Monday, 22 February 2010

Zur Erholung, Meissen

For a city of 30,000 inhabitants, Meissen has an incredible amount of painted signs. Most of them can be found outside the city centre, on buildings that haven't been renovated - or demolished - yet. Below is such a sign. Originally a hotel or guest house, Zur Erholung has been empty for years and faces an uncertain future.

Zur Erholung
[roughly At the Rest House]

Erholung can mean 'rest', 'relaxation' or 'vacation'. It can also have the meaning of 'recovery' or 'convalescence'. All words that almost always imply a certain degree of tranquility. Given that this hotel stood next to a railway track, I doubt it was something its owners could guarantee. At least, from some of the windows there was a stunning view over the roofs of the city towards the cathedral and the Albrechtsburg.

Location: Plossenweg, Meissen, Sachsen / Picture take on: 20/12/2009

Friday, 19 February 2010

H. Roffe & Sons, Putney

For many small businesses around the country, a simple sign with the name and nature of the business in a basic typeface painted on the premises was enough to signal their presence to potential local customers. Not significant enough to feature in local history books, such a sign is often the only trace they have left.

H. Roffe & Sons

Location: Lacy Road / Picture taken on: 18/08/2008

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Invalid specialities, Heathfield

Originally I spotted this sign fifteen months ago while being driven to a Christmas party in Sunbury-on-Thames. As it was pitch black and we were busy chatting, I didn't pay too much attention to where exactly I had seen it, thinking it wouldn't be a problem to follow the same route on my own one day. Obviously I was wrong because I failed to take into account that our friend's sat nav had made us take a rather circuitous way. On several occasions I looked at Google and Bing satellite maps, trying to recognise some feaure along the way but to no avail. Then last week, just when I was about to give up, yet again, I saw on the edge of the screen a street name that rang a bell. The next day, dodging the sleet, hail and rain I walked there and, bingo, there was that elusive sign!
Fortunately the food served at the restaurant we went to for that Christmas party was much nicer that what is advertised on that sign. It would be interesting to see the sign immediately above, which is currently hidden by a billboard. That may cast some light on the unusual list of food below.

Soups, Potted Meats, Fish Pastes,
Beef Tea, Chicken Broth, Jellies,
Curries and Invalid Specialities

Click on the picture above for an enlaged version

I must admit I was slightly puzzled by "invalid specialities." I googled the expression and found it mostly in medical journals published between the 1880s and early 1920s, often in connection with exhibitions of products for doctors and hospitals. There was also a link to a page about the Nelson's Gelatine Factory, in Warwick, where one department in the extract of meat factory and soup kitchens was "devoted to extract of meat, beef tea and other invalid specialities."
Actually under the invalid specialities label, a few companies, of which Brand & Co. from Mayfair seems to have been the largest (although it was Messr. Callard & Co. who supplied the royal family), marketed manufactured food, such as essences of beef, mutton, and chicken, concentrated beef tea, soups and beef bouillon. These were recommended in general cases of exhaustion or weak digestion but were especially intended for the diabetic, the rheumatic, the gouty and other sufferers of long-term illnesses. Those wealthy enough could even get some from Harrods, "made with the finest available viands" as stated in their catalogue.
The presence of curries in the list above seems a bit odd as it doesn't strike me as an easily digestible food for someone with a weak stomach. A spicy one is good to unblock the nose though!

Location: Staines Road / Pictures taken on: 12/02/1010

The London Co-op, Walthamstow

The word of the week in the campaign for the next general election was "co-operative", with David Cameron renewing his pledge to give public sector workers the opportunity to form worker co-operatives to run services. One has to admit that it isn't very often that tories can be heard celebrating the co-operative model, and within a co-operative movement traditionally closer to Labour, many eyebrows were raised!
I am not going to look any further into this proposal and the reactions to it, but at least it gives me the opportunity to post a painted sign for the London Co-operative Society, although this was not a worker but a consumer co-operative. You can find here a brief history of that particular co-operative society, which was formed in 1920 and amalgated with the Co-operative Retail Society in 1981.

Owned & Controlled
By Its Members
Join the London Co-op
London Likes It!

I really like the combination of colours and different typefaces. A lovely example from the 1950s (the design looks very 1950s to me but I may be wrong).

If only I had such a handwriting...

Location: Frederic Street / Pictures taken on: 17/02/2010

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Photographer, Leatherhead

At first sight there was nothing special about this building. It could have been nice enough, but the window had ruined it.

However as we turned round the corner, the light changed slightly and a ghost sign appeared on the hanging tiles painted in white.

