Two brilliant ghostsigns from Bath 4


Enhanced image of hand painted sign on building in Bath

I was recently interviewed by Kirsten Elliott of Akeman Press for an article in a forthcoming magazine launch scheduled for later this year. We’ve since been in email contact as a result of our shared interest in ghostsigns and those from Bath in particular. (Regular readers will remember my little photo essay of a visit to the city back in 2010.)

Kirsten kindly sent me these pictures of two fascinating signs, each one interesting for different reasons. The first sign is noteworthy because it is advertising the work of its producer, signwriter R. Boseley. The close up image above has been digitally enhanced to show the level of craftsmanship that went into painting it, clearly an excellent way for a signwriter to demonstrate what they are capable of on behalf of paying clients. The one below shows the sign in context. Kirsten adds that:

The shop was there in 1826 at a quite prestigious address so it’s not impossible that he did the famous circulating library one, I suppose…

Hand painted sign on building in Bath showcasing the work of signwriter R. Boseley

Portion of wall removed to reveal early 1800s hand painted sign

This second sign is remarkable because Kirsten has managed to date it to the early 1800s. It is the oldest that I have come across in the UK and appears to have been protected by a plaster covering which has recently fallen away to show this little piece of history. On this one Kirsten comments:

The second pair of pictures is a new sign which has appeared when some plaster fell off the wall outside the Porter Pub. This shop was clearly once a chemist. It must be before 1837 – for reasons I won’t bore you with – but I haven’t managed to pinpoint the date yet. The writing looks like it is from about 1820.

Portion of wall removed to reveal early 1800s hand painted sign

Thank you for sharing these Kirsten, they are absolutely fascinating. Does anyone else know any other contenders for the title of ‘oldest ghostsign in the UK’, or indeed the world?

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  • Several signs in Bath date from the 1820s-1830s, possibly ealier, including:
    – the famous Circulating library and reeding rooms one was certainly painted between 1822 and 1826 (1822 is the earliest mention of a circulating library at this address I could find, and the last draw of the state lottery took place in 1826. More info in the post).
    – the Brush factory one, it certainly predates 1832 (the year brush maker J. D. Gordley -or Gorely- was declared bankrupt) by about ten years at least.
    Meanwhile the original version of the restored Marsh and Swan’s one in Ely was painted between 1811-12 and 1845. My guess is it would have dated from the early years of the partnership between Isaac Marsh and William Swan (more info in the post.
    I’ll let you know if I can think of other ghost signs as old or older as these.

    • Thanks Sebastien, this is causing a shift in my ideas about the era of these signs in general. It is staggering to think that some of them are now approaching 200 years old.

    • Yes, my researches mostly concur with Sebastian’s, which is why I suspect Boseley may have been responsible for the circulating library. But the Brush Manufacroty is much later – about 1850 – when it was run by John Strawbridge, who is there in 1852.

      • Thanks for those insights Kirsten, every sign tells a story and this looks like one of multiple owners of the same business. I really do wonder now what the oldest sign in the UK is, Sebastien really has highlighted some top contenders.