Saturday, 31 July 2010

Jaguar and a corner shop, Bath

Traces of two painted signs can still be seen on this wall.

The first one is for the well-known luxury car manufacturer: Jaguar. It seems the winged logo was used for about a decade after the Second World War.

Something was written under the logo. It ends in '' but the rest has faded too much.

The second sign is for what was certainly a corner shop.

The Corner House
...arettes [Cigarettes] ....

Location: Crescent Lane, Bath, Wiltshire / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Friday, 30 July 2010

Update on Hawkins & Co. Ltd., Hanwell

Earlier today I passed by Hanwell and noticed that the sign promoting Hawkins & Co Ltd, 'the West London Grocery & Provision Merchants' is now partly hidden by the steel frame of the building being erected next door. Once the walls go up, it will be gone for decades to come. That may happen in the next few days, weeks at a push.

A. Wills & Sons Ltd, Bath

Not much to say about A. Wills & Sons, of 15, Argyle Street, a building firm whose name appears in a 1927 issue of The Electrical Journal. Apart from that, the only other piece of information I've found relates to the conversion of air raid shelters into office accomodation, a job they carried out in 1945.

A. Wills & Sons Ltd.

The lower part of this sign was painted over another one which read:
PhoneBuilders &

Telephone Bath 4014
A. Wills & Sons. Ltd.
Building Contractors

On the upper part, a previous sign started with:
A. Wills

Location: back of Argyle Street, Bath, Somerset / Pictures taken on: 17/07/2010

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Dispensing chemists, Bath


Several directories published between 1883 and 1893 mention that the premises at 28 Claverton Street were occupied by Robert Troake, chemist. Could he be the one behind this sign?

Location: Claverton Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Circulating library and reading rooms, Bath

It's been one year since I posted my first painted signs and mosaics. So happy anniversary to me! Over the past twelve months more than 200 painted signs from Britain, France, Germany plus a couple from Cuba, China and Laos, sixteen mosaics from Britain, Germany and Cuba, a few electric signs from the former GDR, and a couple of signs on glass have been published. With many more pictures up my sleeve there should be enough material to keep this blog going for quite some time. I hope you'll keep visiting.
To mark the beginning of the second year, let's have a sign about something I couldn't live without: books.

The opening of circulating libraries in Bath from the second half of the eighteenth century onward is closely linked to the growing popularity of the city's mineral water spas among the nobility and gentry. Taking the cure to improve one's health in the morning was followed by relaxation, social pleasures and cultural pursuit in the afternoon and evening, as Jane Austen described so wonderfully in Northanger Abbey and in Persuasion. Gentlemen and ladies would have wanted to read but few would have brought many heavy books with them, hence the need to be able to borrow some. Additionally by the end of the eighteenth century the price of books rocketed, making borrowing an attractive alternative to buying, especially in the case of less serious books such as novels, which were read primarily for enjoyment rather than study. For a fixed subscription, people could become members of a circulating library. These were usually founded by booksellers and binders who extended their business by lending extra copies of their books. It is estimated that by 1790 there were around six hundred libraries renting and lending books to fifty thousand people across England, and several of them were located in Bath.
The first circulating library in Bath was opened in 1728 on Terrace Walk by James Leake, a bookseller and printer originally from London. Although Leake's initiative proved popular, it was decried by Thomas Goulding, who described Leake's shop as "crowded by visitors carrying books" and argued in his 1728 Essay Against Too Much Reading that too much reading was undoing all the good of the mineral waters. Goulding wasn't the only one who despised circulating libraries but that didn't prevent people from joining them. Around 1740 William Frederick opened Bath's second circulating library at 18, The Grove. By the time of his death in 1776, Frederick was able to offer more than 10,000 books including 1,000 novels and romances, that were particularly popular with the ladies. Leake died in 1764 and his children sold his business to Lewis Bull, a jeweller, goldsmith and the keeper of a lodging-house. His son John took over in 1792 and kept the library going for a while but it seems to have disappeared by 1809. Meanwhile following Frederick's death, his circulating library was bought by John Sheldon and William Meyler, a magistrate and member of the common council. Another bookseller, William Taylor, of Church Street, began lending books too. By 1789 he had more than 7,000 books available at rates of 10s. 6d. per year, 4s. per quarter and 2s. 6d. per month. Bull's, Meyler's and Taylor's are amongst the seven circulating libraries listed in The New Bath Directory for 1792. Yet there were certainly a couple more. For example, Samuel Hazard, of Cheap Street, who was in business between 1772 and 1806, is only listed as printer and bookseller, even if he also lent books at the same rates as Taylor per quarter and per year. It is estimated that by the turn of the nineteenth century there were at least ten circulating libraries in Bath. The most exclusive one was undoubtedly Marshall's at 23, Milsom Street, which opened in 1787. Originally it was jointly owned by Samuel Jackson Pratt and James Marshall, but by 1793 Marshall was the sole proprietor. The list of his subscribers read like a Who's Who:
two princes (the Prince of Wales and Frederick, Prince of Orange), five dukes, four duchesses, seven earls, fourteen countesses, many other nobles and forty-three knights. Professional customers were three admirals, four generals and many service officers down to twenty-six majors and seventy-one captains, and also ecclesiastics: one archbishop, six bishops and 114 clerics.
Phyllis May Hembry, The English spa, 1560-1815: a social history (1990, p. 150)
Marshall's library flourished between 1793 and 1799 but the rise in the price of books -up to 100%- was a serious threat to the business in general. Marshall increased his rates by 25% but ultimately even that didn't save him from being declared bankrupt in 1800 as the number of subscribers declined. His son joined him that year and together they managed to revive the library, stocking up to 25,000 books, until it was bought by Henry Godwin in 1808. Other circulating libraries in Bath combined to offer subscriptions at 5s. a quarter and 15s. a year to avoid closure. Still some circulating libraries may have suffered the same fate as Marshall and been bought by their competitors or new comers. Several names that would have been familiar by 1800 had disappeared by 1809 indeed. Holden's Directory for that year lists only seven circulating libraries but more were certainly operating. The number went up to nine in 1819 according to Gye's Bath Directory. Of these ones, only one exited before 1800: Meyler and Sons, who apparently had relocated from Orange Grove to Abbey Churchyard. Circulating libraries remained popular for several decades but little information about the ones from Bath is available for the post 1820 period.

