Thursday, 26 November 2009

YWCA, Sevenoaks

Yesterday was International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women so a painted sign put up by an organisation that has been offering women support, including providing safe havens to those who suffer from domestic abuse, and has been campaigning on key issues that affect them seems appropriate enough for the occasion.
The Young Women's Christian Association was founded in 1855 when two groups, led respectively by Lady Mary Jane Kinnaird and Emma Robarts, joined forces. The former had set up hostels for young women from rural areas who had come to the cities for employment but who also needed protection, while the latter had formed a prayer fellowship to protect young women. The movement then rapidly spread throughout Britain and part of its empire, as well as to European countries and the US. Over time the objectives of the YWCA movement evolved and from the late 19th century social concerns started to take precedence over spiritual ones.
Unfortunately I couldn't find anything online about the history of the Sevenoaks branch of the YWCA, but at least the ghost sign is still there.

Young Women's
Chritian Association
Home of Rest, &

Actually the date of November, 25 to mark International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women was chosen to commemorate the murder in 1960 in the Dominican Republic of three of the four Mirabal sisters on orders of dictator Rafael Trujillo: Patria Mercedes, María Argentina Minerva and Antonia María Teresa, together with Bélgica Adela who survived to tell their story, were involved in the underground opposition to the country's strongman. Known as Las Mariposas (The Butterflies) they were detained on several occasions, tortured, and finally murdered. Their story through the lens of fiction was told by Julia Álvarez in In The Time of the Butterflies. As for Rafael Trujillo, he was the central character of Mario Vargas Llosa's brilliant novel La fiesta del chivo / The Feast of the Goat ('The Goat' was one of his nicknames).

Location: London Road, Sevenoaks, Kent / Picture taken on: 13/07/2008

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Plumber, Catford

"Going Rogue" by Sarah Palin isn't a book I'll buy (the thought of a single penny of my money ending in her purse is enough to give me nightmares) but its publication brought back some images of the last Republican campaign for the US presidency: the hockey mum speech, her surreal / hilarious / pathetic / visionary (delete as you wish) answers on her interview by Couric, or the phone call from the Masked Avengers pretending to be Nicolas Sarkozy to mention but a few. And of course, who could have forgotten Joe the Plumber? Certainly most people by now. Still, when a plumber came last week to check our heating, I wondered for a split second whether his name was Joe. Fortunately for him it wasn't. As for the plumber on that ghost sign...? Well, that will remain a mystery...

... & Hot Water Engineer

There was an earlier sign painted on this wall but it isn't possible to read anything.

Location: Catford Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Monday, 23 November 2009

Printers' ghost signs

Printers' signs, part 1 (Go to part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

On Saturday I returned to the British Museum to have a second look at the current exhibition of Mexican prints, a worthy follow-up to last year’s American Scene (although I don’t agree with the legend that accompanies the poster for the 1952 meeting of the Confederación de Trabajadores de América Latina...). Some of the prints on show are absolutely superb and testify not only to the talent of the artists but also to the skills of the printers.
Obviously not all printers would have been able to master the techniques required for fine art printing, and in any case many wouldn’t even have needed them to honour the orders placed by their customers. But did the painted signs some printers paid for reflect their versatility? Below are a few examples of such signs, ranging from simple to more elaborate ones, from bare to pretty descriptive ones.

Examiner, Printing works, Forest Hill

Printer's ghost signs, part 2 (Go to part 1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)

To start with, here is what we could call a minimalist sign: because of a lack of space, only the nature of the business appears between the first and second-floor windows.

Printing Works

Location: Dartmouth Road / Picture take on: 23/07/2009

Printer, Elephant and Castle

Printers' ghost signs, part 3 (Go to part 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7)

At first sight this is another very basic sign. A closer look reveals at least two more lines were painted above "Printer" but they have faded too much for me to be able to read anything but a couple of letters. Maybe the local library has a picture which could give us some answer. I should check next time I'm in the area. The location of this sign may explain why there is nothing fanciful about it. Indeed the building is only a few meters away from the viaduct carrying the Herne Hill to Blackfriars line opened by the London, Chatham and Dover Railway in 1864, and since the sign was painted so high, we can assume its primary targets were not people walking or travelling northwards along Newington Causeway but rail passengers. From passing trains, a simple typeface would have been more efficient than an elaborate one. Of course, back then, the view wouldn't have been party hidden by the tree on the left.

