30 July 2021

Two ghostsigns clinging on to what's left of Holywell Lane, Shoreditch, EC2

So much is changing around Shoreditch these days. Low rise Georgian, Victorian and early C20th buildings are fast being demolished to be replaced with high rise glass blocks.

Last week I made a detour to go and check on what's happening at the top end of Norton Folgate, a part of Bishopsgate that I understood had been saved from development. It used to be an interesting architectural patchwork as you can see here.

As my recent pic above shows, part of this terrace that  abuts Folgate Street has [sort of] been saved but only those properties with red brick façades remain (some are covered in netting); the rest of these structures will be completely rebuilt albeit not as tall as the blocks that are going up to the left hand side which forms the beginning of Shoreditch High Street where once stood one of my favourite interwar buildings, a castellated showroom façade covered in beige faience tiles; Niclar House*.

Rather jaded by this, I went for a wander around the nearby streets to see what else has changed during this past year, specifically interested to see if two old hand-painted advertisements were still in situ in Holywell Lane. I'm glad to report that they are indeed still there but clinging on for dear life, so to speak.

The two signs face each other across the now defunct Victorian railway line that has been replaced by the new section of rails for the Overground Line further along the street

The east-facing sign on the right is barely legible, though I am convinced that I can see "MEXICO" in there at the middle right. Tetramesh has a better shot of it here. Assuming this was advertising an adjacent business, the best possible ideas are Milton Manufacturing Co, cycle accessories, which was at this end of the street in 1915 or, possibly, The East London Rubber Company, there in 1939. Mexico could easily tie in with the Yucatan Peninsula which was a well-used rubber producing area pre the 1950s. Rotax Motor Accessories were also in the vicinity.


The sign on the side of No.55 is much clearer. The words 'MAKERS OF. CLOGS. RAILSWEEPS. MACHINES.' can be easily be seen, though other smaller words may be now obscured by the graffiti, and there must've been more above and below.

Having assessed the old directories, I think this is a sign for two or more companies. The front of No.55 has a clear mark at the top centre showing GT 1893. This would be George Tyrie, brushmaker. He could well have made the railsweeps; brushes that were often fitted to the protuding section at the front of steam trains to sweep away the leaves and other debris. Or it could refer to brushes and brooms used by railway workers who cleaned the rails manually. A dirty job.

And this links in with another company in the street, because at the same time, in the late 1890s, on the other side of the road at No.12, George Stevens is listed as a washing clog maker. These heavy duty items of footwear had canvas leg coverings, sometimes up to thigh height, tightened and kept in place by leather straps and buckles. They protected clothes and the person from splashes, see right (a page in a Gamages catalogue). 

However, I still find this sign an enigma being as it advertises three very different things: brushes, shoes and machines. I think it's unlikely that one company was making all of these at the same location. Any ideas welcome.

*Find out more – Niclar House features on London's Lamented Art Deco, my online talk via Zoom about some demolished interwar buildings and the structures that have replaced them. Click here for info. It used to form part of my Art Deco Spitalfields guided walk. Sigh.

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Thanks, Jane