So, what about the circulating library that has left us this interesting sign at 43, Milsom Street?

Circulating Library
And Reading Room
One thing is sure about this sign: it was painted before 1826, the year the final draw of the state lottery took place.
During the period considered above, different sources mention several circulating libraries in Milsom Street:
- James Barrett (1792)
- William Bally, between 1768 and his death in 1774. His widow took charge of the library until it was purchased by Joseph Barratt in 1782. In 1794 William Bally's son, John, took it over and ran it until 1811, when he sold it to C. H. Duffield. This library was located at number 11 and then 12, until Duffield founded the Royal Union Library and Reading Rooms in Prince's Buildings. Between 1838 and 1840 this passed to Charles Archibald Bartlett
- Andrew Tennent, at number 24. His library opened in 1770 and was bought in 1780 by Charles Clinch and Samuel Jackson Pratt. It seems it was later purchased by Henry Godwin.
- the aforementioned James Marshall, later Henry Godwin, which was located at 23. That would be the wrong address, but Godwin published an advert in 1819, which read "Bookseller, Binder, and Stationer [...] State Lottery Office." Could Godwin have had a branch further down the street at number 43 ?

I was about to settle for that solution when one source mentioned that in 1822 one Frederick Joseph owned a bookshop and circulating library at 43, Milsom Street. His business was taken over by Eliza Williams in 1829. Apparently she remained there until 1868, when she moved to 19, Green Street. She kept her circulating library open until 1872 or 1873.

After that the premises at 43, Milsom Stret were occupied among others by the Bath and Counties Ladies' Club (in the 1860s and maybe for longer), a goldsmith (mentioned in 1876 and 1883), lace makers (1905 and 1907), the Royal Photographic Society (1980). Nowadays a fashion shop can be found on the ground floor while the upper floors are occupied by the Italian restaurant of a TV chef.

Finally, to conclude today's post, there are a couple of historic pictures of Milsom Street on which it is possible to catch a glimpse of the painted sign above. On the first one taken in the 1920s, the sign is on the second house from the right (windows two to four). On the view taken in 1981, it is to the right of the four columns supporting the pediment. Notice how dark the façade of the former Circulating Library was. Fortunately the sign was preserved when it was cleaned.

Location: Milsom Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

The House of Tupra, Bath

Why was this sign painted over, when the small business it promotes is still occupying the premises below?

The House of Tupra
Watchmakers Jewelers

Location: Church Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Monday, 26 July 2010

Brush manufactory, Bath

Here is a sign in Milsom Street I could observe for quite a while as I tasted a very nice chocolate cake topped with a thick layer of ganache and ice cream.

Brush Manufactory

The only mentions of a brush maker at this location I've found relates to the year 1832, and to be more precise to the fateful date of May 22. Indeed The New Monthly Magazine tells us that
J. D. Gordley, New Bond-street and Milsom-street, Bath, brush maker and perfumer at the Three-cups-inn, Northgate-street, Bath
has been declared bankrupt. This is confirmed by The Bankrup Directory for the period December 1820 to April 1843, although the name is spellt as Gorely, Jeffery Daniel. The same spelling is used in The Law Journal.
Searching for J. D. Gorely reveals a happier event. On February 4, 1826, he married Mary Ann Webb at Holy Trinity Church in Bristol.
Did anyone take his business over and continue making brushes at this address or has this painted sign been misguiding potential customers since 1832? I am afraid I don't have any definite answer to that question.

Location: Milsom Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Baptist Church messages, Bath

I haven't seen many signs painted on roofs but the Widcombe Baptist Church makes up for it. So as it is Sunday, here goes the sermon...

Christ Died
Our Sins 1 Cor 16-3

This is a quote from the third verse of 1 Corinthians 15, the fifteenth chapter of the First Epistle to the Corinthians by Paul the Apostle.

