Friday, 29 January 2010

Essential French signs

It's been some time since I last posted some French painted signs. Therefore today you get three from the lovely small town of Saint-Savinien, on the shore of the river Charente. Although their design isn't amazing, they are very typical and you would find similar ones across the whole country.

First stop, in a narrow street that runs from the quay to the market square, the Maison de la presse or newsagent's. It's been closed for quite a while but the sign is still there.

Next, on the quay, is the Alimentation générale, one of the groceries found in town. Actualy they sell more than just food (fishing gear, souvenirs, tobacco, spirits, and wine) as indicated on the façade.

de pêches
Alimentation générale Fruits. Primeurs
Spiritueux -
Tabacs Vins

Finally, here is one of these quintessential French shops: the bakery. In that particular case the Boulangerie de la Marine, where you can also buy cakes and ice creams.

Location: Saint-Savinien, Charente-Maritime / All pictures taken on: 03/10/2008, except third one taken on 13/10/2006

Thursday, 28 January 2010

Kit Kat dining rooms, Fulham

In spite of the red coat of paint, if the angle is right, it is still possible to spot a painted name on the corner of this building.

Kit Kat

Does it mean they only served Kit Kats? And does the name come from the chocolate-covered biscuit or from the Kit Kat club (but its members didn't meet anywhere near this place) ...

Location: Munster Road / Picture taken on: 17/04/2008

Fuller's Removals, Walworth

Since this morning is going to be very busy I've chosen a pretty straightforward sign there isn't much to write about.

All Day
Th... W..

Location: Walworth Road / Picture taken on: 16/07/2009

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

G. Gole Antique furniture, Dorking

The market town of Dorking in Surrey has quite a few antique shops. Most of them can be found along West Street, but this painted sign is at the opposite end of town. The unusual lettering is very elegant.

G. Gole
Antique Furniture,
China, Curio & Prints.
Repairs a Speciality.

Location: High Street, Dorking, Surrey / Picture taken on: 05/05/2008

W & Co., Herne Hill

Only two colours, but what an elaborate lettering! Shame that with initials only it is not possible to find out who it was for.

Maybe a look at local history books could cast some light on that mystery.

Location: Railton Road / Picture taken on: 16/07/2009

May Oatway fire alarm, The City

This morning I was looking at the fallow deer grazing peacefully in Richmond Park, when suddenly a red engine with its sirens at full blast whizzed past our windows to attend what looked like a small house fire a couple of streets away.

Originally fire alarm systems were pragmatic and pretty rudimentary. They relied on people spotting the fire and then sounding the alarm with bells, whistles, whatever... However the rapid urban expansion that began in the second half of the nineteenth century required more efficient systems. In the early 1850s two Americans, William F. Channing and Moses Farmer, designed fire alarm boxes with telegraphic keys. Thus the alarm could be raised faster, but the system still relied on human input. Further progress came with heat sensors or thermostats. Between 1873 and 1900 more than thirty different models appeared on the market. Yet these early heat sensors had one major inconvenient: they only triggered the alarm when a preset temperature was reached, usually between 55 and 70 degrees. Thus a low preset temperaure could be safer but would certainly result in false alarms, while a too high one could be fatal. Such a shortcoming was partially corrected by dual detectors, that sent a warning before sounding an alarm if the temperature continued to increase.
An interesting development in fire alarms came in the early twentieth century from the May-Oatway Fire Appliances company. Founded by George Henry Oatway and Charles Edward May, and based at 92-94 Paul Street in the City, it developed a simple and much smaller device that
used a copper wire sensor, the ends of which were connected to a short compensating steel channel fixed to the ceiling. A rapid rise in temperature would cause the copper to expand, and either lower a silvered cone onto electrical contacts or tilt a mercury switch. A gradual rise in temperature would cause both the copper wire and the steel channel to slowly expand in unison and hence the copper would not sag to the same extent. However, the coefficient of expansion of copper is approximately 1.5 times that of steel, and so the detector would switch before excessively high temperatures were reached.
(Robert Bud and Deborah Warner, eds, Instruments of Science: An Historical Encyclopaedia, p. 242)
This fire alarm was patented in the US in June 1906. May-Oatway systems were sold throughout the British empire, and subsidiaries were set up in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada, as well as in the US.
There is very little information available on the web about the company apart from several ads placed in journals roughly between 1900 and the First World War.
At least a painted sign can still be spotted on its London site.