Location: Newington Causeway / Picture taken on: 16/07/2009

Pring & Rose, Fitzrovia

Printers' ghost signs, part 4 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7)

The location of our next sign couldn't be more different: a tiny passage between Margaret Street and Wells Street. Here too the typeface is pretty simple but at least the premises and the range of products Ping & Rose could supply were clearly advertised, and the composition of both signs is slightly more eye-catching.

Pring & Rose
Tickets Writers
And Printers


Location: Marylebone Passage / Picture taken on: 17/04/2008

Clutten, Swan & Co, New Cross

Printers' ghost signs, part 5 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7)

In another part of London, one of Pring & Rose's competitors used a more elaborate typeface, if not for its name, at least to describe the nature of its business to the passing public.

Clutten, Swan & Co.
Artistic Ticket-Writers

This sign was painted over an earlier one. I can't make out a name, but the business they were in is still clear:
Sanitry Engineers
Inspectors of General Repairs

Location: Amersham Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

W. E. Baxter, Lewes

Printers' ghost signs, part 6 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7)

Moving up the ladder, we find these signs with gilded letters for W. E. Baxter Ltd, both of which seem to have been repainted shortly before the firm relocated from Lewes to Mitcham a few years ago. The printing and publishing business was originally set up in 1802 by John Baxter, who is credited with the invention of the composition ink roller. One of his sons, George Baxter was a celebrated engraver and printer, who invented a colour printing process that made reproduction of paintings possible and cheap. However George Baxter had very little business sense and died an empoverished man. It was under John's grand-son W. E. Baxter that the family business, which from 1837 included the Sussex Agricultural Express, expanded. In 1888 the firm was successful enough to become a limited company.

W. E. Baxter Ltd

W. E. Baxter Ltd
Order Office
Door on Right

This sign was painted over an earlier one which read:
W. E. Baxter Ltd
Printers Stationers
Wholesale Accounts
Bookbinders ...rers
Order Office
... on ...

Location: High Street, Lewes, East Sussex / Picture taken on: 27/06/2009

Cutts & Co, Peckham

Printers' ghost signs, part 7 (Go to part 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Finally, to conclude this series of printers' signs, here is a wall where the mix of different typefaces and colours ends up making a very attractive palimpsest. The white background hides an earlier sign but it is virtually impossible to make any sense of it. As for "Cutts & Co" (notice how the last letter ends up forming an arrow that comes back to underline the name), is there any connection with Bromhead, Cutts & Co, the fine art printer and publisher based in Cork Street behind the Royal Academy of Arts, which seemed to have enjoyed a short period of prosperity during the 1920s?

For Business
Cutts & Co
Office Phone
New Cross 50 [?]

Location: Chadwick Road / Picture taken on: 23/07/2009

Friday, 13 November 2009

East German neon signs (2)

Today I continue my small digression from the title of this blog to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall with some more East German neon signs.

The largest concentration of neon signs in Leipzig is found just outside the city centre, near the beginning of the avenue that leads to the former grounds of the Leipzig trade fair. Just off the inner ring road, on Grünewald Straße, two blocks of flats separated by a small square provided the necessary height for those signs to be visible by anyone passing through the southeast corner of the city or travelling to the fair.
The corners of both buildings are crowned by signs for the Volkseigene Möbelkombinate der DDR (People-owned Furniture Combine).

And Progress
For Modern Housing]

A search on the web gives two possible dates for these neon signs. Someone remembers seeing them in 1977, while another source states they were installed there in 1985. Somehow, looking at their design, I'd rather go for the mid-1980s date. Neon signs produced in the 1970s were slightly funkier, even in the rather grey GDR.