Warren [to the left of the window]
Late Parrett

A look on the web returned very little information about F. R. Parrett. Both Penn State University and the Bourne Hall Museum in Ewell have one picture each from his studio located in the High Street. They were taken at some point before 1900 and in the 1910s respectively. As for Warren, who seemed to have taken over from Parrett, nada.

Location: The Crescent, Leatherhead, Surrey / Picture taken on: 10/10/2009

Monday, 15 February 2010

A. Spicknell, fruiterer and greengrocer, Anerley

When I look for some information about the businesses or products advertised on painted signs, I sometimes make some strange discoveries. This morning I came across Mr Thomas William Beach, whose strawberries earnt him several prizes at Covent Garden, the Chiswick Horticultural Society and the 1851 Great Exhibition. But these were not any strawberries: they were real monster strawberries! It is said that some of his fruits of the British Queen variety weighed in at four onces (that is slightly more than 110 grams). The original small business of orchards and fruit fields planted along the Brent River in Heston expanded throughout the second half of the nineteenth century and by 1902, the year Beach died, TW Beach & Sons had become a major manufacturer of jams and bottled fruits. An article about Mr Beach and his fruits written by Janet McNamara was published in the ninth issue (2000) of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society Journal. It is also available online.
One amusing fact I learnt was that at the rear of his factory on Ealing Road, T. W. Beach opened a theatre. The intention was not only to offer some entertainment to his employees but also (mainly, I would imagine) to keep them away from the local pubs. Entrance cost either one penny, or two empty jam jars. Next time, rather than putting mine into the recycling bin, I'll bring them to the West End. I wonder how many theatres will let me in...?
T. W. Beach's jams and bottled fruits could be found in many places, including Whiteleys department store in Bayswater, where they were amongst the most expensive jams on offer, or the slightly less prestigious shop of A. Spicknell in Anerley.

A. Spicknell
Fruiterer & Greengrocer
Agent For
Beach Unrivalled Bottled Fruits
& Prize Medal Whole Fruit Jams.

At least two more signs were painted on this wall. However only a few words and letters can be spotted here and there. It is a bit tricky to say which one belongs to which. Here is what I could make of it (the "/" indicates they are on the same line):
S. C. Du...
Auction Valuer / ...edd... Manufacturer
... ...ouse Agents

Location: Anerley Road / Picture taken on: 17/06/2008

Friday, 12 February 2010

Pulcinella, Battersea

The two weeks before Ash Wednesday and the penitential season of Lent mark the climax of the carnival period. The Venice carnival began last week and the one of Rio got under way today, to name but the two most famous ones. Costumes and masks are important accessories in many carnivals. Hidden behind her or his disguise, one can indulge in total anonimity. In Italy the characters of the Commedia dell'arte, such as Colombina, Arlecchino or Pulcinella have long been a source of inspiration for participants.
Unfortunately this Pulcinella won't be able to take part in any carnival anymore. A couple of months after I took this picture the name of the restaurant was changed from 'Il Cantuccio di Pulcinella' to 'Cantuccio' and the outside wall painted in a hygienic but uninspiring white. Shame.

Location: St John's Hill / Picture taken on: 05/03/2008

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Gardner's stores, Walworth

Nothing to do with the next concert of indie rock band Cornerhsop, famous among others for Brimful of Asha (and its interesting line "Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow"). This is just a local shop, where successive owners had their name and the nature of their business painted above the door.

Noted for

This sign partly covers another one, which reads

Location: Westmoreland Road / Picture taken on: 16/07/2009

Sunlight soap, Battersea

Sadly yesterday's sign didn't make the temperatures go up but at least the sun is still out this morning. But we need more, brighter, sunlight!
Actually even if Helios remains hidden behind dark clouds, Sunlight can still be seen in many parts of London. Painted adverts for that particular brand of soap that is. Having posted one found north of the river last August, today's example comes from the other bank of the Thames.