Must Be
Born Again

To Meet
Your God

We Have
His Blood

Location: Pulteney Road, Bath, Somerset / Pictures taken on: 17/07/2010

Saturday, 24 July 2010

The Waverley Hotel & Restaurant, Chippenham

Unfortunately we had a bus to catch so I couldn't spend as much time as I would have wanted to try to decipher this fading sign. I quickly took a dozen pictures of the different parts but there are still many unknown lines.

B... Tast...
Lunches & Grills
& ...
... ...s
Coa... ...s
Dan... ...s
Cate... ... at [Catered For At ?]
Moderate Prices
Waverley Hotel
& Restaurant

Location: Market Place, Chippeham, Wiltshire / Picture taken on 10/07/2010

Friday, 23 July 2010

Car service and Dunlop Stock, Bath

My recent harvest of signs from the northwest Wiltshire and Bath areas continues today, and until the end of next week, with this one for a garage.
Actually there is another sign underneath this one but only a couple of tiny patches are visible on the left.

Cars Serviced & Garaged
Repairs & Overhauls
Batteries Charged
Tel. 7388Pro. A. E. Bartlett. M.I.M.T
Service Garage Sydney Mews

The design of the Dunlop Stock would suggest it dates from the 1930s.

Location: Darlington Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Printing Office, Bradford-on-Avon

As I wandered through the streets of the charming little town of Bradford-on-Avon I could hardly miss the sign painted between the first and second floor windows of this Georgian building.

Printing Office

If the sign on the façade is very basic, the one on the side is much more elaborate and interesting. Judging by the different lettering, it seems to have been painted in two stages. My guess is the older part is the one with the much more elegant letters (from 'Circulating' to 'China'). Unfortunately I haven't been able to read the top line, which certainly featured the name of the business. Click on the image on the right to see the sign much more clearly.

Book Binder
Goss [?]
[Drawing of coat of arms with below
Heraldic China
Dark Room

The coat of arms. It represents the famous seventeenth century bridge over the River Avon with the lockup (two arches date from the thirteenth century and the lockup was originally a chapel). Quite a rarity as relatively few signs include a drawing.

Location: Silver Street, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire / Pictures taken on: 17/07/2010

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Dill's famous Bath polonies

Until I saw this painted sign, I must admit I had never heard of Bath polonies. Once at I home I quickly discovered it used to be one of the culinary specialities of Bath. According to Ellen Edden,
Bath polony is somewhat similar to a German sausage, but is very much smaller -about 2 1/2 ins. long- and of about the same circumference. It is much more delicate, and has a tiny layer of fat next to the scarlet skin.
County Recipes of Old England (2008)
Apparently Bath polonies had less of a raw meat taste. Yet like Bath tripe and Bath chine, they are no longer available. Of the area's unique meat dishes, Bath chaps is one of the very few that can still be tasted.

Dill's Famous Bath Polonies

J. G. Dill, pork and bacon-factor, was established in 1784. In Gye's Bath Directory, corrected to Jan. 1819, Dill's appeared to be trading at both "8, Cheap-street and Market-place." Following the death of Mr Dill, his business was taken over by Thomas Whatley as indicated in the 1883 edition of Kelly's Directory. Whatley's sons later joined him and they continued making Dill's polonies. In 1907 and 1908 -at least- they ran the following advert in Joseph Whitaker's Almanack:
"Dill's Polonies" (Regd.). These delicious savoury dainties are made only by Thos. Whatley & Sons (late Dill), Pork and Bacon Factors, 7 and 8, Cheap Street, Bath. One pound, post free, 1/8. Established over a century.
Location: Cheap Street, Bath, Somerset / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

The Chippenham Co-operative

The Chippenham Co-operative Society was founded in 1890. Over they years it played an increasing role in the local economy, becoming deeply involved in agriculture and dairy farming. For decades its large store dominated the lower part of the High Street. However by the 1960s the co-operative was facing increasing competition and found it necessary to join forces with other co-operatives, first locally and then nationally.
The Co-operative's flagship store was sold at some point to Wilkinson but the painted sign survived.
BBC Wiltshire has two pictures of the store. One shows the High Street, with the long façade of the Co-operative on the left. On the second one, the side of the building is on the extreme left, beyond the bridge. The painted sign is clearly visible.

C... [Chippenham ?]
Co-op Store

Location: High Street, Chippenham, Wiltshire / Picture taken on: 10/07/2010

Monday, 19 July 2010

The Swan Hotel, Bradford-on-Avon

A former coaching inn, the Swan Hotel in Bradford-on-Avon has long been a favourite with travellers. The second half of the nineteenth century saw the demise of many coach companies but by the early 1900s a new clientele was appearing on the roads: cyclists and motorists, who came to discover the charms of the town and its surroundings. In 1912 members of a Motorcycle Club gathered there and had their picture taken before setting off.

Swan Hotel
Family & Commercial
Good Accommodation
For Cyclists & Motorists
Comfortable / Coffee / Commercial / & Private Sitting / Rooms
Luncheons. Dinners. Teas
Posting of ... ... ...
... The ...
...a..y St.
Billiards... Hotel

This sign is particularly elegant. In order to appreciate some of its fine details you may want to click on the pictures below.