The next sign on Grünewald Straße definitely dates from the 1980s as it incorporates the 1981 Jenaer Glas logo. The company’s origins date back to 1884, the year Otto Schott, Carl Zeiss and Roderich Zeiss founded the Glastechnische Laboratorium Schott & Genossen (Schott & Associates Glass Technology Laboratory) in the city of Jena. A few years later they set up the Jenaer Glaswerk Schott & Genossen (Schott & Associates Glass Factory) to handle mass production and marketing of borosilicate glass, a glass invented by Otto Schott in 1887 that can resist high temperatures and thermic variations as well as degradation by chemicals. The shorter brand name Jenaer Glas made its apparition in the 1920s. It was during the inter-war years that famous artists, including Bauhaus professor László Moholy-Nagy, began designing modern, stylish products for the company. In 1945, 41 of the company’s best specialists were captured by US troops and brought to Mainz, where they set up Schott Glaswerke AG. Meanwhile in Jena, the goverment of the new GDR took over the company and the name was changed to Jena Glaswerke VEB (People-owned Jena Glass Factory). Thanks to their high quality, Jenaer Glas products continued to be exported successfully throughout both the east and the west, and were a major foreign currency earner for the GDR. After the reunification the East German factory was acquired by Schott Glaswerke AG.
In the background: JENAer GLAS in aller Welt

Two more neon signs can be seen on the Windmühlenstraße side of the building. The first sign is for Traktoroexport, the trade department of the USSR in charge of exporting Soviet tractors and other agricultural machinery. If in Russia tractors were sold under the name of their respective manufacturer, from 1961 all those sold abroad by Traktoroexport came under the brand “Belarus”. Traktoroexport still exists today.

As for the second neon sign on Windmühlenstraße, it reproduced the slogan of the VEB Leipziger Färberei und chemische Reinigung (People-owned Leipzig Dye and Dry Cleaning Works), located in the northwestern Wahren area of the city (the large building is now abandoned).

[Neat As a Pin]

The strange thing about it is that "durch" at the end doesn't make any sense (not even to Germans...)

All picture above: location: Grünewald Straße / Windmühlenstraße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

Finally here is the little happy chap from the neon sign from VEB Käsefabrik (People-owned Cheese Factory) located in the town of Sangerhausen. Production of cheese using curdled milk began in 1906. In the late 1950s the newly-nationalised company started producing sliced and soft cheese. This proved so successful that it entirely concentrated on these products and stopped making cheese with curdled milk. The factory was privatised in 1993.

Location: Dr-Wilhelm-Külz-Straße, Sangerhausen, Sachsen-Anhalt / Picture taken on: 01/05/2009

Monday, 9 November 2009

East German neon signs (1)

Twenty years ago, I was preparing a presentation on some obscure point of French constitutional law for the following week, with the news radio in the background. Then shortly after 7 pm, the newsreader announced they had received a cable from East Berlin: the spokesman of the politburo had just given a press conference about the new regulations for East Germans wishing to travel abroad. It was pretty confusing but it seemed all East Germans, and not only those who had been veted, would be allowed to travel. And when he had been asked when these new regulations would apply, he had declared: “Immediately, right away.” For one month people had been demonstrating in Leipzig and then across other cities in favour of democratic reforms. But could this be true? Would the old guard of the regime finally give in and open the borders? After all, the security forces had sometimes intervened violently to repress demonstrators in Leipzig and Berlin. Earlier that year, on the other side of the world, demonstrations on Tien’anmen Square and other parts of China, had been harshly crushed by the Communist regime. Hopes for change had been dealt a severe blow. However in parts of Eastern Europe, the situation seemed to be moving in the right direction: in May Hungary had started dismantling the fence along its border with Austria before removing restrictions on travelling abroad, in June in Poland Solidarność had won the first semi-free elections and one of its leaders had been appointed prime minister. Could change finally reach the German Democratic Republic? For a while that evening confusion and caution prevailed. I went down to have dinner with my mum. My dad was away on a business trip. We sat by the fireplace in the dining room listening to the radio. Shortly after 8 pm it was mentioned the West German ARD TV station had announced East Germany had opened its borders to everyone. After the main course, we took our dessert upstairs to watch TV but nothing was happening. Streets on the other side of the Wall near the Brandenburg Gate were desperately empty. Then the news filtered that a few people had begun to gather at the Bornholmer Straße border crossing and the guards were letting some of them through. Before long, a few people became a huge crowd and similar scenes began to repeat themselves at other crossings. By 11 pm that night, unable to contain the mass of people chanting “open the gate”, it was decided to raise the traffic barriers. Until very late that night, we watched, full of excitement and hope, as the Berlin Wall came down. Little did I know then that among those demonstrators in Leipzig was my partner, a young student back then, who was watching the country she had grown in disappear.
Since the reunification in 1990, the eastern lander have been changing dramatically, especially their cities, but traces of the old regime can still be found here and there. In the small town where my in-laws live, a few murals and monuments of socialist inspiration survive. On a cobbled road, darker cobbles laid on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the GDR still spell “25 DDR”. In Leipzig, where the centre has undergone impressive changes, what really catches the eye are the few East German neon signs that have been preserved.