As for fire alarms, the next stage in their development came in the 1950s with the introducion of the smoke detector.

Location: Paul Street / Picture taken on: 19/04/2008

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

F. Searle, and S. Johnson; Salisbury

As the train from London approaches Salisbury, passengers can catch a quick glimpse of not one but two painted signs. Not much to say about both businesses. Many buchers and fishmongers in Salisbury had lovely tiled fronts and quite a few survive around town but R. Searle's is not one of them (if he ever had any that is).

The height of the wall must have been raised since these signs were painted. I am reasonably tall but still had to stand on tiptoe to get the two pictures below. Even so I couldn't get the last line as the picture I took from street level revealed. Of course the flower bed didn't help to get any closer (but whenever railway staff do their best to improve the appearance of a platform, you don't want to go and sabotage their efforts).

R. Searle
Fish, Game
And Poultry Salesman
87 Fisherton St.

S. Johnson
Draper & Milliner
144 Fisherton St.
Next to Subway

This sign was painted twice using the same layout, only the second time it was about one-sixth larger.

The two signs from the street. The wall is only a couple of metres away from the railway bridge.

Location: Fisherton Street, Salisbury, Wiltshire / Pictures taken on: 15/08/2009 (first three) and 09/08/2009 (last one)

Jay Bros, Ealing

Here is a medium-size but pretty attractive and nicely preserved sign. The light blue shading makes the grey letters of the name come out nicely, while the inclined part of 'Bros' adds some dynamics to it. Below, even if the gold shading has faded a bit and almost mixes with the yellow-ish background, it still brings the black letters out efficiently.

Jay Bros

Since there is no address, we can assume they were based in the very building this sign was painted on.

This is yet another example of a sign painted on top of an earlier one. It this case it advertized
G Black
Specialist in
Maybe the predecessor of the Jay brothers at this address.

Location: Uxbridge Road / Picture taken on: 19/07/2008

SPO, Earlsfield

Some of the signs I've been posting so far this year came with a bit of history about the product(s) or the company. Unfortunately today's sign has faded too much to identify the company in question or the nature of its business.

S. P. O.
..ons [?]

Actually there is another, earlier, sign on this wall but I can't make anything out the few letters that can still be spotted here and there. Traces of it make the 'O' look like a 'Q' (then only a 'R' would have been missing to attribute this sign to the Romans: Senatus Populusque Romanus...)

Location: Garratt Lane / Picture taken on: 04/03/2008

Monday, 25 January 2010

Claude Bastable, Harlesden

Ah zut! Just when I thought the phone number of Steeles was strange (last lines of the post), here another weird one. Or is it me not being able to read properly what's on the wall?

Claude Bastable
Builder Will 81082

Location: Tubbs Road / Picture taken on: 17/08/2009

Adams Pepsin Chewing Gum, Camden

When Thomas Adams brought in early 1870 his first 200 balls of chicle to a New York drugstore little did he know he was about to launch an almost worldwide phenomenon. Chewing gum was nothing new -actually men were already chewing tree resin in prehistoric times- but it was American entrepreneurs who turned it into a mass product during the last decades of the nineteenth century.