Location: Church Street, Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire / Picture taken on: 17/07/2010

Sunday, 18 July 2010

The Acton Bakeries

A largely hidden sign but at least the business can still be identified.


I haven't found any information about this business. All I can add is that I wouldn't be too surprised if the day the modern billboard goes we see some Hovis Bread appearing...

Location: York Road / Picture taken on: 17/08/2009

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Butter a speciality, Tottenham

This is undoubtedly one of the five most difficult signs to photograph I have come across as it is largely obscured by a newer building next door and is best seen from the middle of Forster Road. Thanks to the lady driver who was patient enough not to honk...
Unfortunately I haven't found anything about what was most certainly a dairy shop.

... Quality & Good Value
Butter A Speciality

Location: High Road / Picture taken on: 04/06/2008

Anciennes publicités murales: the book

Even though I promised myself ten days ago not to buy any new book until I added some bookshelves, I ordered earlier this week a copy of Anciennes publicités murales by Marc Combier (paperback, published in 2006 by Editions Ouest-France, 144 p). The book arrived yesterday and I would thoroughly recommend it for anyone interested in the history of advertising in general and painted signs in particular.
After a short preface, the author traces the history of painted signs (17 pages, illustrated with old pictures, mostly in black and white) and its 'golden age', from the early twentieth century until 1950s-1960s. The main body of the book is divided into five chapters, each with a short introduction: food, transport, household appliances, beauty and cleaning products, shops and local attractions. A sixth chapter is dedicated to typography.
There are more than 150 pictures taken mostly along the valley of the Rhone and in central France. Each is accompanied by a short text about the product or service advertised. When the pictures were taken isn't indicated but I'd say they span the last three decades.
Obviously you'd need to speak French to benefit fully from Marc Combier's excellent knowledge about the topic, but even if don't you can still look at these wonderful, very colourful signs. And if you've got any question, you can always ask me...

Friday, 16 July 2010

Marsh & Swan's vans, fly and stage waggons

Even though this sign in Ely has been restored, it must be the oldest one I've seen so far. It was painted on a range of eighteenth century cottages, two of which were used as staging post until around 1845.

Lynn, Cambridge and London
Vans, Fly and Stage Waggon
To the Bull Inn, Bishopsgate Street
Every Day
Isaac Marsh and William Swan

According to English Heritage this sign dates from the eighteenth century, but that may not necessarily be the case...
Several sources from the early nineteenth century mention the coach company of Marsh & Sons, based in London, Cambridge and Norwich. The company was certainly well established and well equipped by 1803. As The Annals of Cambridge for that year indicate, on March 7,
on the renewal of war with France, Messrs. Robert and I. L. Marsh and Sons of this place, the London, Cambridge and Norwich carriers, offered to furnish Government in case of invasion, with one hundred horses, twelve broad wheel waggons with twenty-four men to drive and guard the same, twenty-four flat-bottomed boats with men and horses usually employed therewith, four blacksmiths with travelling forge, two wheelwrights, and two collarmakers with their necessary appendages. The above to be employed whenever there might be occasion for their services at hour's notice.
A Guide Through the University of Cambridge published in 1808 also mentions that company. Back then Marsh and Sons' waggons
set out from Cambridge every day to the Bull, Bishopsgate-street, and return every day.
Their Swaffham and Fakenham Waggons pass through Cambridge every Thursday.
Their Downham, Ely, and Lynn Waggons leave Cambridge every Wednesday and Thursday.
Their Norwich and Yarmouth Waggons leave Cambridge every Monday and Friday.
Their BOATS to Lynn leave Cambridge every Saturday.
However, if the 1814 edition of the same guide gives the same list of departures, the name of the company has changed to Marsh & Swan. Therefore it seems the partnership between Isaac Marsh and William Swan dates from the first decade of the nineteenth century (later than 1811 in any case as documents from that year mention Marsh & Sons' general coach and waggon office at the Bull Inn). In the years that followed Marsh & Swan acquired some land in the proximity of the City to build stables, warehouses, granaries, a smithy and wheelwright shops. This suggests they transported goods in large quantities as well as passengers.

However the partnership must have come to an end after a few decades. Indeed in the 1845 edition of The Cambridge Guide the company appears as Swan & Sons. By then its passenger service out of Cambridge was:
Van, every morning (Sunday excepted), at 11 and 12 o'clock, and on Saturday evening at 8 o'clock, viâ railroad, to the Bull, Bishopsgate-street, London. -- Returns same days at 3 o'clock in the afternoon for Cambridge.
Waggon, on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday morning at 9 o'clock to Brandon, Watton, Dereham, Swaffham, &c.
Van, every morning (Sunday excepted), at 11 o'clock, to Ely, Downham and Lynn.
Unless it operated new rural routes, the company may not have survived for very long after 1845. That year the railway from London reached Cambridge and one year later the line was extended to Ely and King's Lynn.

