250 Ghost Signs Come To Life In This Hauntingly Beautiful Book

Will Noble
By Will Noble Last edited 24 months ago

Last Updated 15 July 2022

250 Ghost Signs Come To Life In This Hauntingly Beautiful Book
Gillette - Clapham High Street © Roy Reed

Ghost signs: once the preserve of the knowing flaneur — now something many Londoners look for whenever they're on an unfamiliar street.

Sam Roberts is something of a doyen of these semi-translucent portals to the past. Since 2006 he's documented, blogged, led walking tours — he recently even ran a 'world cup' of the best ghost signs on Twitter. Now with photographer Roy Reed (another ghost sign fanatic) he's published a book.

Albion House - Borough High Street © Roy Reed

Ghost Signs: A London Story is the culmination of 15 years' of Roberts' obsession with the vintage adverts that haunt the exterior walls of old London buildings. The pandemic, Roberts explains, gave him the time he needed to collate his research, and to collaborate with Reed on high quality photos of 250 ghost signs in the capital.

Everywhere from Clapham to Camden, Ealing to Stoke Newington, Woolwich to Golders Green is covered — bringing to life the sheer diversity of London's consumerism fads, and showing us that in-your-face advertising is nothing new.

Boots - Camden High Street © Roy Reed

Alongside the images, there are writings on building, entertaining, branding and, ultimately, burying the city. There are also essays on how ghost signs were produced, and have subsequently been restored and conserved.

BP-Energol Regent-Remoulds - Poland Street, Soho © Roy Reed

Says Roberts:

Ghost signs are fascinating pieces of urban archaeology. Imposing yet hidden in plain sight, these faded advertisements are London's history written onto the contemporary cityscape. They reveal fascinating stories of everyday life in the capital. From births and deaths to bombs and whiskey, and Alf the Purse King to Bonsoir Pyjamas, each sign has its own story to tell — not just of the business it represents and the people behind it, but of its own improbable survival.

Brymay - Alpha Road, New Cross © Roy Reed

In this selection of wonderful images from the book, we see faded advertisements for everything razors, custard, suits, horses, paper bags — you name it.

It's also fascinating to find brands here that we're more used to seeing advertised on electronic billboards, TV and internet.

Cakebread Robey - Tyssen Road, Stoke Newington © Roy Reed
Cedars - Cedars Road, Clapham © Roy Reed
Commit No Nuisance - Great Guildford Street, Borough © Roy Reed
Courage © Redcross Way, Borough © Roy Reed
Donovan Bros - Crispin Street, Spitalfields © Philip Marriage / Roy Reed
Everetts - St James Street, Walthamstow © Sam Roberts
Germolene Venos - Wandsworth Road, Nine Elms © Roy Reed
Herbert and Sons - Grays Inn Road, King's Cross © Roy Reed
Hovis Warner Bros - Inchmery Road, Catford © Roy Reed
JS Foster - Tisbury Court, Soho © Roy Reed
Nestle - Killyon Road, Wandsworth © Roy Reed
Our Sons - Electric Lane, Brixton © Roy Reed
Peterkin - Sangora Road, Battersea © Roy Reed
Walker Bros - Stoke Newington Church Street © Roy Reed

Ghost Signs: A London Story is published on Isola Press, RRP £25