Adams, a photographer and inventor, was trying to make rubber tyres when he was introduced to general Antonio López de Santa Anna, the exiled Mexican caudillo who had governed his country on seven occasions (yes, the one who won at El Alamo in 1836 only to lose at San Jacinto a few weeks later. Thus Mexico lost Texas. In 1838 it was his leg he lost during the Pastry War against the French). Santa Anna was trying to finance a military expedition to oust the Mexican government by selling large quantities of the natural gum from the Manilkara chicle, a tree found in the Yucatán peninsula and across Central America (that expedition never happened). Attracted by the rubber-like qualities of the sample he was given, Adams ordered one ton from Mexico. Yet all his experiments to make tyres out of chicle failed. Then one day he entered a drugstore and overheard a little girl asking for some chewing gums. Intrigued, Adams asked the shopkeeper what that was. The answer was a by-product of paraffin wax sold under the name Curtis White Mountain (Curtis had launched the first commercial chewing gum ‘Maine Pure Spruce Gum’ in 1848 but a combination of the spruce resin’s bad natural taste and deforestation led to the introduction in 1850 of vanilla and liquorice flavoured paraffin wax). Immediately Adams realized he had found what to do with his stock of chicle, whose chewing qualities were much better. The first batch of gums he brought to the store sold rapidly. He was quickly back, this time with boxes of 200 strips wrapped in colourful tissue. A picture of New York's town hall adorned these boxes of 'Adams New York No. 1'. To convince other shopkeepers to store his chewing gums, he offered them to take them back if they couldn't sell them. That wasn't necessary. They were an immediate success and by 1871 Adams founded Adams & Son and opened his first factory. There was one problem with chicle though: it was tasteless and did not absorb flavours easily. With its strong taste liquorice looked ideal and so 'Adams Black Jack' was born. Sour oranges also proved popular at the time. Adams success encouraged other entrepreneurs to launch their own brands of chewing gums in other parts of the US. From the beginning Adams understood that communication and proximity to the customers were essential. As William Wrigley Jr later declared, "anyone can make gum, selling it is the problem" (and Wrigley, who produced the first mint chewing gums, was an expert in that domain). Thus Adams placed ads on billboards at key positions along Broadway, and in 1888 he installed vending machines of his invention on the platforms of New York's elevated subway to get commuters to chew his brand new Tutti Frutti gums during their journeys.

Meanwhile in Ohio, while carrying out some experiments, Dr. Edward Beenam realized that the pepsin found in pigs' stomach could be turned into powder and prescribed to patients with digestive problems. His remedy available in little blue bottles gave birth to a thriving business. One day though Beenam complained to Nellie Horton, a shop assistant or bookkeeper (depending on the source) that sales had not been as good as expected of late. She was chewing some Yucatán gums made by William J. White and suggested he tried to combine both since pepsin had a nice taste. Beenam's Pepsin Chewing Gum, "a delicious remedy for all forms of indigestions" as a 1891 ad claimed, was born. However the first batches produced by the Beenam Chemical Company of Cleveland did not sell well, mostly because a pig was represented on the wrapping paper. Packaging did matter! Once this blunder was rectified (the animal was replaced by a portrait of Edward Beenam) sales went up and by 1892 his pepsin chewing gums had grown into a half-million-dollar business.

In 1899 Thomas Adams retired as president of Adams & Son, aged 81. That very same year the company became part of the American Chicle Company, a ten-million-dollar trust organized by William J. White. White was a former popcorn salesman who began making chewing gums in the 1880s. Within five years he had accumulated a huge fortune and become "Gum King". Having already distributed chewing gums to congressmen in Washington, it was he who, while visiting England in 1898, put a chewing gum in the hand of the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII, and encouraged him to taste it. Immediately he sent a telegram to the US to tell everyone his chewing gum had been successfully endorsed by the future king! The American Chicle Company brought together not only W. J. White & Sons (Cleveland) and Adams & Sons (New York) but also J. P. Primley (Chicago), the Kiss-Me Gum Company (Louisville), and S. T. Britten & Co. (Toronto). It was in 1899 as well that Edward Beenam sold his chewing gum business to the American Chicle Company. The new company kept successful individual brands going, including Beenam’s Pepsin Chewing Gum (until 1978 that is).

Was it after the American Chicle Company was founded that Adams began making pepsin chewing gums as well? Or had the production begun earlier? Apparently the difference between the two was that while Beenam’s tasted pepsin, in Adams gums the pepsin taste was hidden behind a tutti frutti flavour.

The American Chicle Company was purchased by Warner-Lambert in the early 1960s. In 2000 it was acquired by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, which in 2003 sold its candy brands to Cadbury. Cadbury still retains the rights but very few brands once produced by the American Chicle Company are still available. Adams Pepsin Chewing Gum isn’t one of these.