It is said that during a meeting between Marshal Tito and Erich Honnecker in the early 1970s, the Yugoslav leader made some comments about the sad look of East Germany. Everywhere you looked, everything was grey. Apparently the comment hurt the new secretary general of the SED enough for the East German authorities to launch shortly afterwards the “Leipzig – City of Water and Lights” Initiative, to bring colours to the city. It was partly under this initiative that these colourful neon signs were designed.
Contrary to the West where the primary aim of advertising is to lure consumers into buying, in a system of state monopolies, like that of the former GDR, advertising fulfilled another function. Indeed, given the lack of choice and sometimes limited availibility of some products, advertising was not there to stimulate sales but instead to show people how well the socialist economy was performing.
The choice of Leipzig by the party’s central committee was certainly not fortuitous: the trade fairs, which date back to the Middle Ages, continued to attract tens of thousands of visitors from both sides of the Iron Curtain and the city would have been, together with East Berlin, a showcase for the GDR.

Situated on Lenin Straße (renamed in 1991 Prager Straße), a major thoroughfare, only a short distance away from the old Messehaus Bugra where the Leipzig Book Fair used to take place, the building of the Leipziger Kommissions- und Großbuchhandelsgesellschaft (LKG) was one few visitors would have missed. LKG was founded in June 1946 by Karl Klaer and Walter Bleck. What was originally a small private company with seven employees became by 1951 the largest book distributor and wholesaler of the German Democratic Republic. It was nationalized in 1963. By 1989 LKG employed 1,200 persons and had a turnover of 1.18 billion East German marks. Yet the collapse of the GDR had dramatic consequences for the company. By 1992 its turnover barely reached 20 million DM and its workforce had been reduced to 60 employees. In August that year it was privatized through a management buy-out. In 1995, as part of the company’s expansion plan, it left its historic headquarters in Prager Straße just south of the city center and moved to Espenhain, 20 km south of Leipzig. The second half of 1990s witnessed a rapid expansion of LKG and in 2002 its turnover reached 120 million euros. In 2009 it became a subsidiary of Koch, Neff & Oetinger, a book distributor based in Stuttgart.

[The more you read
The more you know
The more you can do]

