Ghost Signs

Old, faded advertising slogans painted on buildings are an evocative feature of Clerkenwell and offer a glimpse into EC1’s commercial past. Here’s our guided tour of half a dozen of our local ‘ghost signs.’

Black Cat Cigarettes
22 Dingley Road (rear)
The giant cat of Clerkenwell is our most famous old sign. The Black Cat brand, launched in 1904 and produced at a factory in City Road, was one of the first machine- made cigarettes and popular in army rations. “One of my personal favourites,” says Sam Roberts of the Ghostsigns archive. “I got this shot by asking someone to let me onto the third-floor balcony of the nearby flats. Hopefully the picture gives a sense of the size – big for London at three storeys high.”

Salvation Army Hostel
88 Old Street (side)
The words of this sign can just be made out: hostel for working men, cheap beds and food. The Salvation Army was founded in Whitechapel just over 150 years ago as a church and charity organised along military lines. This hostel was opened in the late 19th century. In 1937, a report of Finsbury’s Medical Officer of Health recorded that 290 homeless men were staying on one night in February. Today charity work continues in the building: it’s the HQ of housing charity Shelter.

Uniquip Uniforms
11 Clerkenwell Green (rear)
Built in 1878, this warehouse was home to the Venetian Glass Bevelling Co. It later became workshops for Uniform Clothing & Equipment Co, but was destroyed by fire in 1913. Some years after it was rebuilt, the rear wall became exposed following demolition of bomb-damaged Clerkenwell Road (the sign is visible by the former car valeting site). The company – renamed Uniquip – remained until the Nineties, when No 11 was converted into offices.

Lloyd & Son
42 Amwell Street
Built in 1823, this corner house was first occupied by olive oil vendors and then became an auctioneers with a saleroom from 1860 until 1914. It was adapted into a dairy by a certain Lloyd Lloyd (known locally as ‘Lloyd Squared’) and the family ran it for three generations. In 1972, it was described as “one of the finest existing dairies, worth anyone’s pilgrimage”. After some years of disuse, it reopened as the Unpackaged grocery (2007- 12) with the shopfront and interior largely intact; it is now BHC hairdresser. You can still see the original mosaic at the store entrance.

Finsbury Van & Wheel Works
196 Old Street (side)
Adjacent to a petrol station, this Victorian building has one of the best preserved (and highest) ghost signs in the area, with a pointing hand to draw your eye. Plaques  on the site detailed the history of St Luke’s Parochial Schools, based here from 1870 to 1972. We’re used to school sponsorship now, but it seems St Luke’s had advertising for this business – probably J Liversidge and Son, based at the rear of the property – a century ago. The recessed concrete sign is also a reminder of the former borough of Finsbury. No 196 is now an office building.

Dundee Evening Telegraph
185 Fleet Street
Famously the last man standing in Fleet Street, Scottish publisher DC Thomson (best known for The Beano) has been in the newspaper business since 1886 when it acquired the Dundee Courier. The building next to St Dunstan-in-the-West also features old adverts for the Dundee Evening Telegraph and The People’s Friend (all three are still published today). Sweeney Todd, the (fictional) demon barber of Fleet Street, was based in a courtyard behind the building. American tourists still make enquiries, but today it’s just newspapers that get recycled.

The History of Advertising Trust Ghostsigns Archive welcomes new additions from members of the public. Sam Roberts runs the photo archive, organises walking tours and he is editing a forthcoming book.