Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Thursday, 19 December 2013

But I can still see you!

British Invisible Mending Service, Marylebone, London

The shop has apparently been at the premises in 32 Thayer St for about 30 years. Owned by the same family since 1946, it was established around 1916, giving Londoners invisible repairs for nearly a century. But still pretty visible in Marylebone.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

A proper cinema

This is the Savoy Cinema, on Heaton Moor Road, Stockport, and I love it. A small independent cinema with about 460 seats, it opened in 1923 and is still going today.

As you can see by the foliage growing from the brickwork, it’s gone through thin times, battling for customers with the mighty, characterless and ugly multiplex cinemas only a short drive away.

The Savoy shows the latest films at modest prices and somehow I’d feel extraordinarily guilty if I were to take my custom elsewhere. It is a proper cinema experience. Described recently by The Guardian as “a wonderfully endearing timewarp”, it is old, cold and sometimes leaky. But for me its orange fun fur seats, shabby decor and vintage tickets (see bonus photo below) just add to the fun of it.

It suffered a ghastly makeover (I blame the 1970s) which unfortunately covered up its rather wonderful portico, adding nasty tiles and boxing in the frontage. Have a look here to see what it was like as recently as 1970. Ever the optimist, I’m rather hoping the original pillars are still intact, entombed within the modernisation.

I think the Savoy is still a bit of a well-kept secret, though I’ve noticed the audience seems to get bigger every time I visit. That said, we often manage to achieve the supreme prize of getting a full row to ourselves. Luxury.

See you there soon.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Concrete proof

I was unnecessarily excited when I found this sign and it put a spring in my step all day (so my wobbly hand was even wobblier than usual - apologies for the blurry shot). It’s on the Mancunian Way in Manchester, otherwise known as the A57(M). I love the very sixties design of the plaque, which goes perfectly with the brutalist structure I was walking under. Opened by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967, the Mancunian Way is just two miles long and arches over Manchester giving great views of the city. It won the Concrete Society’s first award in 1968. Rather wonderfully, the A57(M) features on a fab website called Pathetic Motorways ( - a better read than you might at first imagine; have a look). Manchester’s concrete superiority has been recognised a few more times in the 45 years since that first award: the MMU’s School of Art and Design won the Education category this year, and its Student School won the Sustainability Award last year. Other notable winners include the Beetham Tower Hotel (2007) and the City Art Gallery (2003). You can see the full list on the Concrete Society's website here .

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Out of control

Yes, I think I know him. Shocking the way he runs round uncontrolled like that.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

As grim as it looks

This is the sign for the men’s toilets in the Stockport Air Raid Shelters. Opened in 1939, at the start of World War Two, they were the largest purpose-built civilian air raid shelters in the country, providing cover for 6,500 people. Nearly a mile long, they were cut into red sandstone cliffs and boasted facilities including electric light, sick bays, bunk beds and, yes, toilets – 16-seater toilets.

You can see the shelters – and their toilets – at 61 Chestergate Street, Stockport. Nicknamed the Chestergate Hotel, it became a familiar haunt for families during the Blitz. It’s open to visitors, and recently refurbished. Hot and moist, you can see the toilets, their cheek-by-cheek seats, flimsy modesty curtains and open flushing system. Thankfully the council stopped short of providing authentic smells, offering instead a rather fab audio tour.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

London and North Western Railway Goods Warehouse

I like Victorian industrial buildings. Victorians loved to make even the most functional structures look beautiful, and sometimes slightly whimsical – decorated temples for the worship of industry or castles to celebrate commerce.

Not far from Stockport’s fantastic viaduct is this rather grand warehouse, formerly the London and North Western Railway Goods Warehouse (and now, appropriately, a Safestore storage building).
Grade II listed, it was built in 1877 in an Italianate style – a style shared by even grander buildings such as Osborne House, Queen Victoria’s holiday home on the Isle of Wight.
Pleasingly, this sign (on the railway side of the warehouse) is one reason the building is listed. The fancy architecture and prominent display of the name did what they were designed to do - a good job of promoting the London and North Western Railway.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Despatch to all parts of the world

This sign in Portugal Street, London WC2, caught my eye. It’s on the old head office building of WH Smith. The sign was damaged by shrapnel from a World War Two air raid on 10 October 1940. The sharp holes are a small but poignant reminder of the destruction of war. 

