Thursday, 30 July 2009

United Service Transport Co. Ltd., Southfields

For the first mosaic posted on this blog I decided to go for something big! Actually I can only think of one commercial mosaic roughly as long as this one, which adorns the former garage of the United Service Transport Company. Looking at the building and the lettering, I would suspect it dates from the 1930s.

The former forecourt is occupied by a petrol station and the roof above the pumps makes it difficult to get a decent picture. The one below was made by stitching six different photos. It is not perfect but should give a good indication of the size of this wall mosaic. Click on it for an enlarged version.

Location: Merton Road / Both pictures taken on: 04/03/2008

The green / gold colour scheme is really effective and stands out nicely against the bricks. It is pretty similar to that of the lovely Art Nouveau mosaics of T. J. Boulding & Sons in Fitzrovia.

Even though Balham-based United Service Transport seemed to have been quite a large company, I could not find anything about it in the local history books available at nearby libraries. All I could gather was that by 1965, the company and its large but ageing fleet were taken over by the Ewer Group, once one of Britain's largest coach operators.

The back of the building on Burr Road is now occupied by a car dealer and all traces of the original owner have disappeared.

The Flickerless Cinema, New Cross, and ABC, Kentish Town

As today marks the second anniversary of the death of Swedish film director Ingmar Bergman, here are two cinema signs.

Film Cinema
Tower Rye Lane

Location: New Cross Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Painted next to New Cross Gate station, this sign would have tried to lure commuters away from the local Gaumont New Cross and New Cross Empire to the Tower Cinema further away. Opened on 19th November 1914, the Tower was designed by the architect H. Courtenay Constantine and would have been fairly similar to The Angel in Islington and the Scala in King's Cross, with, as the name suggests, a tower rising 100 ft above Rye Lane (the tower of the Angel Cinema at 7 Islington Green still exists). The Tower closed on 1st December 1956, two years and a half after the Empire and three years and a half before the Gaumont. Nowadays a car park stands on the site of the Tower, and a car wash on that of the Empire. Part of the Gaumont building has survived and houses the Venue nightclub.

Follow This Sign
For Perfect

Location: Highgate Road / Picture taken on: 14/08/2008

The Forum, with its Art Deco facade is still a prominent building in Kentish Town. Opened in 1934, it became part of the Associated British Cinemas family one year later. Closed in 1970, it was turned like many cinemas that escaped demolition into a bingo hall. Nowadays it is in use as a concert hall and theatre.

I doubt that any of these cinemas would have screened any of Ingmar Bergman's films. More popular movies with namesake actress, and compatriot, Ingrid Bergman would have been more likely.

For more information about these four cinemas, you can visit the excellent website

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Daren, Camberwell, and Hovis, Tonbridge

As soon as I passed the door yesterday evening, I realized I had forgotten something: to buy some bread! Fortunately we still had some ready-to-bake baguettes for this morning, but to remind me to get some tonight, I decided today's post should be about bread and bakers.

Large numbers of bakers' signs appear to have been sponsored by either Hovis or Daren. These companies provided the recipe and ingredients for baking the bread, and paid for painted signs, which displayed their name in letters at least as large as those for the baker himself. Unfortunately a quick search on the internet for Daren does not reveal much about this particular brand, which must have been quite popular at some point.

This sign was painted on several occasions, the name "Daren" appearing three times. Unfortunately the upper part is now barely legible, apart from the aforementioned company's name and "Bread".

Although the lower part is much better preserved, it has been partly obliterated. Here is what is left of it:
The Best Brown Bread
Made From
... of the Wheat

Additionally the words "Electric Machine", written in white and forming an arc across the second line, can still be read. The use of such a device would have been a selling argument, telling prospective customers this was a modern bakery. Electric machines may also have guaranteed a more consistent product day after day.

Location: Daneville Road / Both pictures taken on: 16/07/2009

Daren's main competitor was undoubtedly Hovis, a name crafted in 1890 from the Latin Hominis Vis (meaning "strength of man") to market bread produced using Smith's Patent Process Germ Flour. In 1898 S. Fitton & Son became The Hovis Bread Flour Company Ltd. From the very beginning Hovis used a whole range of marketing techniques to increase brand awareness and its share of the market. The number of Hovis ghost signs still around testifies to its success.

Today, rather than using one of the better known London signs (don't worry, they will appear on another post), I decided to put one I spotted recently while exploring Tonbridge on my way to see the 13th century mural paintings in the Church of St Thomas a Beckett, Capel, and the wonderful Chagall windows in the Church of All Saints, Tudeley.

E. ...en [move this banner!]
Maker of
Golden Brown
Still the Best

To celebrate its 120th anniversary, the company produced a little book (available at but it does not explain why between the 1920s and the 1950s a tilde, sometimes simplified to a dash, was placed on the "O" of Hovis... I'm sure someone out there will have an idea.

Hõvis, with the characteristic tilde on the "O"
Note that Hovis has been painted another time but in rounder letters.

Location: Barden Road, Tonbridge / Both pictures taken on: 14/06/2009

So now, I can only hope I won't forget the bread tonight!

Peterkin's custard, Battersea, and Flins & Sons, Putney

Over the past couple of years I have been taking hundreds of pictures of painted signs and mosaics, mostly in London and across the southeast. Whether they are highly elaborate or very simple, relatively well-preserved or have almost completely faded by now, they provide an insight into our social history and past commercial practices.

I thought I should start this blog with the first painted sign I spotted in London about 10 years ago, and one I look at every time I take a bus between the Putney area and Clapham Junction. With its smiling boy, this is definitely one of my favourite ghost signs!

Self-Raising Flour
Corn Flour
Can Be Obtained Here

"Little Peter" (the suffix -kin meaning little, like -kijn or -ken in Dutch or -chen in German) was the face of a product launched by Joseph Arthur Rank after he joined his father's milling business in 1905 at the age of 17. Apparently Peterkin's Self-Raising Flour was not a big success but it was still being sold by 1926. That year "a grocer was summoned at Marylebone Police Court by the Hampstead Borough Council for having sold to the prejudice of the purchaser, egg custard not of the nature, substance and quality demanded." You can read more about the case here:

The case was dismissed on the grounds that there were no standard for custard powder and that given the price of Peterkin's (1 and 1/2 d. for a pint packet), customers should not expect too much of it... What a surprise!

Location: St John's Hill / Both pictures taken on: 05/03/2008

I always thought it was a bit of a miracle this ghost sign was still with us, given its position on a major thoroughfare, and in such a good state.

Although the following signs are not as eye-catching, I include them on this first post simply because they are the nearest ones to where I live (unless another one is hiding right under my nose and I have managed to miss it so far!). As it is often the case the same wall was used by different businesses to advertise their products or services and the texts overlap.

Below is the right-hand side of the wall:

A Flins [?]
Advertising Space
Riverside Works
To Let Motor Body
Con... Dept

Having stumbled on this sign, it is easy to walk away hoping to find another one further down the road... Yet there are clearly three texts on this part of the wall and a close look reveals that the last two lines start on the left, on the part of the wall that appears empty at first sight. I have enhanced slightly the picture below to make whatever is left of the sign come out. The most legible part is next to the little window.

... Work ...
Cars Lodged in Garage
Phone Putney 2385

Location: Ruvigny Gardens / Both pictures taken on: 30/04/2008