As for the Bull Inn in Bishopsgate, from where coaches towards East Anglia departed, it was immortalized by Charles Dickens in The Picwick Papers (chapter 22). It is in its yard indeed that the Pickwickians boarded the coach to Ipswich in company of Peter Magnus. After the latter checked all his bags were on board, they finally left London:
And away went the coach up Whitechapel, to the admiration of the whole population of that pretty densely populated quarter.
‘Not a wery nice neighbourhood, this, Sir,’ said Sam, with a touch of the hat, which always preceded his entering into conversation with his master.
‘It is not indeed, Sam,’ replied Mr. Pickwick, surveying the crowded and filthy street through which they were passing.
Sam Werrel then makes that wonderful comment:
"‘It’s a wery remarkable circumstance, Sir,’ said Sam, ‘that poverty and oysters always seem to go together.’
How times have changed!

Location: Market Street, Ely, Cambridgeshire / Picture taken on: 03/07/2010

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Linnell's domestic stores, Catford

Above a row of shops at the southern end of Catford is this unelaborate double sign.

The most recent sign reads:
Domestic Stores.

Still visible is an older sign advertising:
Lawn Mowers
Ground & Set
& Set

Location: Bromley Road / Picture taken on: 01/03/2010

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Brasserie du Coq d'Or, Cognac

What could be better to celebrate France's Fête nationale than a proud cockerel on its mound, keeping an eye over its territory (although I must concede the French cockerel isn't golden). Cocorico!

The building where this mosaic can be seen was originally built in 1886 as Cognac's main post office. Following the opening of a new post office in 1906 on Place Bayard, it was partly rebuilt and enlarged to accomodate the Brasserie du Coq d'Or. The mosaic is most certainly the work of Maurice Audigier, whose building and decorating company was based in Cognac.

Although July 14 is called Bastille Day in English-speaking countries, what the Fête nationale officially commemorates isn't the storming of the Bastille itself but the Fête de la fédération which was held on the first anniversary of the event, on July 14, 1790. While the importance of July 14, 1789 couldn't be underestimated, it had been a bloody day. The party organized one year later on the Champ-de-Mars on the contrary had brought together French society in a peaceful celebration. That's why, when the deputies and senators voted on the creation of a national holiday in 1880, they opted to honour the second event, even if by then a majority of the population had and nowadays everybody has the first one in mind.

Location: Place François Ier, Cognac, Charente / Picture taken on: 03/06/2010

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

High class grocers, Holloway

This ghost sign still dominates Holloway Road but not many people may notice it nowadays.

High Class Grocers
Wholesale & Retail
Distributoer of Choice [of]
Englih & American
...a.. Pro... [Made Products?]

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

Monday, 12 July 2010


You may have noticed a new link in the column on the right: On Seb's steps is my new blog, about architecture, landscape and the odd quirky bit. Anything that pleases the eyes, has an interesting history or makes me smile really, from Britain, Europe and further afield. I hope you'll enjoy it.

Storage and upholstery in Christchurch

Two signs on this building, certainly for the same business given their very similar design (in particular the curves surrounding the word on the penultimate line).

Furniture &c
Carefully Removed
Or Warehoused
Moderate Terms

The second sign is not only partly covered by ivy but also largely obscured by evergreen trees growing next to the wall.

Established 185.
.ane & Galbraith Upholstery
... Works

Location: Milhams Street, Christchurch, Dorset / Pictures taken on: 26/06/2010

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Clore, Spitalfields

The only word that is still more or less legible on this badly faded sign is 'Clore'. Could this sign be advertising one of the companies owned by Charles Clore, the man who took over several businesses after the war including True-Form in 1953 (see yesterday's post), or more likely the clothing company set up by his father in the East End?

Location: Old Nichol Street / Picture taken on: 02/04/2008

Saturday, 10 July 2010

True-Form shoes, Wimbledon

The names Sears and True-Form have already appeared on this blog in a post about footwear retailers Freeman, Hardy & Willis.

