London's Old Forgotten Signs

By M@ Last edited 25 months ago
London's Old Forgotten Signs

Tate Gallery of Modern Art, opening 2000. So rejoice these paving slabs on Southwark Street, their worn message more than a little behind the times.

When you start looking, London is replete with outdated and vintage signs.

Commit no nuisance

Image by Doreen Joy Barber in the Londonist Flickr pool.

Would-be troublemakers are left in no doubt by this warning in the back streets of Southwark. You can almost hear the stentorian Edwardian voice of authority manifest in this sign.

"Commit No Nuisance"

"Not even a small nuisance?" you might timidly respond. "Just a little one. Like kicking a coke can against the wall or something?"

"NO. You shall commit NO nuisance."

"OK, sorry." (Flicks middle finger when the sign isn't looking.)

We've seen other examples in the older parts of town, and even up in St Albans. The punishment for committing a nuisance is never stated, but who would dare test it?

March out of step

Spindly Albert Bridge is such a delicate little thing. The effete span can be unsettled by too many pedestrians walking in unison. That's why it carries this famous vintage sign asking troops to break step when marching over the bridge. Since Chelsea Barracks closed, the bridge is presumably little bothered by military mis-steps. The sign is parodied outside the Albert pub, a little south of here.

Ghost signs

An extra large big cat in Clerkenwell. Image courtesy of ghost sign chronicler Sam Roberts.

These faded advertisements of yesteryear constitute a whole class of old signs, which we've covered extensively before. You'll find them in any corner of London with century-old buildings. Sam Roberts organises regular tours of some of the best.

Old bomb shelters

We've spotted quite a few of these painted signs around town. They date from the second world war, and point locals to the nearest air raid shelter. This one is in Deptford.

Outdated views

Point Hill in Greenwich is graced with an hilariously outdated viewing plaque from 1984. The City contains no skyscrapers, other than the NatWest Tower (now Tower 42... and just off-shot in the photo above). The BT Tower is still the London Telecom Tower, while Tate Modern is Bankside Power Station. We like the way someone's pencilled in the Shard.

No tricycles!

Where in London do you face a £5 penalty for riding a tricycle? The answer is in a lowly footpath in the 'Borough of Beckenham'. That clue alone dates this sign to before 1965, when boundary changes subsumed the old borough into Bromley. A further bit of googling around the town clerk's name suggests this sign dates from the 1950s. It's not quite clear how far the sign's authority extends. Would a skateboard count as a 'similar machine'? How about a space hopper? Find it in the alley off Kent House Road, part of the Green Chain Walk, section 10, but leave your tricycle at home.

Old roundels

As part of the Underground's 150th anniversary in 2013, Transport for London rolled out a handful of vintage signs across the network. The one above is a pastiche 1914-style diamond sign at Moorgate (obviously). An even earlier one lurks at Covent Garden. Meanwhile, look out for ye olde mosaic roundels at Maida Vale and Wood Lane. You can also find these lovely 1933 roundels at various locations across the network.

The Metropolitan Police hook

Ello, ello, ello, what do we 'ave 'ere, then? It's a Metropolitan Police hook, of indeterminate vintage. In days gone by, suspected criminals could be cuffed and left to dangle from the hook. If the police officer decided to let the suspect go, he or she would be let 'off the hook', hence the origin of the phrase. Not really. We just made that up. Rather, the hook served as a handy place for Edwardian coppers to stow their heavy capes in hot weather. This example can be found on the building next to the Arts Theatre on Great Newport Street, Covent Garden.

There must be dozens of further old signs out there. Do share your favourites in the comments below.

Last Updated 25 November 2016