Of course, if there is a river associated with Sunlight Soap, it is the Mersey rather than the Thames as it was near its bank that William Hesketh Lever erected Port Sunlight (then in Cheshire, now part of Merseyside). However the story of W. H. Lever and Sunlight Soap started a few miles away, in Lancashire. The son of a wholesale grocer based in Bolton, he joined the family business in 1867, aged 16, before becoming a partner at 21. As a commercial traveller and then director of Lever & Co. he had the opportunity to study the production process of the different kinds of soap available at the time. The rather appalling smell of both manufactured and homemade soaps led him to look for a possible alternative and in 1884 he launched Sunlight Soap. Contrary to most of its competitors, Sunlight Soap contained no silicate of soda, and more oils from copra, palm and cotton than tallow. Thus is lathered easily and did not generate a bad smell. There is little doubt that W. H. Lever had a flair for promotion and publicity, and until his death in 1925 he stayed in charge of the marketing strategy. His soap bars came in attractive packs, which not only protected the soap from oxygenisation and consequently from becoming rancid but also were a way of advertising. And then each soap bars had the name "Sunlight" stamped on it. At the same time, the first of many successful advertising campaigns was launched.
Originally Sunlight Soap was made by different manufacturers but in 1885, together with his brother James Darcy, he founded Lever Brothers and purchased the soap factory of Winser & Co in Warrington to produce it independently. Demand for Sunlight Soap was such that production rose from 20 to 450 tons a week within a matter of months. Additional land was purchased and local architect William Owen was asked to draw plans for the extension of the Warrington factory. However it became rapidly clear that the company would have to move out of Warrington if it wanted to expand even further. In 1887 Lever bought 56 acres in the Wirral peninsula, between a railway line and the Mersey. Two years later production started at the factory named Port Sunlight.
Like Sir Titus Salt with Saltaire before or the Cadbury brothers with Bournville around the same time, W. H. Lever believed it was in the interest of the company to provide employees with descent housing and recreational facilities. Of course there was a strong degree of paternalism, but there is no denying that for a good part of the twentieth century living and working conditions were far better at Port Sunlight than in most industrial areas of Britain, where squalor dominated.
In 1894 Lever Brothers launched Lifebuoy, a desinfectant soap, and in 1899 Sunlight Flakes, which was renamed one year later Lux Flakes. These two products became rapidly popular too. This was not due so much to their novelty (flaked soap for example had been known since the mid-nineteenth century) but to market research, packaging, and publicity campaigns.
From an early stage the company expanded internationally, setting up subsidiaries, taking over or amalgating with other manufacturers, while also assuming control of the supply of raw materials (its involvement in palm oil production in the Belgian Congo, where it took full advantage of the system of forced labour, cast a very dark shadow on Lever...). Abroad the major market was the US, and there as well the success of Lever's soaps was down to successful advertising campaigns launched in the mid-1910s and the 1920s, which propelled them from their confined corner of New England to the rest of the nation.
Meanwhile, in Britain, from 1914 Lever became involved in the production of margarine. After being approached by the government, which anticipated disruptions in the supply of margarine from Europe because of the war, Lever formed Planter's Margarine Co., a joint venture with its major competitor, Watson. In 1915 Lever assumed full control of the company. Sales of margarine boomed during the war but declined once deliveries from the Netherlands and Denmark resumed. However from 1924 sales of soap stagnated and the management of Lever began considering developing its presence in the edible fat market. This explains why in 1930 it merged with the Dutch concern Margarine Unie to form Unilever. But that's another story.
As for Sunlight Soap, even though it is still sold in parts of the world, production ceased in Britain in 2009 due to low demand.

If Lever Brothers launched regular advertising campaigns for their products, I doubt they spent much in painted signs. Of course there are several Sunlight signs around but most seem to date from the same era, namely the 1890s. Indeed only on enamel signs and packages from that period is Sunlight (or the other Lever soap, Lifebuoy) written in that particular way. Obviously I haven't researched that extensively so I could be totally wrong and they could have used that design again at a later stage, but I'll take my chances... Let me know what you think.


Since all the other Sunlight Soap signs include at least another line underneath, I think the lower part of this one has been swallowed by the roof of the garage next door.

Location: Chatham Road / Picture taken on: 23/05/2008

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Chinese painted sign

Even though the sun is shining today, more cold and grey weather is forecasted for the days to come... So, hoping that would make temperatures rise, here is a sign I photographed in southern China. That day we had almost forty degrees and humidity was high. Not the best time for going cycling but the absolutely amazing surrounding landscape of karst peaks rising above rice paddies was defintitely worth the sweat.

Unfortunately my Chinese is pretty non-existent so I can't translate what has been painted on this wall. I think the two characters on the left mean "China". I would assume this is an ad (but not for China Mobile or China Telecom. I can usually recognize these) rather than a political slogan. Political slogans composed and painted by local government officials on village walls to promote the party's policies and campaigns can be found all over rural China but they tend to be rather simple, with usually only one colour, often black or white. Here we've got two on a white background!
If anyone can offer a translation through the comment box, I'd be most grateful :-)

Location: Jiuxian, Guangxi province, China / Picture taken on: 18/09-2009

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Home and Colonial Stores, Forest Hill

Until I spotted this sign and started to do a bit of research to find out more about it, I associated the name of Julius Drewe with only one thing: Castle Drogo, the country house he built on the edge of Dartmoor, in Devon, to a design by Sir Edwin Lutyens. I remembered Drewe had made his fortune in retail but I had never really tried to know more about him.

