Sunday, 30 March 2014


I spotted this fabulous blast from the past in the Portico Library, Manchester, and sat through an entire meeting transfixed, desperate to press it. Would it conjure up a wheezing old man from the 19th century, tugging his forlock and begging to carry my books? I didn’t press it, so I never found out.

The Portico is a bit of a surprise. It opened in 1806 as a library and newsroom and is still an independent library, in its original Grade II listed building on Mosley Street in Central Manchester (though these days the building below is no longer a bank but a pub). Its famous members include Elizabeth Gaskell (did she summon the porter with that bell, I wonder?). Current patrons include Val McDermid, Jenni Murray and the wonderful Stuart Maconie. 

Sunday, 23 March 2014

Cat alert!

The lovely people at Battersea Dogs and Cats Home showed me around and I got to see Larry the Downing Street cat’s old pen, with its very own sign. Founded in 1860, the home is well known for its care of dogs, yet it started taking cats as early as 1883. Larry, of course, now has a high social media profile of his own, tweeting as @Number10cat and @DowningStCat, continuing cats’ dominance of the internet.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Old Bond Store

No, not the place to store Sean Connery, Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan, but a 19th century Grade II listed warehouse in Back of the Walls, Southampton.

Sunday, 9 March 2014

A great pear

I’m not sure whether the great fat pear on the top of this building is, strictly speaking, a sign, but I’m including it because I love it. This is Pear Mill, in Bredbury, Stockport, one of the last cotton spinning mills to be built. A Grade II listed building with six storeys, it started production in 1913, employing about 300 people. Apparently mills of this period were often flamboyantly decorated – the pear tops the mill’s water tower. Its life as a textile mill ceased in 1978 and, happily, the mill and its pear are now home to a variety of thriving businesses, including a play centre, home furnishing, a gym and a cycle shop.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Performs 10 hours

I love this wonderful old sign, spotted on the Star Hotel in High Street, Southampton. The 18th century coaching inn has seen better days (probably in the 18th century – its current external paintwork certainly looks sadly ancient) but happily the sign survives. The Star is just a few doors away from the Dolphin, a lovely 17th century inn where Jane Austen once danced. A 10 hour journey time from Southampton to London was presumably good enough to boast about in stone two hundred years ago. By contrast, National Express now runs 16 coaches to London a day, and the trip takes just two hours 15 minutes.

The Star Hotel 
The Dolphin Hotel