1 February 2022

Reveal of old Wills's tobacconist sign in Hornsey Road, N19

Earlier this year, as I was exiting the Post Office at Hornsey Road, I spotted a lovely old shop fascia across the road at No.526, advertising Wills's Gold Flake.

I crossed the street to take a closer look. It's in fantastic condition, so I wondered if it was an old sign that has simply been protected by subsequent layers or a modern pastiche. I took some snaps with the idea to do a bit of sleuthing.

Passing again a few weeks later, the door was open and I saw a fella working inside. He came out to chat to me and told me that he/they had found the sign under the modern one here whilst pulling apart the layers of adaptions during renovations and they fully intend to keep the sign. How lovely. We talked about the tobacco brand and how lovely the sign was but I completely forgot to ask his mname or enquire what kind of shop this will be. I will update this when I do know.

So who/what was A&R?  This could be the name of the people at this location, or a chain/franchise. The old street directories show that this was a greengrocer's shop in the early part of the C20th, run by Daniel Arthur Colby until 1914. The shop was ten empty for some time during WWI because nothing is listed for the period 1915-19 and I have no refernece beyond that. But I suspect the shop became a tobacconist in the mid-1920s. I can confirm, however, that by 1939 it is the business Mr. Herbert John Ranson who could quite possibly be the 'R' of A&R.

It's great to see this area of N19 finally evolving. As someone who has lived near here for over 30 years I have seen the shops become neglected in this island twixt Archway, Crouch End, Finsbury Park and Holloway. Hence there are quite a few interesting old bits of signage to be found herea and it's great to see so many new finds being preserved. For instance, across the road from this Wills's sign there is the old Hancock/Plumb butcher's shop that I have written about here. Further down the hill, south of Hanley Road, there is this old grocer's sign advertising tea at the rear as well as many more hints of the past here.

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Thanks, Jane