Chewing Gum

Just in case you wondered, very few chewing gums are still produced using chicle. Synthetics were introduced in the early 1950s and were rapidly adopted across the whole industry, resulting in the collapse of many plantations in the Yucatán peninsula.

If you want to find more about this utterly disgusting product (the taste is awful, the noise some people make when chewing is revolting, and I am not speaking of all the gums that end on the pavement) I would recommend the study Chewing Gum by Michael Redclift.

Finally, here is a quote from Lyndon B. Johnson about Gerald Ford I couldn't resist telling the students when I was teaching American history and politics: "Jerry Ford is so dumb he can't fart and chew gum at the same time."

Location: Ferdinand Street / Picture taken on: 14/08/2009

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Hawkins & Co, Hanwell

After Hawkins of Preston I could resist posting the sign below.

F. Hawkins & Co. Ltd
West London
Grocery & Provision
British Throughout

Location: Broadway / Picture taken on: 19/07/2008

John Hawkins & Sons, Stoke Newington

If I mention the name of John Hawkins, most people will have images of pirates chasing the Spanish gold fleet across the Caribbean to fill their coffers and those of the kingdom, and of the defeat of the Invincible Armada. Few may think of Preston. Yet today's sign is about the other John Hawkins, cotton master in that quintessential industrial town of Lancashire, upon which Coketown in Charles Dicken's Hard Times is based.

Hawkins began as a handloom manufacturer in the 1820s. Having accumulated enough capital, he had become by 1844 the owner a large mill and a member of the Masters' Association. Like many other cotton masters John Hawkins became involved in politics (he was a Liberal of radical inclinations) and was elected town councillor for the St Peter's ward. However when he sought a second term in November 1853 he suffered a heavy defeat, polling only 62 votes. The reason was simple. Preston was in the middle of what would ultimately be its longest and most costly industrial conflict, with 80% of the town's productive capacity coming to a halt, and Hawkins was a particularly uncompromising employer.
During the 1840s Britain had been hit by recession and employers across the country had imposed a series of wage cuts in an attempt to stay ahead of their competitors. By the end of the decade such cuts represented a loss of between 10 and 20 percents for the workers. In Preston competition came mainly from the nearby textile centres of Blackburn or Stockport or, further afield, from those in Yorkshire. Industrial relations were extremely poor and when the cotton workers demonstrated in August 1842 in front of the town’s corn exchange against their deteriorating living and working conditions, the authorities called in the armed troop. Four workers died when they opened fire. Such an attitude led Chartist Alexander Challenger to declare in 1842 that "the cotton lords of Preston are the greatest tyrants in the country. It is well known that they grind their workmen down more than any other persons, getting their work done cheaper, and therefore they can undersell their neighbours." In spite of such dramatic events, the cuts had generally been accepted by the workers, but on the understanding that wages would go back up as soon as the situation would improve. By the end of 1852 prosperity had returned to Britain and throughout the country workers striked to demand a 10 percent increase, which was often granted. Yet in Preston, where new mills were being built and old ones expanded, only a few mill owners offered increases to weavers and spinners. Thirty-six employers showed no intention of following suit. One of the latter was John Hawkins, who even had the nerve of offering a pay rise to his weavers by cutting the wage of the tacklers! Tension rose and on September 15 the Masters' Association announced the mills would be locked from October 15. Not all mills were involved in the lock out, but John Hawkins's was. In February the cotton masters reopened their mills, hoping the workforce would return on their terms after several weeks without any income (altough collections were organized throughout the town and country). However the workers were not ready to give in and went on strike, a move the mill owners countered by bringing people from Manchester, Yorkshire and even the south and Ireland. Many were convinced to turn back by the unions but time was against the workers. The union funds were running dry and a series of internal conflicts in China led in late 1853-early 1854 to a 50% reduction in the demand for English cotton. The industry was once more in financial trouble. Finally on May Day the workers voted to return to work. Even though this was Preston’s most important conflict, it was not the last one: workers went again on strike in 1869, following further wage reductions, 1878, and 1912.
As for the mill owners, in spite of several short term depressions, they continued to expand and when John Hawkins died in 1873, the Preston Chronicle described his operations as "gigantic". John was succeeded by his eldest son Joseph.