Having started as a tea buyer in China, Julius Drew (he added the final ‘e’ to his surname in 1913) sailed back to England in 1878. That year he opened a shop in Liverpool. There he met shopkeeper John Musker and together they moved to London in 1883, where they opened a groceries store in Edgware Road. The growth of working class earnings meant there was a rise in the demand for tea. At the same time supply was increasing thanks to the development of new plantations in India and Ceylon. Drew saw it as an opportunity for the large scale retailing of tea, together with a few other products, in multiple shops. In 1885 the two founded The Home and Colonial Trading Association, which offered teas as well as sugar, bacon, ham, margarine, butter, cheese, and eggs. Apart from tea, margarine, made by Dutch producer Jurgens, was an important source of income. Following a rapid expansion across the South, they then moved northward, opening branches in Leeds and Birmingham during the 1890s. By 1903 they had 400 retail outlets across Britain. Their business model was similar to that developed earlier by Thomas Lipton, who had opened his first shop in Glasgow in 1871 and by the 1880s was present in most British cities. As Michael Ball and David Sunderland explain:
The growth of the multiple was induced by a number of factors. These reflected changing trends in supply with the move away from domestic agriculture to imported foodstuffs, the switch from craft to factory production and the greater range of consumer goods available in the late Victorian and Edwardian Britain. Multiples also offered competitive pricing by limiting the number of goods sold in order to purchase in bulk goods with a high turnover. In this way, profit margins could be kept low - 0.5 per cent in the case of meat retailing - and the return on capital high. They minimised costs by refusing credit, eliminating home deliveries, adopting fairly simple shop fittings, and introducing strict and standardised branch stock control systems. Such shops, moreover, set new standards in quality and service. Their retailing areas were attractively laid out and kept immaculately clean, with long opening hours that extended from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays and to midnight on Saturdays. New sales techniques were successfully tried - such as adopting a uniform shop layout and advertising through handbills and sandwich-board men. (An economic history of London, 1800-1914, p. 136)

In 1888 The Home and Colonial Trading Association was transformed into The Home and Colonial Stores Limited, with an issued capital of £197,000 instead of £2,700 previously. With William Slaughter appointed as chairman of the new company, Drew and Musker retired. When they sold their shares in 1919, they pocketed a colossal £1 million!
If the pre-war period had been one of rapid expansion, the 1920s were difficult times. In 1919 the company passed under the control of Dutch margarine producer Jurgens, an illustration of the strong links between multiple retailers and margarine manufacturers. Yet the margarine market in Britain collapsed in the early 1920s. As a result, between 1921 and 1927, the share of the food market of the four big multiples Maypole Dairy, Home and Colonial Stores, Meadow’s, and Lipton’s fell from 43 per cent down to 20 per cent. Maypole, which had almost completely concentrated on sales of margarine, came close to collapse and in 1924 its owner agreed to sell it to Home and Colonial Stores. In 1929 Lipton’s grocery retail business merged with Home and Colonial Stores to form Allied Suppliers, although the name Home and Colonial Stores was retained. The new group had more than 3,000 branches nationwide.
Even though the company was still one of Britain’s largest in the 1950s and 1960s, it slowly began to decline because of growing competition from supermarkets. In 1961 the company dropped the name Home and Colonial Stores, rebranding itself as Allied Suppliers. In 1972 it was taken over by Cavenham Foods.

Home and Colonial
H & C
Economy, Quality

Location: Dartmouth Road / Picture taken on: 24/08/2009

Monday, 1 February 2010

Ready mixed paints, Dulwich

I wanted to do a bit of research for a couple of signs I spotted in the Richmond area but instead I've been spending some time telling my students about Argentine writer Tomás Eloy Martínez, who died yesterday. Sad news. I was looking forward to his next novel... If you haven't read La novela de Perón / The Peron Novel (1985) or Santa Evita / id. (1995), I would strongly recommend them to you (El vuelo de la reina or Purgatorio are excellent as well but they haven't been translated into English, so you'd have to read them in Spanish).
Since I don't have much time now, I've chosen a sign I don't have much to write about. My guess is it would have been for a local shop rather than a specific brand.

Noted For ...
Genuine Turpentine
Linseed Oil, Boiled Oil
White Lead, Colors, Etc.
Ready Mixed Paints

I suppose 'Boiled Oil' would have been boiled linseed oil, which is used as a paint binder or wood finish.
This is not the only sign on this wall. It looks as if there was a longer one slightly above this one (bits of white paint and black letters can be seen outside the frame). Additionally it is still possible to read a couple of lines from an earlier sign painted within the same frame:
Kitchen Utensils
Brooms, Pails ...

Location: Pellatt Road / Picture taken on: 24/08/2009