Monday, 31 December 2012

Happy New Year!

Best wishes for 2013 to all the followers and readers of this blog!

La Mexicana
Año Nuevo
[La Mexicana
New Year]

Location: Calle Simón Bolivar, Trinidad / Picture taken in March 2010

Friday, 21 December 2012

Higgins, Kensal Green

Walking today along Kilburn Lane, it is hard to imagine that until the 1960s, near the junction with Sixth Avenue, one could hear cows moo. Yet a couple of elements subsist to trigger one's imagination: firstly, a set of former industrial buildings arranged around a central courtyard and now known as The Old Dairy, and secondly, for those patient enough to decipher it, a ghost sign with the name of the original company and the nature of its business. Actually there are two ghost signs at this location, but the text of the second one has disappeared and if I managed to reconstitute the first line, it is thanks to a postcard from the first decade of the 20th century.

Between the mid-18th century, if not earlier, and the second half of the 19th century, this was the site of Hodson's Farm. The information about it is a bit patchy but the construction of the London and Birmingham Railway's line (later part of the London & North Western Railway) out of London Euston in 1833 must have cut the farm into two because a private bridge spanning the railway was subsequently erected. Until the 1870s the area remained largely rural, with much land dedicated to farming. If only a few acres were dedicated to dairy farming before 1864, their number grew rapidly after an Act of Parliament made it illegal to keep cattle within the limits of the metropolis. However this boom of dairy farming did not last for long. By the 1880s the outward expansion of London reached the Kensal Green area. Pockets of urban developments already existed at the eastern end towards Kilburn and a handful of houses had already been built along Kilburn Lane, but within a few years most farmland was sold to property developers. Still a few farms subsisted, albeit on a much reduced scale. Rows of houses spread across most of Hodson's Farm but on a narrow plot tucked away between Kilburn Lane and the railway line a complete set of new buildings required for dairy farming, including milking rooms, was erected. This certainly happened after the land had been purchased by William Higgins. The earliest mention of Higgins's dairy I found dates from 1890 but it may have been established ealier.


Apart from a few references in professional journals, there is virtually no information about Higgins Bros. However as an independent dairy, Higgins Bros must have found it hard to compete with larger concerns. Changes in consumers' habits in the 1950s and 1960s certainly had a negative impact on its finances. In October 1957, Higgins Bros was taken over for the sum of £10,000 (equivalent to £210,000 in 2012) by a new company called Higgins Bros. Dairies Ltd in what looked like a desperate attempt to improve the financial health of an ailing business. The last mention of Higgins Bros I found dates from 1967. Although the full text is not available online, it may well have been to announce it had ceased trading.

While something can still be read on the ghost sign above, by the entrance to the courtyard, the one facing the street, which is much more exposed to the elements, has completely faded.

Higgins Bros.

Both ghost signs appear on a postcard from the early 20th century but the quality is not good enough to read what was on the second sign.

In 2003 an application was made for the redevelopment of the site of the Higgins Bros' dairy. The different buildings would have been demolished to make way for two three-storey blocks of flats. This project did not go through for several reasons, one being that the redevelopment would result in the loss of attractive buildings with un-altered architectural features and of historical merit.

Location: Kilburn Lane / Pictures take in December 2011

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Nähmaschienen, Stralsund

While many ghost signs are found on not-so-well maintained or derelict buildings, it is not uncommon in Germany to find some on recently restored properties (even if more often than not ghost signs disappear completely when a restoration is undertaken, as happened with the optician sign in Eibenstock last year). The combination of new roughcast and fading paint may look odd at first sight but the presence of a ghost sign definitely adds a nice touch to what is often a rather plain façade. Are these ghost signs in some way legally protected? Unless a building is listed or is in the equivalent of a conservation area, I would not think so. I'd rather think they are preserved because the buildings' owners are attached to them. As properties are often passed from one generation to the next, these ghost signs are very much part of the history of a family. Some may also consider they add some character, and value, to their property.