Of course, all this doesn’t tell us why there is in London, hundreds of miles away from Preston, a painted ad for John Hawkins & Sons... The answer is provided by Mary B. Rose in Firms, Networks, and Business Values: the British and American Cotton Industries Since 1750. After a short boom in the aftermath of the First World War, the cotton industry started facing increasing difficulties from the early 1920s onwards, partly because of the collapse of the Indian market. To minimize losses, productive capacity was reduced and price agreements were negotiated. Yet some firms looked at other ways of increasing their share of the market by moving into direct selling for the home market. Among them were the five spinning and weaving firms of the Preston and Blackburn area, including John Hawkins & Sons, controlled by the Birtwistle family (the Birtwistles were long-established mill owners in Blackburn and were sitting on the board of directors of several other companies). In 1921 under the name John Hawkins (my guess is they chose that name because of the namesake navigator) they opened their first retail outlet and launched a mail order business. From Lancashire they expanded across the rest of the country and by 1937 had a total of 38 outlets including at least one in northeast London.

John Hawkins & Sons Ltd
Cotton Spinners
& Manufacturers
Preston, Lancashire

Actually there is another sign on this wall. It reads:
CLI 2000
Contractors Limited
Plate & Sheet Glass
Merchants &

The CLIS dialling code is a bit strange. I thought those area codes had only three letters, thus more like the CLI one below... Does anyone know which area they are for. Clerkenwell and Islington?

Location: Stoke Newington High Street / Picture taken on: 01/04/2008

Friday, 22 January 2010

Bonsoir pyjamas, Clerkenwell

It is now just past midnight but before I disappear under a warm duvet I shall take two minutes to post this rather appropriate sign:


Location: Turnmill Street / Picture taken on: 10/04/2008

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Player's Navy Cut, Shepherd's Bush

Earlier today I heard on the radio many people book their holidays on the third week of January. Post-Christmas blues and cold winter weather seem to be the main reasons why we choose to head towards travel agencies, in the high street or online. At least it gives us something to look forward to. I say we because we did book our flight tickets last Friday for the Easter holiday. I couldn't think of any painted sign for a travel agency but here is one with an image of someone who would have travelled to many parts of the world (although that would hardly been for leisure). As for the product advertised, the only place it could send you to is your grave, and faster than you may wish.

Navy Cut was launched by John Player & Son Ltd of Nottingham in the early 1890s and is certainly one of the company's best-known brands, largely thanks to its eye-catching logo representing a Royal Navy sailor framed by a lifebelt (this was a combination of two previous labels). During the early years several designs were used. 'Hero', as the sailor was often referred to, appeared with a beard (as on this painted sign) or cleanly-shaven, with just some clouds or with two battleships in the background: HMS Britannia, launched in 1762 (traces of the hull are barely visible to the left of the sailor), and HMS Dreadnought, launched in 1875. In 1927 the design was standardized using a 1905 bearded figure (the Archives & Collection Society has a couple of early designs). From the 1920s 'Hero' increasingly appeared against a white background or alongside other pictures to fit more modern representational forms.

The image of a sailor had originally two purposes. Not only it denoted a popular smoking tradition, but it was also linked to national pride. A Royal Navy sailor was the embodiement of Britishness and British grandeur, a brave man whose life was dedicated to the safeguard of the empire (this is reinforced on the most common version of the logo by the name of the sailor's battleship on his cap: "Hero", altough strangely enough the letters "HMS" were omitted. On other versions the full name, such as "HMS Invincible", is displayed on the cap). Using such a traditional symbol of Britishness to establish a product was common practice in Victorian times. Additionally a military theme would have appealed at the time to many male smokers. During the inter-war years, Player's began targeting women and the manly sailor turned into a sympathetic, almost uncle-like figure who could offer protection. Such an image that could appeal to both genders, coupled with the effective slogan "Player's Please!", helped to boost sales and to put Player's Navy Cut well ahead of the two other leading brands, Craven A and Woodbine.

But who was the popular sailor modelled on? Looking at The Guardian, it looks like there is no definite answer.