Location: Prager Straße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

The most famous neon sign in the city is the amazing 45 m2 VEB Feinkost Leipzig (literaly the Leipzig Grocers’ People-owned Enterprise) below. Commonly known as the "Löffelfamilie", or "Spoon Family", it adorns what used to be the company's main building. It was one of the first signs produced under the “Leipzig – City of Water and Lights” initiative at a cost of 660 East German marks. It was designed in 1973 by Theo Hesselbarth und Jürgen Mau, who brought together the colours and animation of the Las Vegas “Go West Cowboy” and the traditional image of a family. The “Löffelfamilie” sign certainly brightened the rather dull cityscape and soon became a famous landmark. However the lights were switched off when VEB Feinkost Leipzig collapsed in 1991. Fortunately the building, together with its distinctive sign, was listed in 1993 and restored in 1999 after the local cultural association naTo purchased it for a symbolic 1 DM. The company that had originally made the neon lights provided replacement lights. Sadly in December that year, just before the party during which the sign was to be switched on, the “Löffelfamilie” was badly damaged by the “Autonome Leuchtkommando" to “spoil the fun of the stupid trendy yuppies” (according to the letter in which they justified their action). Having just spent a lot of money to bring the place and sign back to life, there was simply no fund available for repairs to the “Löffelfamilie.” Since then some funds have been collected but much more would be needed to bring the family back to the dining table...

Obst- und Gemüsekonserven,
tischfertige Gerichte,
doppelt konzentrierte Suppen.
[Canned Fruits and Vegetables,
Ready to Serve Dishes,
Double Concentrated Soups.]

Location: Karl-Liebknecht-Straße, Leipzig, Sachsen / Pictures taken on: 07/11/2008

More East German electric signs soon...

Friday, 6 November 2009

Deane & Co chemists, Clapham Common

Last night we went to see the fireworks on Clapham Common. Hadn't it been pitch black, we might have been able to glimpse the painted sign below, one of several found in that part of London.

Deane & Co.

Location: The Pavement / Picture taken on: 07/03/2008

I haven't posted many signs or mosaics this week, but to mark the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, I'll post several electric signs from the former GDR on Monday...

Monday, 2 November 2009

Laundry, Harlesden

Last week it was announced that the budget for 2010 of the Venezuelan executive had been increased by a staggering 638.6% to reach one billion euros!!! The wage of Hugo Chávez didn't increase much (contrary to Sarkozy's: the French president granted himself a 140% wage increase following his election) and part of the money is redistributed through eight social programmes supported by the presidency. Still, that is quite a rise, and some expenses are simply outrageous. Chávez even declared he was ashamed by some of them but argued they were necessary if he were to fulfil his representation duties: 240,000 euros in clothes and shoes, and 61,000 in laundry... If part of that money had crossed the Atlantic and reached London, maybe the laundry below could have afforded a new coat of paint...

Location: High Street / Picture taken on: 17/08/2009

P. F. Butcherd, eletrical, radio and television engineers, Seaford

Today marks the 73rd anniversary of the BBC Television Service (which has since then become BBC One). The BBC had broadcasted the first ever television programme on September 30, 1929, but for a few years did so irregularly and using the signals normally used for its radio programmes. Then on November 2, 1936 the Television Service, which broadcasted from Monday to Saturday from 15:00 to 16:00, and from 21:00 to 22:00, was launched. As the Beeb writes on its website:
1936 World’s first ever TV service launched
The world's first public broadcasts of high-definition television are made by the BBC from Alexandra Palace in 1936. Two competing systems, Marconi-EMI's 405-line system and Baird's 240-line system, are installed, each with its own broadcast studio, and are transmitted on alternate weeks until the 405-line system is chosen in 1937.
With such systems the absolutely amazing images of Life, the nature documentary narrated by David Attenborough, would have looked... less spectacular; but at the time the few people who had access to a TV set certainly found this technological development quite astonishing! The number of viewers would have been extremely limited indeed. Just under 19,000 TV sets were manufactured between 1936 and the beginning of the Second World War, when production was interrupted (in any case, the television service was taken off the air until June 1946 ). It was only in the 1950s and 1960s that the number households equiped with a TV set increased dramatically: from 15,000 in 1947, to 1.4 million in 1952, and 15.1 million by 1968.
By then almost every single town in the country had at least one shop selling and repairing radio and TV sets, as well as record players and other electrical equipments. One of them was Butcherd's in Seaford.