The True-Form Boot Company was founded by John (known as Jack) Sears, from Nottigham in the late nineteenth century. In 1884, at the age of 14, Jack Sears left school to train as a cobbler. Once his apprenticeship was over, he decided to open his own business. He began by repairing shoes and soon after started making bespoke models with the help of his wife. At the time shoes were generally expensive and even though his were of good quality, customers often complained about the price they had to pay. This gave him the idea to produce lower quality shoes at low prices for the masses. Success was immediate and soon afterwards, Sears opened a small factory and then a larger one. The True-Form Boot Company, with its factory and network of own shops was born. Within a few years Jack Sears accumulated a fortune large enough to purchase Collingtree Grange, an impressive country house just outside Northampton. He died in 1916 at the age of 46, leaving his wife Caroline with the majority of shares in John Sears & Co. (True-Form Boot Co. Ltd). The company continued to expand and in 1927 it bought Freeman, Hardy & Willis and its 551 outlets to become the largest shoe retailer in Britain.
By the time of Caroline Sears's death in 1952, J. Sears & Co. controlled around 900 outlets, mostly through F, H & W. Caroline had remained the major shareholder in the company but the family and the board hadn't planned for her death. More specifically they hadn't made any provision to avoid the very high death duties that existed at the time. In order to pay the duties on Caroline's estate, her son Stanley (the father of racing driver 'Gentleman' Jack Sears) was forced to sell his family's shares in the company.
The news of Caroline's death and Stanley's financial problems sent the value of the shares down on the London stock market. This paved the way for Charles Clore to gain control of the company. Clore, the son of a clothing manufacturer from the East End, had made a fortune during the Second World War by investing in properties. He acquired them at low prices and after the war made money by selling the leasehold and buying back a long lease. By 1948 he had made enough money to be able to purchase several companies before stripping them of their valuable assets. These included Furness Shipbuilding in 1951 and Bentley Engineering in 1952. The same year he was made aware by an estate agent that the value of J. Sears & Co. on the stock market was much lower than its true worth. Through Investment Registry Ltd, of which he was director, Clore made a successful bid for the company in 1953, and immediately sold its properties to insurance and other leasing companies before buying the lease back. In the process Clore pocketed £4 million.
Following this take over, Charles Clore had Sears buy Furness and Bentley from him, netting an appreciable £11.760 million, and in 1955 brought all these companies together into Sears Holding Ltd, a company with no link to the Sears family whatsoever. In 1962 Clore reorganized his footwear interests into the British Shoe Corporation. All these shops and brands, except Dolcis, were sold in 1996 to Stylo plc, which decided to consolidate them into its Barratts and PriceLess Shoes brands. Therefore many familiar footwear names, including True-Form, were axed. As for Sears Holdings, it was acquired in 1999 by Philip Green's Arcadia Group.

J. Sears & Co.
True-Form [*]
Boot Co.
Ladies [*]
Gents & [*]
Childrens [*]
Footwear [*]

*: indicates parts painted twice, originally in red.

Until early 2009 part of this sign was hidden behind a modern billboard. The shop next door still obscures the last line, which can only be seen by standing next to the wall.

March 2012 update: this ghost sign is now once more hidden behind a billboard. See here.

Location: The Broadway / Picture taken in February 2009

Friday, 9 July 2010

Allsworth the ironmonger, Petersfield

Between 1859 and the 1960s, that is to say for as long as the railway was the principal means of transport, Lavant Street, the main thoroughfare to and from the station, used to be Petersfield's main shopping area. At the station end stood the Railway Hotel (now demolished). Walking from there towards the town centre in the 1950s, kids would look with eyes wide open at the windows of A. T. Emm Toyshop. Ladies would stop by Morton's Shoe Shop and a few meters further down the road would wonder whether their partner would buy them those jewels on display at Llewellyn Bradley *. Meanwhile men would comment on the new cars inside Fred Tews's showroom or could decide to get a new suit at Martin & Triggs, Outfitters. At the town end of the street, Austin's Library was a bookshop that cattered for the whole family.
Another shop found in Lavant Street was F. A. Allworth's.

F. A. Allsworth
Ironmongers &
Tool Merchants

The last two lines were painted twice, with '&' replacing 'and' in the process. The originally lettering was actually more elaborate with deep shadows in red. As for the first line, it was painted three times but I haven't been able to read the names of the previous shop owners.

The Francis Frith website has a picture of Lavant Street taken c. 1955 from the corner with Chapel Street. Austin's Library is immediately on the left.

*: according to an article in the magazine Petersfield Life. However other sources state Llewellyn Bradley sold books, stationery items and fancy goods. His shop was certainly taken over by Mr Austin, the owner of Austin's Library. Unless, of course, Bradley had two shops selling completely different kinds of goods.

Location: Lavant Street, Petersfield, Hampshire / Picture taken on: 20/07/2008

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Tonneaux à eaux de vie Maillard, Cherves-Richemont

It is in the heart of the Cognac region, in a small village surrounded by vineyards, that I came across this very appropriate sign.

Tonneaux à eau de vie
Charpente Menuiserie Escalier
Neuf Réparations
De père en fils
depuis 1897
Tél. 9
Barrels for Brandy
Carpentry Joinery Staircases
New Repairs
Family Firm
Since 1897
Tel. 9

The phone number suggests this sign was painted before the 1960s.

Location: Avenue de Cognac, Cherves-Richemont, Charente / Picture taken on: 03/06/2010

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Cakebread Robey & Co Ltd, Stoke Newington

Cakebread Robey & Co Ltd, of Stoke Newington, a firm that used to supply materials to the building trade, was founded in 1882 by George H. Cakebread and Arthur E. Robey. In recent times the firm, which is now trading under the name Neville Lumb (part of French multinational St Gobain since 2001), has been known essentially for its sanitary, plumbing and heating equipment. However as the sign below reminds us, for several decades, Cakebread Robey & Co was also relatively well-known for its glass products. Many of their etched, engraved or embossed glass and mirrors as well as their stained glass windows can still be found around the country in pubs, hotels and churches.

In London, some of Cakebread Robey & Co's best glass can still be admired at The Queens, 26 Tottenham Lane, and The Salisbury on Green Lanes at the junction with St Ann's Road. As for their stained glass windows, the largest concentrations can be seen at St. Andrew's, Whitehall Park, in Holloway, or at St. Andrew's, Chase Side, in Southgate.
A look at the index pages of the Building of England series by Nikolaus Pevsner and online reveals Cakebread Robey & Co glass and windows can also be found in other counties, including Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Gloucestershire, Greater Manchester, and Suffolk.