Prices quoted on both sides of this pack of Player's Navy Cut Cigarettes Medium are: (upper left) 10 for 6d, and (bottom right) 20 for 11 1/2d.

Location: Uxbridge Road / Pictures taken on: 27/02/2009

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Cars, Trucks; Wimbledon

While some old painted signs have been relatively well preserved and are easy to read, deciphering others can be a bit of a challenge. Then again, sorting out the jumble to reveal what was written is generally fun (although it can also be slightly frustrating sometimes).
In the case of the wall below, although it is possible to distinguish three different layers, some parts are either too intermingled or faded to be able to read them.

The oldest product advertised, written in lower case and italic was hard to identify. It looked like
Fors... [not sure about the 's' though]

This is because it was covered by the most recent layer, which read
To Let
Apply W... W...

Finally the second sign promoting the services of the local garage read:
Cars, Trucks Trac... [Tractors?]

A few more letters could be identified here and there in the lower part, including some making what looked like
painted in white (thus maybe part of the most recent sign), but the rest didn't make much sense...

Unfortunately the wall on which these signs were painted was demolished a few weeks after I too my picture, so no need to jump on your cameras and rush to Wimbledon. All you'll see now is an undistinct small building stuck between the road and the tramway tracks.

Location: Hartfield Road / Picture taken on: 14/03/2008

Otto Born's Weinstuben, Meissen

Somehow two of the signs I posted lately had something to do with wine and spirits, and so does the first mosaic of 2010. Maybe it is a secondary effect of the glass of Port I've been enjoying over the past couple of evenings to fight a cold? (when I was around ten years old I had a bad cold. Our doctor came to visit me, prescribed a couple of tablets and added I should be given a freshly pressed orange juice in the morning and a glass of Port or Sauternes -a lovely sweet wine wine- in the evening).
Anyway, doorstep mosaics are pretty rare in Germany, at least in the eastern part. That's why I was happy to find this one when my in-laws took me to Meissen during our Christmas holidays. It is an appropriate one as well as the town, which is famous around the world for its elaborate porcelain, is right in the Elbe Valley wine region. The vineyards, planted on hills overlooking the river, stretch from Pillnitz, near Dresden, to Diesbar-Seußlitz, north of Meissen and cover an area of around 450 ha, making the wine region one of Europe's smallest and northernmost. Winemaking in that part of Saxony was first mentioned in the 929 Chronicle of Bishop Thiedmar von Merseburg. As for the vineyards on the hills opposite the castle of Meissen, they first appear in an official document from 1161. Needless to say this wine bar is much more recent but I wouldn't be able to date it. The use of the possessive apostrophe is certainly unusual.

Otto Born's

Location: Elbstraße, Meißen, Sachsen / Picture taken on: 20/12/2009

Monday, 18 January 2010

Wine and spirits, Seven Sisters

Contrary to the Medway Coal Company, which did not list the places where it had offices and wharves, leaving people wondering where "Elsewhere" could be, the store below gave the addresses of all the chain's branches in the London area.
Unfortunately I haven't been able to find the name of the store yet (I've looked at all the addresses provided but found nothing on the web. I may have more luck with the history books of the local libraries). A picture taken in 1911 shows the premises were occupied by the Olympia Stores, which sold Hoare and Co.'s stout and ales, but the name wouldn't fit. Would the sign below have been painted before or after?

Tea & Coffee
& Provision
52 & 54 Broadway Stratford
885 & 887 High St. Stratford
175 Drury Lane Holborn
159 Drury Lane Strand
6 Brunswick St. Poplar
62 York Rd. Battersea
18 Broadway London Fields
Agents For
W & A Gilbey's
Wines & Spirits

Walter and Arthur Gilbey began their wine merchant business in 1857. From their first store at the corner of Berwick Street and Oxford Street they expanded rapidly across England through a network of grocers who acted as their agents. For more on the early years of W & A Gilbey, you can refer to Wine and the Vine: An Historical Geography of Viticulture and the Wine Trade by Tim Unwin, pp. 332-333.

