Sunday, 24 December 2017

Saturday, 16 December 2017

Seize the day

Very appealing arty sign in Liverpool's fantastic Rococo coffee house, tucked away in Lord Street. A quote from Horace, urging us to seize the day - or, in this case, rather fab food, cake and coffee.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

Captive audience

This cheery sign welcomes you to Dartmoor Prison Museum. Bleak and dark, even on a sunny day, Dartmoor prison is the major establishment of Princetown, high up on Dartmoor in Devon. It was built for French soldiers taken prisoner during the Napoleonic wars in the early 1800s. Bleak though it is, it must have been better than the cramped prison ships it replaced, which were anchored at nearby Plymouth and rife with disease. American prisoners started arriving in 1813 and Dartmoor soon became overcrowded. Outbreaks of typhoid, pneumonia and smallpox killed over 11,000 prisoners. Once the wars with France and America were over, Dartmoor prison was used for domestic convicts from 1850 and is still in use today. The prison museum is worth a visit - crammed full of history and detail. You get a friendly welcome, and some of the staff are prisoners helping out before they move to an open jail. The prisoners are no longer dangerous criminals working in chain gangs breaking stone on the harsh Dartmoor landscape; instead, they are low category prisoners who are encouraged to do training and learn skills to help them when they are released.

Saturday, 18 November 2017

Model houses for families

An early example of social housing, with a sign proudly proclaiming its purpose. Built by the wonderfully named Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, this handsome Bloomsbury building opened in 1850. It housed 48 families. Each dwelling had a living room, two bedrooms, a scullery and a water closet, and there were communal bathrooms and a laundry. It made a profit of about 5.5% for its investors. The Society's President was Queen Victoria's husband Albert. They had already experimented with a large development in Birkenhead, Wirral, which housed over 300 families; this had not been a success, as the buildings were too close together and the bedrooms too small. However, the London buildings were successful, and as well as homes for families, the society had lodgings elsewhere in London for single men and women. The society was taken over by the Peabody Trust in 1965.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

When things were simple

Remember the simple days when you got your gas from the Gas Board, your electricity from the Electricity Board and your phone from the Post Office? Wait, what - the Post Office? It doesn't sound quite so obvious in these days of multiple providers, myriad models and a bewildering array of packages to pick from. I bet the phones supplied by the London Telephone Service were big, black and hung in the hall. I took this photo a couple of years ago and I can't remember where this handsomely lettered sign on a long blocked-up letter box is, though the geo info on my (not big, not black) phone says it's somewhere near Regents Park.

Everything is connected

Illuminated sign by artist Peter Liversidge, near Manchester's Piccadilly station.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Philosophical wall

"All greatness is precarious" (Plato, I think). Sign on a wall in Glasgow. Apt for the building it's on, which is beautiful but in need of attention.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

No horse traffic please

Fine old sign surviving in a narrow passage in Jedburgh, Scotland. No horse traffic please.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

In my good books

This gorgeous tiled welcome is in Duke Street, Liverpool. The sign on the handsome building tells us something of its history - it housed Liverpool's first public library. It was built around 1800 and was originally the Union Newsroom, becoming a library in 1852. It's now offices and they've kept the lovely tiles and the sign. 

Sunday, 8 October 2017

China sign

I've been going through my vintage collection with the aim of selling it to create some space in the house. But I'm failing in the task and this week I managed to add to the collection instead. I couldn't resist buying another of these 1950s Manhattan plates. The mark on the back shows the inspiration for the pattern - skyscraper windows. Sometimes the sign on the back of a plate is as gorgeous as the pattern on the front.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Snacks from the past

Confections, snacks or cigarettes from the past, anyone? Trendy Edinburgh coffee shop the Milkman has kept its ghost sign, to great effect.

Saturday, 30 September 2017


This is the fancy sign on the window of the Glasgow Savings Bank building. Built in the 1890s, it served as a bank until 1999, and has since made a handsome shop, currently occupied by Jigsaw.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Signs of retail past

Glasgow has a fantastic shopping centre, and for a moment I almost believed I could go shopping in the past when I saw these gorgeous ghost signs just off Sauchiehall Street. 

