29 June 2024

London street signs – additions to postal zones

My last post mentioned a patch added to a sign along The Broadway in Woodford. This got me thinking about the many additions and changes to street name signage across London. This became necessary as an area has became so populated that the postal district had to be sub-divided, such as Holloway N, becoming Holloway N7, etc. 

As London expanded, districts needed to be defined to prevent confusion between, for instance, Brewer Street in Soho and a road by the same name in another part of the metropolis, and so simple points of the compass were added. More often than not a complete new batch of signs was created to replace/cover the old ones. But in some places, a little patch or tile was added adjacent to the existing name plate, such as these examples in Soho where a small white tile bearing a red W for West has been added next  to the brown and white 1870's tiles that show the street name:

Soho's single letter square tiles are perhaps copies of the similar, earlier, more elegant ones in the Hampstead area where there are also some later additions:

Single letter tiles can also be found in nearby Loveridge Road NW6. Near there you'll also find some lovely blue and white vitreous enamel signs, such as this one in Oxford Road which, like many others in that vicinity, has a little metal plate to the side: 

But surely a more effective and visually pleasing amendment would have been to make small blue enamel [N.W.6.] signs in a condensed typeface to competed cover the N.W. within the sign itself? These could have then been spot welded to the original sign. Hey, but what do I know?!

This extraneous patch device can also be found in W8, as shown below in Cromwell Grove where the little metal tiles that display the full postcode of that era have been better designed completes with fancy corners and affixed centred under the street sign. But where is West W6?!

In Strode Road NW10, it looks like the local council was on a money and time saving exercise as the basic little hand-painted metal add-ons here look like they were created cheaply and attached in a hurry. Incidentally, the punctuation on these old signs often intrigues me. Full points, and sometimes semi-colons too, randomly applied, like a game of Spot The Difference. For instance what happened to the full point after W on the Cromwell Grove sign? But I digress. 

Finally, staying in NW10, in the well-to-do Chamberlayne Road area there are elegant cast metal N.W. signs that also have little 10s attached to the side or below them, but here we can see that the contractor remembered to use a spirit level:

I do like these little quirky add-ons. When councils created complete new street name plates they were mostly fixed directly over the previous one. There are, however, instances where new signs were placed adjacent to the old ones which can be a bit confusing. I will compile a collection of some of my favourite oddities in a future post. 

26 June 2024

Chemists, Chymists, Pharmacists and Druggists – three in one week

Last week, on Monday 17th June, I was in North West London presenting a talk for the Northwood Hills U3A group. Afterwards I went to Wembley to check on a couple of ghostsigns – this one for a Daimler dealer and this one for a butcher's shop. I am glad to report that both are still intact. 

As I made my way towards the station, a bus came along headed for Ealing Broadway and so I got on that instead. I do like a mystery tour, and sitting on the top deck of a bus is a wonderful way to see places I barely know. The route went through Alperton (all new to me) and ended at bus stop 'A' at the northern end of The Broadway here.

As I disembarked, I noticed a marvellous old chemist shop at No.36 – much of D.Lewis's Art Nouveau shop fittings are intact both inside and out. Coloured glass, curved windows, bronze fittings, marble plinths and more. The interior looks to have much of the wooden shelving, display cases and drawers. For some reason I didn't go inside. Instead, I just took a couple of snaps making a mental note to return and properly investigate the whole parade another day when I had more time.

Two days later I was in Woodford, waiting for a friend and admiring the parade of shops that is also called The Broadway. I noticed at number 12 a carved and gilded sign for Chrystall, chemist and druggist. The shop also boasts lovely window displays which include metal frames, and curved and red glass etched with the services available. 

When my friend arrived, we went inside to investigate the shop's interior and found that the whole left side still retains it's wooden displays and shelving. I took just one photo, of the exterior, shown above right ( the one on the left is a google screen grab from here). We walked along the parade to see what other similar delights might be on offer and found that most of this parade still has elements of the original shops. As we walked past number 12 (four doors from the chemist, consecutive numbering, and now Euronics) I happened to notice that there were words at low level around the glass windows advertising confectionary [sic] and chocolates. 
Looking into the shop, I noticed that they had an old carved and gilded sign on the side wall at the rear of the shop, and it looked practically the same as the one at the chemist's. We went inside and chatted to the staff, who were lovely. Whilst they didn't know much about the sign or the Hermann family, they were clearly proud to have this impressive chunk of local history on their wall:

This sign for Hermann Brothers, Pastry cooks and confectioners is very impressive and unlike any I have seen before. Rather than a plain black background, this has a marble green and black effect which I am sure would have been top-of-the-range expensive, hinting at the quality of products the Hermann Bros would have made and the kind of well-to-do people that would have lived in this area before the tube line arrived. The bottom right corner of the sign shows that the sign was made by Brilliant Signs of Grays Inn Road, though I'd be surprised if they installed the sloppily applied/wonky later addition of 'Limited' as a stuck on patch (under Bros). It's interesting that 'confectioner' is spelled with an 'e' on the sign board but with an 'a' within the etched glass. 

