Ghost signs: a brief history

by VERONIKA LUKASHEVICH

“Ghost signs” used to be advertisements for local businesses, but now represent the hidden traces of London’s commercial past.

Painted by hand on brick walls throughout the capital, and other towns and villages across the country, ghost signs experienced their heyday between the 1920s and 1950s.

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With the advent of printed billboards, the craft of traditional signwriting declined as it was no longer economically viable.

Now, ghost signs are slowly fading or being destroyed during construction work.

SONY DSCAlthough some have survived – located in London’s conservation areas thereby preventing them being demolished – the majority are left unprotected.

The History of Advertising Trust (HAT) has documented over 900 examples in the UK, including those for Hovis, Nestlé and Peterkin Custard.

Sam Roberts, the HAT’s curator for the Ghostsigns Archive launched a phone app last year that guides its users to some of London’s forgotten advertisements.

It now features a new tour through Stoke Newington.

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All photos by Veronika Lukashevich