Thou Shalt Not... London's Ancient Warning Signs

M@
By M@
Thou Shalt Not... London's Ancient Warning Signs
A posh car of a golden hue is parked on a street with old brick houses, one of which has the sign Commit no Nuisance

Warning and rules are everywhere in London. "Mind the Gap", "No pigeon feeding", "See it, say it, sort it", "Do not touch the walrus".

It has ever been thus. As these vintage vetoes show, our Victorian and Edwardian forebears were every bit as bossy with their street signs.

A sign talking about fining people 40 shillings for not shutting a gate
An excellent example of the verbosity of old signs. We would say "Please close the gate...fine £x", but naughty old-time Londoners would "omit to shut and fasten the gate". Forty shillings, we Google, was another way of saying £2. The sign is presumably from an old LNER rail crossing, though somewhat displaced on the Pilot Inn, Greenwich. A similar sign is displayed in The Flask, Highgate.
A sign from a canal warning of danger to children
A no-nonsense hand-painted sign warning children to stay clear of a canal (like, as if...). The sign comes from the now vanished Surrey Canal, which ran through Bermondsey and Southwark towards Peckham (you can see remnants here and there, including a bridge-over-nothing in Burgess Park). It's now displayed in the London Canal Museum in King's Cross.
Three signs, one is the street name of Martlett Court, one denotes the Fletcher Buildings and the other warns off hawkers
If you see the word "hawkers" you know you've stepped back in time. This sign not only wards off itinerant salesmen, but also prohibits the use of bells or other instruments. It's an effective warning. To this day, we've never encountered anybody ringing a bell in this Covent Garden alley.
Warnings about use of phones and cameras in a theatre, but using old fashioned signs
Few buildings conjure the Victorian East End like Wilton's Music Hall. The venue is almost entirely faithful to its period, though these 'no phones' and 'no photography' signs are of neither that age nor our own.
A sign warning that street cries are prohibited
Today, we hear few street cries beyond "Oy, get out of the cycle lane" and the like. But for centuries London was a cacophony of trader calls. Well-to-do Twickenham Riverside clearly had different sensibilities as this sign — possibly a modern recreation — attests.
A sign warning passengers not to spit
Before we all got our BCGs, tuberculosis (also known as 'consumption') was a much-feared killer, wiping out 1% of the population each year. Signs such this one were common, reminding people to refrain from the "objectionable habit" of spitting. Saliva particles were the commonest form of transmission. This railway sign is on display in Croydon Museum.
A white sign with black lettering saying Commit No Nuisance
"Nuisance". It's not a word we use much nowadays, is it? A "nuisance" in the 21st century might be a determined wasp, or an errant toddler. In Victorian times, though, it would have read as a warning not to piss against the wall. This sign can be found on Doyce Street in Borough. A modern tradition, perpetuated by almost two people, is to stick your middle finger up at the sign in limp protest, each time you walk by. A more faded version survives in Spitalfields, while St Albans is home to this beauty.

All images by the author.

Last Updated 17 November 2022

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