James Ashby & Sons (Rose Brand Fine Teas) 23

James Ashby & Sons, Union Street, SE1

Rachel at Jerwood Space recently told me that the building at 195-205 Union Street is currently awaiting final confirmation of its demolition and development. It may not be long before the building and its little piece of ghost sign history is lost forever so I got down there today to get these pictures.

Above is a close-up showing three different elements to the sign. Rose Brand Fine Teas were one of the brands within the James Ashby & Sons portfolio. The ‘Ventilator’ bit underneath seems to relate to something that perhaps came before James Ashby’s occupation of the building. Below is a close-up of the Rose Brand Fine Teas emblem and also shots from the front and back of the building to put the sign into context. The shot from the back also has some elements that seem to relate more to the Ventilators’ use of the building.

Rose Brand Fine Teas Close Up
Rose Brand Fine Teas
James Ashby & Sons, in context
James Ashby & Sons, rear of building

Having a quick look online for information about the company and the premises reveals very little of interest. The main pair of signs have been used by John Henstock in one of his pieces, as shown below. I also found an old tea caddy that features the same branding as the sign pictured, although you have to wonder what the ‘Gunpowder Green’ bit is all about…
[PS, 13th Dec, thanks M.J. for pointing out this on Gunpowder Green Tea]

Perhaps most interesting is that James Ashby & Sons filed a patent for a coffee substitute as recently as 1978, apparently in response to rising coffee prices at the time. This had as ingredients the unlikely combination of barley, chicory, fig, soya and more. It isn’t clear if this concoction ever came to market but my guess is not! (See a pdf of the original patent here.)

So it looks like this sign will be getting an RIP some time in the near future, watch this space.

  • David Churchill

    >Great to se the pics of the Ashbys building.I worked for them from about 1965,when they were in Idol lane in the city,then we moved to Union St,when the wharhouse and offices came togeather.From what I can remember,the building was used by John West before. It will be a shame to see the building go.Its a long way from Australia,but I have fond memories of those days.
    David Churchill.

  • Debs

    wow i worked there for a while in the 80’s and have fond memories of it.

    • Do you have any stories or additional information to my research? I remember when I was looking for things online there was remarkably little there. Do you have any photos or documents from your time there?

  • Alan Payne

    Hi, just stumbled across your posting. My dad, Michael Payne, was the tea taster who introduced the Rose Brand range of teas for Ashby’s. As a lad, I used to work with him at Union Street during the school holidays.

    • Hi Alan, that is absolutely fascinating. Are you based in London, perhaps you would have time to meet and share more of your story?

      • Alan Payne

        Hi Sam – I live in Lewisham and will be up at Bankside tomorrow researching a project. I work in the tourism industry and give talks, one on tea and my memories of working with my dad at James Ashby.

        • I’m away this weekend but would be interested in one of your talks. Do you have any dates lined up?

          • Alan Payne

            Unfortunately, next tea talk not scheduled until May next year off the Shooters Hill Road, Eltham.
            Will be revisiting the old place (Union Street) tomorrow and it will be like stepping back in time.
            All the best

  • Eric Ashby

    Hi there, Im a decedent of James Ashby living in Australia and i am interested in any information you might have on the company and its history, also any Ashby family history would be appreciated.
    Kind regards Eric Ashby

    • Great to hear from you Eric. I’ve sent out your message via Twitter to see if anyone has any information to share. Also, I hope that Alan above may be able to help as he has lots of the local knowledge about the sign. I’ll let you know if anything comes up and post it here if and when it does.

      • Eric Ashby

        Thanks heaps Sam. wow a year went quickly. sorry my reply took so long.
        Do you know if the building has been demolished yet? I would love to see it before it does.
        Great description Ian thanks for the insight.

        • As far as I’m aware the building is still standing so if you get over here in the near future then you’ll be able to see it. I’ll also take you on the ghostsigns tour if you come too!

  • Sue Pitts

    Hi I am Sue Pitts I worked there 1980 till1984 when it was taken over by Peace duff went off to marry Mr Bryan Bush I live in. Hampshire now Bryan sadly passed away july1992 would be great to hear from anyone who worked there Sue x

  • Ian Winning

    Hi everyone. From about 1974 through to about 1980 I worked for Jarvis Porter, label printers in Leeds, working out of the New Kings Road office and self adhesive print factory, I used to call at James Ashby every other week arranging design and artwork for the Rose Brand, we printed thousands of labels, all types of colours and designs. Lovely people, I had the pleasure around 1975 I think of meeting one of the Ashby family, I was about 20 something and this guy was about 90 I think, he used to sit in an amazing Dickensian office, wore two tone shoes- spats I think, and looked like he had stepped out of a Dickens story, lovely people, tried tea tasting and remember seeing those drums where tea was tumbled with flavourings. I was in SE London today, looking for Union St, failed to find it, will look again next week when I have my IPhone and Google maps app with me, I’m now a keen street photographer. Living in St Albans, photographing in town nearly every weekend. I doubt if anyone out there will read this, but if there is email me. ianwinning@hotmail.com If you needto know more!

    • Thanks Ian, this is another fascinating piece of history. Did you keep any of the labels you were making at the time? I’ll send you an email with a map showing the location which is a short walk from either Southwark, Borough or London Bridge stations. On your travels, have your photographed the old signage for WH Smiths in St Albans?

  • Hi Alan Payne
    I worked under Michael Payne in the tea saleroom. I remember him as a very nice man, a very good tea taster, blender and a great asset to Ashby’s at the time. Would you like to chat more. I am now living in Australia . You can contact me on my website. http://www.churchillguitars.com
    Best Wishes
    David Churchill

    • Let me know if you guys get in touch. Do you have any old photos of the place?

  • Philip Day

    Just thought I would update this blog with the news that there is no news. The site and sign are still there, and as of last week there is no sign of any redevelopment. But bear in mind this is London, and it’s bound to go eventually. To be honest the empty site next door will prob get redeveloped and the sign will become hidden.

    • Thanks, I cycled past the other day and it doesn’t look like anything is happening very quickly. You’re right though, they can throw up these new build flats in next to no time so it could all happen very suddenly. For now the ghostsign clings on as it has for many years already…

      • dianajc

        Hi there, researching this building for inclusion in the neighbourhood plan. There is a planning application live http://planbuild.southwark.gov.uk:8190/online-applications/applicationDetails.do?activeTab=summary&keyVal=_STHWR_DCAPR_9563854
        They are keeping and extending the building, but only the side elevation will retain the paintings – worth a public comment about the value of these if you have time ! Does anyone know the name of the (German?) factory on the front that was blacked out during the war because of the name ?
        many thanks

        • Thanks, the link doesn’t seem to work. The other company advertised prominently on all three walls of the building is Hayward Brothers & Eckstein Ltd, ironmongers and engineers, based in the building from 1882 until at least 1965. James Ashby moved in some time between 1965 and 1978. Happy to write something for the planning application if you can supply a good link, or email it to sam@ghostsigns.co.uk. Thanks, Sam

  • J Earthy

    Thanks for all of this information. I am just about to drink almost the last of my caddy of Rose Brand Tea and suddenly wondered if the company still existed. Now I know and will toast them with the last few cups. JV