Wednesday 9 November 2011

Ariel, Kennington

Many people will be familiar with this Ariel advert, one of the great ghost signs of London. Founded in 1870 Ariel first produced bicycles. Almost three decades later the company launched a motorized tricycle before moving in 1901 into the emerging motorcycle market. The company also produced some cars but its name is forever associated with motorcycles, which it manufactured until 1967. You can find more information about the history of Ariel on the website of the Ariel Owners Motor Cycle Club and on Wikipedia.

Of Design

This ghost sign was painted on the former premises of motorcycle dealer Writers, located next to the Durning Library on Kennington Lane (according to a 1927 issue of Commercial Motor, Writers Motor and Cycle Works traded at 163 and 165 Lower Kennington Lane. House numbers were not changed when the name of the street was shortened).

What makes this ghost sign really attractive is the presence of the company's logo. Designed in the mid-1930s, it represents a reared up black horse looking towards the public and its rider in a stylized form typical of the period (note how the designer cleverly placed the 'A' of Ariel on the muzzle of the horse). Unfortunately the colours of the horse rider's outfit -black boots, white trousers and red riding jacket- have badly faded. Originally it would have been pretty similar to the one on the right. However one difference was the colour of the the riding hat, which was painted black on the ghost sign. This slight change seems to have been introduced in the 1950s and can be seen on this 1955 poster.

The letters of "Ariel" seems to have been painted in either orange or red colour with black shadows. The use of this typeface by the company predates the design of the horse by about a decade as it already appears on some adverts printed in the 1920s.
However the elegantly-written slogan "Leaders of Design" (note the large 'S' for the plural) seems to have made its first appearance in a printed advert published in 1951. It doesn't seem to have been very popular though and was replaced by more engaging slogans in later adverts. Thus this ghost sign, which incorporates elements from different decades, may well have been painted in the early 1950s.

Location: Kennington Lane / Pictures taken in April 2008 and October 2008


Sam Roberts (Ghostsigns) said...

Check out this blog post (and the comments) and this one for some more titbits about Ariel and Writers.

Chris Austen said...

This sign was painted by my wife's father John "Jock" Morrison. Jock was a talented sign writer who also painted in the little spare time that he had in his life. My wife and I have one of his paintings in our living room.

Jock served in the 11 Battalion of the Parachute Regiment during the war. He had a very tough war. was in the battle of Kos and the airborne assault on the Primasole Bridge in Sicily. He baled out over Caen on "D" Day when his Dakota was shot down. He jumped again at Arnhem and was one of the few that escaped by swimming across the Rhine.

Like so many of that generation he carried the mental scars of his terrible experiences until his death.

It is wonderful to see his work recognised. Thank you so much for posting it on the internet. Jock would have been very tickled by it!

Chris Austen