replaced by Chinese restaurants and shops. Nowadays this is the very heart of Chinatown and the London China Town Restaurant occupies the premises of what used to be the Hotel de Boulogne.

Location: 27 Gerrard Street / Picture taken on: 14/08/2008

2 Little Crown Court, Soho

If the majority of workers and tourists marching or strolling through Rupert Street would pause and look up as they head from Soho to Chinatown, they would discover behind the grime that covers most of the facades of the area one of the capital's oldest painted signs, certainly dating back to the late 19th century. If they would look at it for a bit longer, they would marvel at the combination of images and text, and if they were patient enough they may be surprised to see that only half of it is written in English. Indeed the rest is in French. Yet this is hardly surprising given the location and its history...
Discriminations endured by French Protestants under Louis XIV, which culminated in the 1865 revocation of the Edict of Nantes, pushed many to cross the Channel. In London they settled around Threadneeddle Street, Spitalfields, and Soho, where around 1680 Huguenots had taken over a church built originally for the Greek community (the settlement around the Threadneeddle Street chapel did not expand much as tradesmen there were subject to the regulations of the City companies). The presence of a French community in Soho acted as a magnet for those who came later, even if as noted in A Survey of London, edited by F. H. W. Sheppard and published in 1966,

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century the foreign element in the population of Soho ceased to be primarily French and became cosmopolitan. The original Huguenot immigrants and their descendants had gradually become to a large extent anglicized, and by 1800 only two of their chapels survived in the area. After 1789 more refugees from the various political commotions which have characterized subsequent French history probably settled in Soho. In the 1860's, when Cardinal Wiseman wished to establish a church for French Roman Catholics in London, Soho was still evidently thought to be the centre of the French colony, but had long ceased to be distinctively Huguenot. Shortly after the Franco-Prussian War and the Commune of 1870–1 Soho was said to have 'now a greater French population than it has had for years', and the Marseillaise was the most financially rewarding tune for the organ-grinders of the locality.

During the 1860s and 1870s, large numbers of Germans, Italians, and Swiss also settled in Soho. In the 1890s, they were joined by Polish and Russian Jews, many of whom had previously been living in Whitechapel. However the southern part of Soho, immediately behind Leicester Square, still kept a French character, largely thanks to the genuine French shops, cafes, and restaurants, “like those near “the barrier” in Paris” wrote Walter Thornbury in the third volume of London Old and New, published in 1878.
Sheppard also mentions them in his study:

French eating-houses, catering specifically for the local French residents, must have existed in the area ever since the arrival of the first refugees in the 1680's but the first known reference to Soho as a resort of English gourmets does not occur until 1816, when the Sablonière Hôtel on the east side of Leicester Square was commended as a French house where 'a table d'hôte affords the lovers of French cookery and French conversation, an opportunity for gratification at a comparatively moderate charge'. The Sablonière had been established in a house on the east side of Leicester Square in 1788, and was the first of a group of foreign hotels and restaurants, mostly French, which existed there for very many years. In the mid nineteenth century the clientèle of these establishments was predominantly foreign, and their respectability had become questionable in English eyes, for the author of a guidebook to London published in 1869 advised his readers, in choosing a hotel or dining-room, to 'avoid Leicester-square'.

The arrival of theatres to Leicester Square and along the newly-opened Shaftesbury Avenue and Charing Cross Road in the 1880s drew a new clientele to the restaurants and hotels of southern Soho. French restaurateurs enjoyed a virtual monopoly and it was in a French restaurant located in Gerrard Street that Hilaire Belloc and G. K. Chesterton first met. Changes in the social habits of the London society also led to increased patronage: from the turn of the 20th century, restaurants started catering for supper or dinner parties, which would have been previously been held at home. The heyday of French Soho was before and just after the First World War. From the 1920 growing numbers of Italian cooks settled in the area and they were followed by a myriad of other nationalities, who all brought their distinctive flavours to Soho.

It was the presence of these French-owned restaurants and hotels that explains why half of this ad is in French. Click on the picture for a larger version.

2 Little Crown Court
Dress Coats From 6 1/6
The Noted House
For Waiters
Cafe Jackets
Dress Coats
Trousers Vests
And All Articles & Wear
Hotel Employees
La Maison
Est Renommée Pour les Effets
De Tous Genres
Pour Garçons de Café
Et Tous Les Articles
Pour Employés d'Hotel
Cafe Jackets from 5 1/6

The address 2 Little Crown Court does not exist anymore. Maybe Little Crown Court was just off Crown Court and disappeared when the area was redeveloped?

A very classy waiter holding a tray

The scroll, half in English, half in French. It looks though as if the French part was written over some English text.

Far too much grime covers this waiter...

Location: Tisbury Court / All pictures taken on: 31/03/2008