The company had this wall painted twice. The range of products changed slightly in the process. The most recent layer reads:
Cakebread Robey & Co. Ltd.
Builders Merchants & Ironmongers
Stained Glass Windows,
Leaded Lights,
Glass, Lead,
Oils, Colours,
Stoves, Baths,
Saintary Fittings,
Locks & Fastenings
Also at Wood Green, Ilford, Tottenham, Harrow & Dalston

The products previously avertised, on the same part of the wall as above, were:
Lead Glass,
Oil Colours
& Varnishes
Stove Ranges,
Baths, Closets
& Lavatories

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

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Dyers cycle works, Sherborne

Sadly there is no information available on the web about this business. All that is left seems to be this lovely mosaic. The lettering is very fluid and mimics nicely quill-writing with the different thickness of the down strokes and up strokes.

Location: South Street, Sherborne, Dorset / Picture taken on: 15/08/2009

Monday, 5 July 2010

Bahlsen's Leibniz butter biscuits, Erfurt

Last autumn, during a web chat on the parents' website Mumsnet, some mothers clearly interested in key issues that would affect the future of their children repeatedly asked Gordon Brown what his favourite biscuit was. However at the time the then-Prime Minister failed to come up with an answer. If they had asked me, I would have given one straight away: chocolate-coated lebkuchen before and around Christmas, and for the rest of the year Bahlsen's Choco-Leibniz. And in both cases, the pack disappears in far less time than it takes me to write a post on this blog!

Bahlsen has been making biscuits for more than 120 years. Indeed on July 10, 1889, Hermann Bahlsen (1859-1919) took over H. Schmuckler's Fabrikgeschäft englischer Cakes und Biscuits in Hannover, and renamed it Hannoversche Cakes-Fabrik H. Bahlsen (in 1912 it was changed to H. Bahlsen Keksfabrik). A couple of years later the company, which at the time employed around hundred workers, launched a biscuit named after the city's most famous resident: the philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz. Since then the Leiniz butter biscuit has been at the heart of Bahlsen's success. For more about the company's history, you can check its website (in English). Just wait for a couple of seconds and look into the 'About Bahlsen' section.

This sign is now barely visible, and to be honest, what actually brought me to that building on Erfurt's ring road was another sign, painted just below (that will be for another post), that I had spotted as we were driving from Schloß Molsdorf to the city centre. It was only when I stood there that I started to notice some white lines which turned out to be a box with some text written on it.

Enthält nur feinste
Made only with the Finest
Dairy Butter]

On the side of the box are the letters 'TET' together with the accompanying hieroglyph. TET is the dust and moisture-resisting packaging first used by Bahlsen in 1904 (look on the company's website at that date).

The design of the box on this sign is very similar to that of the closed one found on the right of an advert printed in Leipzig's Illustrierte Zeitung in 1909. However on this particular advert the English word 'Cakes' has been kept. The German version of the word, 'Keks', which Bahlsen had been pushing for, was only approved in 1911. Consequently this sign was painted after that date but certainly not long afterwards. Indeed after the First World War, the design of Bahlsen's ads became much more modern and bolder and this painted sign would have been at odds with the image the company was trying to project.

The historic Bahlsen headquarters in Hannover are well worth a visit. You can find several pictures and an article (in German) about them by checking Hinter 52 Zähnen: Zu Besuch bei Bahlsen.

Location: Straße des Friedens, Erfurt, Thüringen / Picture taken on: 24/04/2010

Sunday, 4 July 2010

The Old Flour Mill, Emsworth

A simple sign on a grade II listed warehouse built in 1897. Several tidal mills operated in Emsworth. Although their heyday was in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, this building continued to serve its original purpose until 1972.

The Old Flour Mill
Queen Street Emsworth

Location: Queen Street, Emsworth, Hampshire / Picture taken on: 30/05/2010

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Sanders, Weymouth

Conveniently located on the quay along Weymouth's outer harbour, this coal merchant could have been serving the local population as well as steamboats anchored nearby.



Location: Custom House Quay, Weymouth, Dorset / Pictures taken on: 08/08/2009

Friday, 2 July 2010

En Tout Cas, Southfields

For about seven years I lived five minutes away from this sign, I passed there pretty much every morning on my way to the local French bakery, and still I only noticed it when I went back one day a few months after I had moved away from the eastern part of 'Nappy Valley' (that's Putney, Southfields, and Wimbledon).

This is an amazing palimpsest: at least four signs, all in a different colour. Still that doesn't necessarily make it any easier to decipher what's written. Of course the fact that part of the wall on the upper right corner was knocked down when a new roof was put doesn't help...