Whatever the reason was, visitors to the Hanseatic city of Stralsund on the Baltic Sea can still notice that a shop that sold sewing machines once stood at the corner of Papenstraße and Filterstraße.

Nähmaschienen (Sewing Machines]

The spelling Maschiene, instead of the correct Maschine, is interesting. The word was borrowed in the 17th century from the French, machine, and Germanised with the addition of a 's' before the 'c'. By then it referred to engines used during a military siege. But where does the additional 'e' come from? One possibility is that, in parts of what would become Germany, it was inserted so the spelling corresponded to the correct pronounciation (with a long 'i'). Another, more fanciful explanation is that the word lost its purely military sense and became widely used when steam locomotives (Dampfmaschinen) appeared. As these machines go on rails (Schienen), some people erroneously combined the two into Maschienen.

Finally, this was not the only ghost sign there. Traces of an earlier one can still be seen but it is impossible to decipher it.

Location: Papenstraße, Stralsund, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern / Picture taken in May 2009

Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Wilson & Co Ltd, Tottenham

Partly hidden by the roof next door, this ghost sign is barely noticeable above Tottenham High Road. In all likelyhood it advertised lead merchant Wilson G. L. & Co Ltd. The company's name appears in several journals published between 1883 and 1952. It is likely this ghost sign was painted when it was established or shortly after.

& Co

Location: High Road / Pictures taken in June 2008

Monday, 17 December 2012

Undertaker, Putney

The removal of a large billboard earlier this year led to the reemergence of half a ghost sign in Putney.

Unfortunately the other half is still hidden behind a sign for the Clock Clinic, the current occupier of the premises. As a visit to the local library and an online search failed to provide any information about any undertaker on Lower Richmond Road, the name remains a mystery.


Location: Lower Richmond Road / Pictures taken in July 2012

Friday, 14 December 2012

Garnier & Poupin, Matha

A simple painted sign for a local garage in the small town of Matha in the northeastern corner of the Charente-Maritime département. Even though an ampersand links the two names Garnier and Poupin on this sign, the name of the garage is now simply Garnier Poupin.

Garnier & Poupin
Carrosserie - Automobile [Car Bodywork]

Location: Boulevard de Satin-Hérie, Matha, Charente-Maritime / Picture taken in January 2011

White & Pointing, Isleworth

The post about the cabinet makers from Isleworth has been rewritten. It includes some postcards from c 1907 and the 1920s kindly sent by Howard of Postcards Then and Now.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Cabinet makers, Isleworth

This post was partly rewritten following Howard's comments and to include some postcards from his collection.

Even though the upper part of this ghost sign for a furniture maker and renovator from Isleworth has disappeared, a postcard in Howard's amazing collection of postcards reveals what the missing text was.

The building it is painted on appears on a postcard certainly printed shortly after the opening of the London United Tramways line through Isleworth in 1901. At the time the premises were occupied by a newsagent's. Three hoardings (from the top: unidentified, "Cycle Works", and "Tobacccos") can be seen on the façade.

A few years later these had disappeared, as shown on a postcard printed c. 1907 and kindly provided by Howard. Adverts for Virgo's garage and different brands of tyres had replaced the smaller sign for the cycle works as the number of motor vehicles on the roads increased. At the corner of London Road and Spring Grove, A. Peters's confectionary shop had taken the newsagent's place.

London Road, Isleworth, c. 1907. From Postcards Then and Now

By 1920 the confectionery shop had been replaced by Mr Pearson's shop, which specialised in stamps and philatelic accessories according to The Stamp Collectors' Fortnightly and International Stamp Advertiser. Pearson's was not around for long though. Another postcard from the 1920s, also provided by Howard, shows Stewart's was the new occupier of the premises. Above the door and front windows were adverts for Cadbury's chocolates and several brands of cigarettes.

This postcard is particularly interesting because it also shows the ghost sign I took a picture of and reveals what the missing part was. Originally, given the design of the sign and its position, I had assumed that White & Pointing had been trading at 532, London Road at some point between 1901 and 1920. However I was clearly wrong.