And then, on Friday 21st June, I was wandering through Tyburnia, Connaught Village and the Hyde Park Estate, following a route specified in an old 1960's guidebook about old pubs and taverns to see if what was written about then was still in place today. I then crossed over Edgware Road and headed along Crawford Street, a street that also contains remnants of Victorian shops. It includes the marvelllous signage and multicoloured lantern of Meacher, Higgins & Thomas, chemists:

Again, I only took a few quick snaps, although this time I did go inside to chat to the owners. They are really proud about the history of their shop. I said I was embarrassed that although I had known about the shop for decades, since I worked round the corner in the late 1980s, yet I hade never stepped inside until now. 
Well, it turns out there's more old signage in there, plus glass jars and some of the orignal fittings in the form of wooden drawers and shelving. The exterior gilded sign is another one made by Brilliant Signs (see under 1814), a company name that appears on many of the best signs of this era*. 

There are, of course, many other lovely old chemist shops across London, but the three that immediately spring to mind are these – Walden, 65 Elizabeth Street, Belgravia, Allchin, 28 Englands Lane (but, since 2014, the lovely gilded script has been covered by dullness) and K.King at 35 Amwell Street, Islington:

Finally, a couple of ghostsigns featuring chemist's shops. There are many I could include here, but I suspect the two that people will recognise the most are these two – Boots facing Camden Town tube station and Dean's on Clapham Pavement on the north side of the common.

*I have built up quite a collection of signs made by this company and I really ought to pull together a blog post to showcase them.

15 June 2024

Big, beautiful boot scrapers

I've been wandering around and properly investigating the St. James's area a lot these past few years, yet until earlier this week I hadn't noticed some superb metalwork within the entrance to 50 St. James's Street. Considering that I have quite a large photographic collection of London boot scrapers, I was confused how I'd managed to miss this enormous pair of decorated beauties either side of the door. 

A sign near the entrance says that the building is being renovated. There are remnants of scaffold pole footers and the whole thing needs a wash and brush up. The boot scrapers are sublime. I have never before seen any so opulently decorated. The lanterns at the top of the street level posts are no longer in place, hence why they are cropped out of my phots here, but their gas feeds are still evident below their three-legged struts. I had an inkling that building this would have originally been one of the area's many gentlemen's clubs as per White's, Boodle's, Brook's etc. But what was it more recently? I needed to do some delving.

Well, it turns out that for over 12 years this site has been behind scaffolding or under wraps of some kind which is evidence by looking at Google's retrospective street views. In 2012 the site shows that the building looked like the image above. 

A quick bit of googling and Wikipedia tells us that this is an 1827 Grade II listed building that was has been a gentleman's club (yes!*), a bridge club in the 1920s and then various casinos or gaming institutes. There are plans to convert the building for use as either a hotel or as residential properties. However, the written timeline in that Wiki link doesn't seem to correlate with the google streetview which clearly show that scaffolding was in place by August 2014 so I am a bit confused when the squatters were there.     

This 2012 image show the lovely gas-fired lamps beautifully silhouetted. I suspect that the lanterns were removed for safety reasons during the building works and I am hoping that, going forward, they will be reinstated, complete with the gas feed as per other lamps in this area, rather than retrofitted with LEDs.

* had I applied my brain I could have worked that this was William Crockford 's club – he was an interesting character to say the least!

13 June 2024

Ooh ooh – more woodblocks sighted in Camden Town

Rushing from a bus stop opposite Sainsbury's to Camden Town tube station yesterday, I glanced down at the kerb outside the pub on the corner (these days called The Camden Eye, previously The Halfway House and many more names pre-that) and I noticed a man hole cover plate half filled with wood blocks. 

I just took a quick snap, above left. The second pic is a screengrab from Google Streetview here.

I have added it to the A-Z of Woodblocks here