Sunday, 17 September 2017

Wet wit

They're realistic about the weather at the Twice Brewed Inn on Hadrian's Wall. As soon as I saw the signs, I knew I'd enjoy it here. 

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Quiet life

This discreet sign is tucked away in the orangery at Dunham Massey, a National Trust property in Cheshire. I like to imagine the doorway is a portal to a few magic moments without worry or stress, a haven to escape to when things get a bit too much. Just looking at it seems to slow time down.

Sunday, 27 August 2017

For all Liverpool's Liver Birds

Some exciting new artwork has appeared this month in Liverpool's trendy Baltic Triangle: a fantastic pair of Liver Bird wings has become the favourite place for a photo.

Accompanied by the sign "For all Liverpool's Liver Birds", the mural was painted by artist Paul Curtis. But the beauty might be short lived, as the wall is due to be pulled down at any time. 

Shortly after the wings were painted, they were joined by this Banksy-style comment on art and justice. Apparently some of Banksy's works were removed controversially by a developer nearby and are in a private collection, rather than being displayed in a city street art gallery as originally proposed. 

So you'd better hurry to get your wings now, while they last.

Sunday, 20 August 2017

Gathering of strangers

Here's a fabulous sign by artist Nathan Coley, at Manchester's wonderful Whitworth Art Gallery. Part of Art in the Park, the coloured lights draw the eye upwards, a statement in the sky. Since its renovation, the gallery has been recognised as one of the country's leading visitor attractions, and it's one of my favourite places. The gorgeous building and garden are worth a visit even if you don't love art.

Love this

Love this. Love Liverpool.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

Do not feed the Superlambanana

I love this sign on the Superlambanana in Madison Square, Liverpool. You can find Superlambananas all over the city.

Originally a tiny four-inch model made by artist Taro Chiezo in 1998, four local artists developed a full size replica, which in turn was copied in 2008 when 125 smaller replicas were made.

They pop up all over the city, in different colours and patterns. There are three in Madison Square. A comment on genetic engineering and on Liverpool's history as a port (sheep and bananas were common cargo), above all they are fun.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Garage ghost sign

Two lovely ghost signs in Kelvin Grove, Liverpool. They're in the Welsh Streets area, the subject of controversial plans for demolition and development for over 10 years. I visited on a peaceful summer day. The rows of empty terraced houses stood proudly erect in a salute to past lives, and the signs were a gentle reminder of the everyday business once conducted there. Oh, and if you're a Peaky Blinders fan, there's a treat of a street there for you.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Builder undertaker decorator plumber

Ghost sign in South Brent, Devon. Well, if you live in a village, you've all got to muck in, haven't you? Let's hope the trades didn't get muddled ....

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Need a whip maker?

There's never a whip maker around when you need one. But James Smith & Sons has been around since 1830, as the sign on its handsome shop front will tell you.

Known simply as the umbrella shop, it's in New Oxford Street in London, and remains pretty much unaltered since Victorian times. Its gorgeous shop front boasts of tropical sunshades and golf umbrellas, and a rather more interesting range of life preservers.

Why not pick up a dagger or swordstick while you're there?

Saturday, 3 June 2017

A good night out in Manchester

Great neon sign for the Picturehouse bar in the Band On the Wall, in Manchester's trendy Northern Quarter. A music venue since the early 20th century, it was originally the George and Dragon pub - so small that bands played on a stage halfway up the back wall, giving the venue its name. A grungy room way back when I was a student, it's now extended and poshed up. It's a great live music spot, run as a charity. Check out its website and archive videos.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

You can sit down next to me

A Poem for Manchester, by Mike Duff, appears on mirrored art signs studded like beautiful blue jewels into a wall in Piccadilly Place, not far from Piccadilly station.

The poem was chosen from 4,000 entries as winner of a BBC National Poetry Day competition. Its message of solidarity, equality and acceptance seems particularly fitting following the dreadful Manchester Arena attack this week.