Do you believe in ghosts? some of them are very real indeed, they linger on street corners and cling to gable ends like half forgotten memories. Although they are in plain sight most of us walk past without noticing them, but they are there and I’ve been hunting for them. The type of ghosts I’ve been looking for don’t require special kit to find, and thankfully I didn’t need Derek Acorah or Yvette Fielding to help me locate them. I simply put on a comfy pair of trainers, grabbed my camera and went for a very long walk.
Ghostsigns are adverts painted directly on to the brickwork of a building, overtime they fade and the paint peels, sometimes all that remains is the faintest hint of a word or letter, the message that the advert once projected lost to the depths of time. There are lots of these signs around Walthamstow, and my interest in them was first sparked when I saw the London Cooperative sign just off St James Street. This one is in pretty good condition and most of the wording can be read, although as each winter passes more and more paint flakes off. The Coop sign isn’t alone as there a few ghostsigns around the St James street area, near the junction of Markhouse road is a sign that reads”For Drapery & Millinery Everett’s Stores“. The sign is faded but it had a modern advertising board in front of it for a number of years which helped to preserve it. Everett’s were a major local employer in Walthamstow and operated a number of premises, so it is no great surprise that the sign is so huge that it occupies the entire gable end of a building. Just around the corner on Station road is a slightly more modest sign that I think reads “Millbridge Motor & Cycle works“. I have spotted one more sign directly opposite St James Street Station but this one is so faded and damaged that it is impossible to read what it says, all that is visible are a few shadowy letters.
After St James Street I wandered up the high street to see what I could find. I spotted three signs, the first of which is squeezed in to a very tight spot near a cafe, I’m not entirely sure what the sign says but I can make out the word Leslie and Warehouse. A little further up the High Street is a fading sign that isn’t so much as an advertisement, but more of a statement. Above the sweet shop in clearly readable red letters on white background are the words “Printing Works” this is a pretty sizable building and does look very industrial from the side. I don’t know what was printed here or how long the print works has been closed for, but the High Street was obviously a different environment with industry working side by side with retail. Near the top of the High Street is a much newer painted sign that I’m not sure qualifies as a ghostsign as it is so well-preserved. This one is for a business called Evelyn, advertising amongst other things that the shop sold “Dressy Frocks”
As I carried on wandering I spotted a sign on the side of the Hornbeam cafe, and a great sign on a Woodstreet shopfront recommending Phillips rubber soles and heals. I also saw lots of remnants of signs that can’t be read such as the one on the side of Tommy’s Tuc Shop on the bottom of Jewel road. One of my most impressive finds is located in Leyton and is an advert for Girlings Auction House. I posted a picture of the sign on the Walthamstow Diary Facebook page, and a few days later I was contacted by someone who told me her parents live in the same retirement home as Mr Harold Girling, the son of the shop owners. Mr Girling is now in his Nineties and I am planning to go up to Chester and pay him a visit. I would love to find out what the Walthamstow and Leyton that he lived in was like.
There a few other ghostigns that I’ve seen including an advert for shorthand typing lessons near the village, and a blue car painted on the side of a car dealership on Forest Road, although I think the car is a newer addition to the collection of painted signs in Walthamstow. I like spotting them because each one is individual and unique, unlike the mass-produced billboards and advertising hoardings we have today. As I stand in front of these old signs trying to decipher their messages, I can’t help but wonder what future generations will make of our painted signs, such as the retail map that has been painted on to the gable end of a building in Woodstreet. Will they simply need to log on to the internet to see what it was and who painted it, or, like me, will they enjoy the mystery that decoding the faded images and letters brings.