Location: West Green Road / Picture Taken on: 04/06/2008

Friday, 15 January 2010

Dowell's Coals, Deptford

Coal merchants, part 1 (part 2)

As a follow up to a painted sign for a German coal merchant post last October, here are two signs for his English counterparts.
The first one may not be there for much longer as the former coal yard is behind redeveloped and the property entrepreneurs in charge of the project may consider it unsightly and certainly at odds with the image of luxury they want to project for their brand new flats (note the sign which promises "the greatest riverside development". Only "ever" at the end is missing!).

Order Office

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

Medway Coal Company, Tonbridge

Coal merchants, part 2 (part 1)

The future of the second sign for the Medway Coal Company seems mor secure. A quick search on the internet doesn't reveal much about the company apart from a few pictures. One shows its Tonbridge office, which was located in a different building than the one where the sign is. Another picture shows one of their horse-drawn carts in what could be their Priory Street coal yard. Finally a third one shows its office in Tunbridge Wells.

Estb 1845
Medway Coal Compy
And At
Tunbridge Wells, Hastings,
London & Elsewhere.

Elsewhere included Maidstone, and Edenbridge, where the company had a wharf next to the Southeastern Railway Station, as I learnt from some court proceedings. In 1853 one servant called Reed had been sent to the Medway Coal Company's wharf with his master's cart for some coal but on the way back disposed of some of it to one Peerless. For that Reed was convicted of the crime of larceny and sent to jail.

Location: Priory Street, Tonbridge, Kent / Picture taken on: 14/06/2009

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Victoria Wine Company, South Norwood

Last October it was announced that after 144 years the Victoria Wine Co. would disappear from our streets after its parent company, First Quench, went burst. In a last minute deal the brand has been bought by a property investment group but the few shops they purchased will be rebranded as Bottoms Up. One more victim of the current economic crisis.

The Victoria Wine Co. was founded in 1865 by William Winch Hughes, four years after the Chancellor of the Exchequer William Ewart Gladstone introduced the first off-premise licences and reduced the duty on imports of French wine. Until then wine was drunk mostly by the upper classes but Hughes believed he could convert the lower and middle classes. To do so he kept prices down by importing his own wine instead of resorting to intermediaries. He also offered free delivery and guaranteed his products were unadulterated (*). From its beginnings in the City of London, the company expanded into East London and the middle-class suburbs of the capital. By 1879 Hughes had 63 shops, a growing number of which were managed by women. Indeed Hughes, and later on his wife, believed women to be more reliable and sober than men. By the time of his death in 1886, Victoria Wine controlled 98 shops across southern England and offered its customers a wide range of wines. They included cheap Spanish and Portuguese wines at 11d a bottle or 3d for a quarter of a pint in the customer's own jug, as well as more expensive ones like a Saumur 'champagne' (actually an inappropriate name since Saumur is not in the Champagne region, but at the time, the name was not protected as it is today) at 25s for a dozen bottles for those who had been persuaded that a glass of wine was a more genteel thing than drinking a glass of beer for a Sunday dinner. In the 1880s the phylloxera epidemics reached its peak and decimated many European vineyards. Consequently to compensate for the scarcity of wine and brandy, Victoria Wine, like other wine merchants, began to offer blended whiskies to its customers. By 1896 it stocked 14 different whiskies priced from 2s 9d a bottle upward.
At Hughes's death his wife Emma inherited the company and managed it until she died in 1911. During that period the company continued to do well but didn't expand: by 1911 there were 96 branches.
Following Emma's death the company was bequeathed to the senior managers. Soon afterwards, one of them, Frank Wood, bought out the other beneficiaries of Emma's will and assumed full control. Wood introduced a few changes to the way the company was run: first, he stopped leasing properties, opting instead for an outright purchase of the premises, especially if they were in a lucrative area, and then in 1920 he turned Victoria Wine into a private limited company. Wood died in 1924 and the company was bought by Sir Charles Edward Cottier, Chairman of Booth's Distillery and John Watney and Company, who turned it into a public company. In 1929, following Collier's death, the company was taken over by Taylor and Walker. Thus Victoria Wine became the first of many wine merchants to be bought by brewers. In spite of a short boom immediately after the First World War in the consumption of alcoholic drinks, demand for wine declined throughout the 1920s and 1930s. The upper classes in particular reduced dramatically their demand and, at the height of the 1930s crisis, some even sold their cellars at private auctions. In that context Victoria Wine, who had opted to sell cheap wine to the mass market, performed better than most wine merchants and thanks to innovative advertising campaigns some of its brands such as Golden Galleon or Victoria Tarragona became relatively popular. In 1934 the company even diversified into tobacco sales.
The post-Second World War years witnessed an impressive restructuring of the brewing sector with a whole series of amalgations and takeovers. As part of this trend Taylor and Walker was taken over by Ind Coope in 1959, which in 1961 joined Tetley Walker and Ansell to form Allied Breweries. Following this amalgation it was decided that most of the group's wines would be sold through Victoria Wine outlets, while another subsidiary of Ind Coope, Grants of St James's, would be in charge of importing and bottling them. Then in 1978 Allied Breweries merged with the food and catering group J. Lyons and Co to form Allied Lyons. In 1994 the latter merged with Pedro Domecq to form Allied Domecq. Four years later Allied Domecq decided to merge its wine retail branch with Threshers, owned by Whitbread, and in 1995 it sold its 50% share of the company to Punch Taverns. Since then the parent company of Victoria Wine passed through several hands and changed its name a few times before adopting the name First Quench Retailing one year before it collapsed.