P. F. Butcherd
Electrical, Radio
Television Engineers
Estabd 1925 Phone 2383 [?]
HMV Brunswick
Columbia Decca
Parlophone Regal

Unfortunately this sign is well-hidden in a dark corner, and it was quite late when I spotted it. After walking along the coast from Eastbourne, we stopped on Seaford Head to enjoy the view over the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters in the late afternoon light and only made it to Seaford just as the sun disappeared. Not the ideal condition for a good picture! I'll have to try again next time we'll be there.

Location: Clinton Place, Seaford / Picture taken on: 25/07/2009

T. H. Sanders & Sons, and Wreaths & Crosses, Barnes

In most countries, the Day of the Dead is a pretty sombre, private affair. In France people will have used the bank holiday of November 1 to bring chrysantenums to cemeteries. On the contrary, in Mexico, where Catholic and pre-Columbian beliefs mingle, All Saints and the Day of the Dead give rise to colourful, cheerful, public celebrations wonderfully described by the Mexican writer Elena Poniatowska in an article published a few years ago. Death is part of life. Everywhere people can buy a sugary sweet in the shape of a skull and add their name on it before gobbling it down. The so-called bread of the dead, shaped like bones, is an another popular treat. The favourite drinks, food, clothes, objects, and, if they died at a yound age, toys of the deceased are placed on altars and tumbs while petals of bright flowers show them the way to their former homes. The death of a loved one is still a tragedy, but at least honouring the dead isn't as morbid as it can be on this side of the Atlantic. Between the two traditions, I know which one I'd prefer...
So to celebrate the Day of the Dead, here are two painted signs for funeral parlours, separated by one century at least.

This funeral parlour is still open today and the sign above was repainted relatively recently.

Location: Barnes High Street / Picture taken on: 21/03/2008

On the contrary, the one below shut several decades ago, and the building now houses a clothing shop. Only a couple of words above the entrance door can give an indication as to the original use of the premises. Just as I was taking my picture, a lady passed by and told me the sign used to extend to the left. Unfortunately this pretty elaborate sign written with an elegant typeface, which would have been visible as people passed along the main street of the neighbourhood, had been wiped out quite some time ago.

Estd 1884

Location: White Hart Lane / Picture taken on: 31/07/2009

Sunday, 1 November 2009

St Andrew's church, Lambeth

For Catholics two important celebrations take place at the beginning of November: All Saints on the first, and All Souls, also sometimes called Day of the Dead, on the second. Even if you are not a Catholic but live in a country with a strong Catholic tradition, there would be something to celebrate as today is a bank holiday. So if Henry VIII hadn't broken from Rome, who knows, we may have enjoyed a day off tomorrow...
Even though St Andrew's wasn't a Catholic Church, this sign seemed appropriate enough for today's post.

St Andrew's

St Andrew's stood in Coin Street, a continuation of Windmill Walk. The church was badly damaged during the Second World War and remained empty for a few years before it was demolished.
Below is a short description of St Andrew's from Survey of London: Volume 23: Lambeth: South Bank and Vauxhall, edited by Sir Howard Roberts and Walter H. Godfrey, and published in 1951.
During the 1840s population swarmed into the network of mean streets and houses north and south of Upper Stamford Street and in 1846, in accordance with Peel's Act “to make better Provision for the Spiritual Care of populous Parishes,” Prince's Town or Meadows was formed into a new church district by Order in Council. It had no permanent church for 10 years, but in 1854 the Commissioners for Building New Churches, having failed in their attempts to purchase ground from the Duchy of Cornwall, bought a plot between Prince's Street (now Coin Street) and Cornwall Road from Richard Palmer Roupell. This ground had formerly been part of Curtis's Botanical Garden. The Church of St. Andrew's was designed by Samuel Sanders Teulon in a style described at the time as “Geometric Decorated.” It seated nearly 800 people and cost just over £ 10,000. One item in the bill was for extra digging and driving piles “consequent upon the tides.” The church was consecrated in June, 1856. In 1874 the vicar, the Rev. Frederick Tugwell, bought additional land and rebuilt one of the aisles, inserting five windows in what had previously been a blank wall.
Location: Windmill Walk / Picture taken on: 06/05/2009