Here is what I have been able to read so far. I have kept the order and used different colours to differentiate the signs. A '/' indicates the words are -roughly- on the same line:
...dsworth [Wandsworth ?]
Highest / ...ala...
Th... ...out
The World
En Tout
Hard Lawn Tennis


It took me quite a while to realise the red sign was advertising En Tout Cas (also spellt with hyphens), a hard red surface originally developed for tennis courts, that requires less attention than grass and is longer lasting.
The En-Tout-Cas company, from Leicestershire, was founded in 1909. It experienced a rapid growth as a tennis craze engulfed the upper and middle classes in the early twentieth century. Everywhere, in the country and suburbia, wherever space was available, tennis courts proliferated. However given the vagaries of the British climate, maintaining and playing on a traditional lawn could be quite frustrating. Grass easily became slippery, and heavy rain made chalky boundary lines disappear. The solution to these problems was a hard tennis court. As the author of The House and its Equipment published in 1911 by Country Life wrote, a hard court would allow year-round matches and "more men of promise [would] be discovered to graduate eventually at Wimbledon and represent us against Colonial cousins." The demand was there and En-Tout-Cas provided a rapid, easy solution and the possibility to play 'In Any Case.' Such was the success of its tennis courts that in 1919 it was awarded its first Royal Warrant as tennis court manufacturers by George V.
Over the following years En-Tout-Cas began producing dependable hard surfaces for other sports as well as for gardens, parks, and recreation grounds. In 1948 they were commission to build a running track for the Olympic Games. However their pre-Second World War involvement in the construction of several municipal and RAF aerodromes seems to have been only temporary.
Nowadays En-Tout-Cas is one of the largest sports surfacing companies in the world, with subsidiaries in many countries.

For a company involved in tennis courts, the location of this sign was pretty much perfect as it would have been seen by crowds coming out of Southfields station on their way to the Wimbledon Tennis Championship..., provided of course they were not thinking of a French baguette!

Location: Wimbledon Park Road / Picture taken on: 11/04/2008

Sea fishing, Poole

For a hardened fisherman like Ernest Hemingway the prospect of being out at sea to catch only sea bass may not have been particularly enticing, but for those who fancy something less sportive than trying to catch an 18-foot marlin like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, this small business in Poole may offer the perfect outing.

Sea Fishing
Family's Welcome...
Charters / Individuals.
Bait Supplied
Rods & Tackle For Hire.
And For Sale
Deep Sea
Book Here Now! or.. Phone Poole 679666

Under the 'Deep Sea' bubble is the signature of the sign writer:
Steve Parris

The US writer committed suicide forty-nine years ago today, hence this sign.

Location: The Quay, Poole, Dorset / Picture taken on: 26/07/2008

Thursday, 1 July 2010

The Star Ferry, Hong Kong

As today marks the thirteenth anniversary of the retrocession of Hong Kong to China, here is a sign from this former outpost of the British empire. Found on the Tsim Sha Tsui piers for the Star Ferry, it is neither very elaborate nor that old (it is even certainly repainted regularly) but at least it promotes what is not only an essential service to tens of thousands of commuters every day but also one of Hong Kong's icons.

The "Star" Ferry
Hong Kong
Central, Wanchai

The Kowloon Ferry Company was founded in 1888 by Dorabjee Nowrajee, a successful Parsi who owned several businesses and the King Edward Hotel in the Central district of Hong Kong Island but lived in Kowloon. Its first two boats were christened Evening Star and Rising Star, after Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem Crossing the Bar. For the first years the vessels crossed Victoria Harbour at irregular intervals and did not sail on Mondays and Fridays, when they were withdrawn for coaling. However, as the population of Kowloon began to grow rapidly from the early 1890s onward, Nowrajee decided to purchase two more boats, Morning Star and Guiding Star, and to operate a scheduled service, offering 147 crossings a day. For as long as Nowrajee remained in charge, Parsi and Indians could travel for free whereas Chinese and Europeans had to pay. In 1898, after ten years, Nowrajee retired and sold his ferry service to Hong Kong and Kowloon Wharf, a company co-founded by Armenian businessman Sir Catchick Paul Chater. In May that year it became the Star Ferry Company Ltd.
In 1923 in order to shorten journey times the company introduced its first double-ended vessels, a design upon which present-day ferries are still based. Diesel-electric vessels started replacing steamboats in 1933, following the launch of Electric Star.
Major disruptions to the service occured during the 1925 general strike and the Second World War. In 1925 the Royal Navy eventually took over the Star Ferry over, but commuters complained its personel was ill-prepared (especially as sailors tried rather vainly to preserve their immaculate white uniforms) and the Navy's discipline prevented it from running a quick, efficient and smooth service. During the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, the Japanese took over the Star Ferry and used its vessels for their own goals, including the transportation of prisoners of war. Since then, typhoons have been the only threats to the service.
Prices on the Star Ferry have been traditionally rather low, and are still nowadays amongst the lowest in the world for such a service. Yet when they went up by twenty-five per cent in 1966 they triggered a wave of protests and demonstrations that culminated with several days of rioting, during which one person was killed, dozens injured and around 1,800 arrested.
Today the Star Ferry has a fleet of twelve vessels to operate its four routes linking Central and Wanchai on Hong Kong Island to Tsim Sha Tsui and Hung Hom on the continent.

Location: Star Ferry piers, Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon, Hong Kong / Picture taken on: 20/09/2009