Victoria Wine
Co. Ltd.
Wines, Spirits, Beers,
Mineral Waters

(*) according to a 1868 article published in The Lancet:
The Victoria Wine Company propose to open in the thickly populated regions of the City a number of stores for the sale of cheap wine; and already they have succeeded in selling to the poor of Hackney, Bethnal-green, islington, and the Old Kent-road port and sherry at one penny per glass, or fourpence per quarter of a pint, including the bottle. These and the other wines on sale are surprisingly good for the price, and, as the subjoined analysis which we have made will show, are far superior in purity to others of much more pretension.
It would, of course, be affectation to assert that the wines of the Victoria Wine Company are made wholly from the grape; but they may be confidently recommended as sound, agreeable, and charged with a sufficient amount of alcohol to render them usefully stimulant and restorative. We Wish the company success in making their wines popular, and in deflecting the current of sound port and sherry into channels hitherto flowing with deleterious brandy and corrosive gin.
Location: Penge Road / Picture taken on: 17/06/2008

Hats, Furs, Caps; Sangerhausen

I wonder whether the freezing temperatures we have been experiencing for the past couple of weeks in Britain have led to a sharp increase in the sales of hats and gloves?
In central Germany, the need to protect oneself during the harsh winter months was clearly not enough to keep this shop going. No more "Hats - Furs - Caps"

Actually I don't think I've ever seen this shop open, and I've been visiting the place for the past fourteen years. As for the reasons why it closed, I can only speculate but a combination of declining population and high unemployment in the area certainly played a role. Additionally, although the frontage wasn't without its charm, the shop was undoubtedly old-fashioned!

Even though this isn't a traditional painted sign (I'm sure there is a proper term for this kind of sign painted or engraved on glass. If you know it, please, enlighten me via the comment box) I still post it because you won't be able to see it anymore. When I walked down the street three weeks ago I noticed the facade, which had survived for some time, had finally been pulled down. A house will be built in its place.

Location: Ulrichstraße, Sangerhausen, Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany / Picture taken on: 08/11/2008

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Rand & Son, Lymington

After weeks of interruption it is now time to bring this blog back to life with a picture taken on a lovely and warm day spent enjoying autumnal colours in the New Forest and a bit of fresh sea air in Lymington. While walking through the centre of the little town I spotted several painted signs including this large one for a local draper.
Rand & Son
General Drapers
Ladies & Children

Traces of an earlier sign can still be spotted.

Location: High Street, Lymington, Hampshire / Picture taken on: 17/10/2009

While visiting Dresden, Meissen and a few other places in Saxony over the Christmas period, and looking at their wonderful medieval, baroque and Art Nouveau (or rather Jugendstil) architecure, I came across around sixty ghost signs. In many cases only the name and nature of the business was written above the door and front windows, but a couple were a bit more elaborate. I shall post some at a later date...