London Road, Isleworth, in the 1920s. From Postcards Then and Now

Looking at the postcard, it is hard to tell where the premises of picture frame and cabinet makers White & Pointing were. Could the unassuming premises immediately to the left of Stewart's have been theirs? A couple of frames are hanging behind the window but that may not be enough to establish a clear link. Additionally, could one of the awnings in the centre of the picture be inscribed with 'Pointing's Stores'? Unfortunately an online search by name, address, or profession did not provide any additional information.

[White and Pointing
Picture Frame
Cabinet Makers
Mirrors Re-silvered
from the postcard

Location: London Road / Pictures taken in December 2012

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Gentlemen's hosiery, Camberwell

A short lane linking Denmark Hill and Coldharbour Lane in Camberwell has two gems: a ghost sign and a mural. The ghost sign advertised Turner's hosiery shop for gentlemen. I have not found any information about it but it was most certainly located on Denmark Hill.
& Cheapest
L. I. [?] Turner's

With only part of the first and the last two letters still visible, the first line could have been either 'The Best' or 'Largest'. Strangely, 'Cheapest' is written in lower case when the rest of the ghost sign is in upper case.

I could not resist posting a picture of the mural at the back of the building, inspired by one of the most famous Japanese woodblock prints: Hokusai's The Great Wave off Kanagawa, published in the early 1830s. Obviously this is not a faithful reproduction as the wave is progressing in the opposite direction (the presence of the house next door made this necessary as the dramatic impact of the composition would have been lost should the wave have been about to break on a Victorian brick house!) and the oshiokuri-bune (the fast boats used to transport live fish) have been omitted. However Mount Fuji still appears in the background.

Location: Coldharbour Place / Pictures taken in July 2009 and April 2008

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Coach builder, Gloucester

On a house standing alone at the northern end of Market Parade is a badly darkened ghost sign for coach builder R. Morris. That this ghost sign is now opposite the city's bus station is purely coincidental. Back when it was painted, it faced the cattle market (hence the name of the street).

The 1847 edition of Hunt & Co's Directory & Court Guide includes an entry for Richard Morris, coach builder, at New Market. The same year both The Jurist and The Spectator informed their readers that the case of Richard Morris, coach builder from Gloucester, would be heard by the Court of Review in Bankruptcy. Could he be the one behind this ghost sign? This seems to be confirmed by the 1863 edition of the Post Office Directory, which lists a Richard Morris, carriage builder, at Market Parade. The difference in the address is certainly due to a change in the name of the street.

R. Morris
Coach Builder

Obviously it is possible Richard Morris set up a company that survived him and this ghost sign was painted by his heirs. 'R. Morris' could also simply be one of his descendants. However the absence of documents (as far as I am aware) to support these hypotheses would suggest we are be looking at a ghost sign from the mid-19th century indeed.

Location: Market Parade, Gloucester, Gloucestershire / Pictures taken in July 2010

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Henry Adams, Haslemere

Founded in 1990 in Chichester, Henry Adams has now thirteen branches across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. I do not know when their Haslemere office opened but this sign looks very recent.

Henry Adams

This newly painted sign covers almost completely an earlier ghost sign. Only the upper part of the first line has survived but that is enough to identify it as


A quick search through issues of Country Life from the 1960s and 1970s reveals Harrods Estate once had an office at 56A, High Street indeed.

Location: High Street, Haslemere, Surrey / Picture taken in September 2009

Saturday, 1 December 2012

El Tigre de Oro, Santa Clara

I once read that El Tigre de Oro (The Golden Tiger) in Santa Clara, Cuba, used to be one of the town's best bakeries. As it was siesta time when we passed there, we could not check whether that reputation was still deserved.

Even if this lovely sign was painted relatively recently, El Tigre de Oro bakery may predate the Cuban revolution by several decades. Indeed I wonder if it was not behind the brand of galletas de chicharrón (biscuit or bun with pork rind) "El Tigre de Oro" that was advertised in some local publications in the 1930s.

El Tigre de
The Golden

Location: Calle Céspedes, Santa Clara