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

A grave invitation

This spooky sign inviting you to enter a tomb was on a grave in St Paul’s, Shadwell, East London.

The church is close to the docks and is known as the Church of Sea Captains, with over 70 sea captains buried in the graveyard. Captain Cook was a member of its congregation, and John Wesley preached there (- of course he did. It’s a merry day for me if I discover somewhere he didn’t preach). The handsome building is a “Waterloo church”, funded by Parliament to celebrate the Battle of Waterloo victory.

I didn’t accept the invitation to enter the tomb. Nice offer, but I was dead busy, didn’t want to get out of my depth, had a bit more skull-king around to do and, anyway, I’m a lazy-bones.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Walk on the wild side

This sign made me smile – it’s the inverted commas that amuse me. What are they meant to convey, I wonder? Just how wild was this fish? Caged or house trained? Absolutely raging or just a bit irritated? Naturally, to comedy lovers of a certain age (me), a sign like this will trigger Gerald the Gorilla jokes from Not the Nine O’clock News (“Wild? I was livid!”).

The sign was outside the Easy Fish Company in Heaton Moor, Stockport ( It’s a rather wonderful shop, even for a vegetarian (me again, hence my ignorance of fishy adjectives). It doesn’t just sell fish - the cheese counter is great, the bread good and the Christmas goodies last year were mouth watering. Obviously I’m hoping for a whole series of signs – Cross carp? Mad monkfish? Cheesed off cheddar? Well, you get the picture.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

It’s all just vandalism, or is it?

I took this a few years ago in Anglesey. It was on the door of a works lock-up at the (completely fabulous) Parys slate mine. I thought it was rather lovely, and worth bringing out again in the light of Banksy’s recent New York sales stunts. Is it art or is it vandalism? Do you know what you like? Discuss.

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Mourning orders promptly executed

This is a great ghost sign in Stockport market for Emersons tailors – amazing to think you could get an order made up in eight hours. I’m glad it’s survived the recent restoration to the area.

For those of you who think Stockport is all Primark and chavs, visit the market and think again. It’s been going over 750 years. It’s got a great museum based around an ancient staircase (yes it really is interesting), a museum telling the history of the town, and if you’re lucky you might just find the dungeons open. There’s a pretty Victorian covered market, a rather wonderful cheese hall, and the growing number of vintage shops will satisfy those with an eye for a bargain.

Just a couple of streets away, visit the truly fab art deco tea rooms at the Plaza – one of England’s hidden treasures. You could also delight yourself with a visit to the World War Two air raid shelters and the Hat Museum if you still have the energy.

By all means enjoy Primark and chav spotting, too.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Let that be a warning to you

Fantastic old sign in Ambrosden Avenue, Westminster, London (on a building which I believe may be the Archibishop’s House). I love how long it is – and how specific. Chalking OR writing – so, ok to paint a picture then? And the boast about the telephone is wonderfully superior and final, almost as if it’s invoking batman or a bit of black magic.  

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Floating Bridge Road

Floating Bridge Road, Southampton
I couldn’t resist this sign as it brought back memories. The words themselves sound improbable and make me smile, though it seems wrong somehow that it’s such a shiny new sign on such a neat brick wall. I loved going on the creaky old floating bridge when I was a child. It meant treats in Woolston, the flea pit cinema and fish and chips. The floating bridge crossed the River Itchen from Southampton to Woolston from 1836-1977. It was replaced by an impressive high, curving toll bridge – more efficient, but not as much fun. A painting of the floating bridge by LS Lowry is in the excellent Southampton City Art Gallery – a fantastic small collection with imaginative displays, always worth a visit. Not far from Floating Bridge Road is Canute Road, where (probably) King Canute tried to turn back the tide to teach his yes men a lesson.