Ghost Signs. Urban Palimpsests


Ghost Signs. Urban Palimpsests


Urban palimpsests help us understand the cities we live in. These evanescent traces, from the diachronic superpositions of buildings or streets to the faded remains of a sign or writing on a party wall, tell stories about the lifestyles and concerns of past dwellers. ‘Ghost signs’ – advertisements hand-painted painted, carved, or placed with moulded lettering on the walls of buildings – emerged in the 19th century, became popular during the interwar period, and ended up perishing and being replaced by paper billboards. In this alternative history of London, Sam Roberts and Roy Reed walk the city’s streets to identify and comprehensively list these unique archaeological remains.

All the images come from the book Ghost Signs. A London Story of Sam Roberts and Roy Reed.

St James Street E17 (between Brunner Road and Station Road)

Hugh Street SW1

The book wraps up a personal project initiated in 2006 by Sam Roberts who, as a contemporary flâneur, walks the streets of London to unveil the stories these signs tell; not only of the businesses and the people behind them, but the story  of their own survival too. 

Redcross Way SE1 (corner of Park Street)

Crispin Street E1 (just off Brushfield Street)

Inchmery Road SE6 (corner of Sandhurst Road)

With differents sorts of advertising themes – bakeries, laundry shops, clothing, etc. – these urban scars remain as time capsules on the walls of buildings, reflecting the daily worries and concerns of the people that once inhabited them.

Cedars Road SW4 

Borough High Street SE1  

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