In 1989 William Stage published Ghost Signs: Brick Wall Signs in America, which introduced the term ‘ghost sign’ to describe any form of historic signage.
Stage’s publisher, Tod Swormstedt at Signs of the Times, had come up with the phrase. “Up until then I think I called them wall signs,” said Stage. Swormstedt commented, “I’m not sure I can take credit for it. I just don’t remember”. Whilst the origins of the phrase are unclear, this is the definition Stage gives it:
“Ghost signs are the most interesting of all wall signs. Faded to the point of illegibility, they linger on old buildings, echoing the robust commerce of times past. Ghost signs become highlighted under certain conditions, such as the rosy glow of sunrise or sunset, or in the first minutes of a rain.”
I’ve looked around the area to find Ghost signs and discovered that whilst Southgate has one, Crouch End has two and Highgate notches up more than five neither Muswell Hill, Winchmore Hill or Grange Park, Barnet or High Barnet have any to boast. I believe there must be some in these areas but they haven’t been exposed yet. There’s no doubt that with continued lust for redevelopment many of as yet to be discovered Ghost signs will disappear which is a shame as they form a part of our heritage and once destroyed will be lost forever.
If you know of a Ghost sign you can add the details to a map (www.ghostsigns.co.uk/map) ensuring sure that future generations will be able appreciate our advertising roots. To upload you need is as much information as possible including (but not limited to):
Ghost Sign Name (company/companies advertised)
Location – as much detail as possible, especially postcode, as this will be used to locate the sign on the map and if possible a photograph.
There is also a Ghost Signs app you can download which you can use to go on guided walks.
For more information about Ghost signs visit: www.ghostsigns.co.uk. The site aims to raise awareness and understanding of ghost signs through a variety of projects, including research, publishing, tours and events.
I would like to thank Sam Roberts of Ghost signs for his help in providing information and photographs and also for dedicating himself to keeping part of our history alive.
About James Rogers Artist and Designer
Owner of Contemporary art gallery Arthut.life 07767451073
At the new Blue House Yard. Five minutes walk from Wood Green tube station, it mixes private and public studio spaces forming a new creative hub in the heart of Wood Green.
Escape the bustle of the High Road, attend lunchtime or weekend food and craft markets, visit Studio 1 ceramics workshop, meet the makers and come to occasional evening events.
An onsite double-decker bus will provide a unique start-up opportunity for a food and drink business, creating a landmark cafe for the public to enjoy. www.bluehouseyard.com