peterbirks: (Default)
If you find older rows of Victorian-era built shops in the town centres of London, you often will see at the side of the end-of-terrace shop a sign, or the remnants of a sign, indicating what kind of shop was there at the turn of the century. "H. Gray, Books", or "P. Greene, Chemist" or the ever-mysterious "Geo. Young, Goods" (English names one and all, as a rule).

Occasionally these signs remain hidden (and protected) for years by poster signs that have been put up on top of them, advertising the latest Citroen Xsara, or whatever. But I think that they are one of London's hidden jewels, with the faded paint on the yellow brick like distant echoes of an era gone by.

As we know, most people see, but they don't look. Magicians exploit this mercilessly. But a walk through London looking at older buildings — not the famous ones, but the ordinary ones, throws up countless examples of signs on the front or sides of buildings which give clues to a perhaps more illustrious past. A walk up Wardour Street from Leicester Square will show you a "Bullion Office" from the 18th century on your left-hand side and a chemist on your right, rather than the Chinese restaurant and Happy-Snaps collect-your-pix-in-an-hour establishments now there. These signs aren't painted on, but are actually built into the brick of the building. As you travel further up you come to a an art deco kind of place that was obviously home to some long-dead star company of the British cinema age in the 1930s.

And London is not alone. New York, if you look, has similar signs on the sides of many of its brownstones. I remember spotting some on 10th and 11th avenues.

BTW, anyone who thinks that all of Manhattan is multi-million dollar apartment blocks need only spend some time walking up and down 10th, 11th and 12th to see that property bargains are still to be had near the "centre" of New York that can no longer be snapped up in London for love nor money.

Anyway, I love those signs. They are something physical to hang onto of my past. In an odd way, they make me happy.

August 2017

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