Beanfeast: Ghostsigns at Type Tasting 3

Stencil of Beanfeast by Sam Roberts

This is my/Ghostsigns’ submission to an inspiring project from Type Tasting, part of this year’s London Design Festival. It will be displayed alongside works from myriad designers and artists, including Alan Kitching and Ralph Steadman (Wow!), at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 14-19 September. (Event details on the London Design Festival Website here.)

The brief was to create a word that completes the sentence “London = …” in the context of creativity in London. I obviously wanted to do something inspired by ghostsigns and ‘Beanfeast’ was the first word that came to mind, based of course on the Highgate ghostsign.

Ghostsign saying 'Catering for Beanfeasts, Parties, Clubs'

To create my piece, Sarah Hyndman of Type Tasting kindly let me into her studio near my home in Stoke Newington to do something experimental with a stencil. This reflects the intersection of the brickwork and the lettering, a key aspect of ghostsigns in general. Here I am at work…

Sam Roberts cutting the stencil for his Beanfeast piece
After cutting the stencil it was over to the spraying station to apply the paint and see how the stencil worked on different materials.

Stencil and result of Sam Roberts' Beanfeast piece

Finally I had to say a few words on why I had chosen the word ‘Beanfeast’.

“My work photographing and researching the fading remains of advertising painted on walls (a.k.a. Ghostsigns) often leads to interesting questions, such as ‘what is a beanfeast?’. The full text of this Highgate sign is ‘Catering for beanfeasts, parties & clubs’. However, beans in this case aren’t the baked variety, but the accounting type. A beanfeast is a party thrown by an employer if the end-of-year ‘bean counting’ has revealed a positive set of accounts. The modern equivalent would be the Christmas party and the deployment of ‘beans’ to pay for it.

When challenged to think of an interesting word arising from my ghostsigns research in London, this, and the painted sign, was the first that came to mind. It resonates at a number of levels, representing London as a centre of finance, but also as a centre of creativity. It provides a glimpse into London’s long history, both in terms of the evolution of language and the once widespread practice of advertising with paint on walls. As a native Londoner I’d also say it says something about our ability to throw a great party!”

Thank you Sarah, Type Tasting and the London Design Festival for letting me take part in this brilliant collaborative and creative project. It really is an honour to be among some heroes of mine and I can’t wait to see the final hanging at the V&A.

You can see others’ contributions on the Type Tasting site, alongside articles detailing the creative and production processes used. The results are being shown 14-19 September 2013 and there are free workshops on 14 and 15 September if you feel inspired to have a go at creating your own piece. You might even be fortunate enough to end up with a cool initial as a souvenir like I did…

'S' from Beanfeast

  • Sally Hirst

    Well done Sam! Hopefully you will get to see my new print based on a Ghost Sign in Norwich at the Norwich Print Fair 9th – 21st sept. If you dont get to it I will send you a pic………..

    • Thanks Sally, my uncle is apparently a regular visitor to the fair so we’re plotting to be there later this month when I hope to see you and the print.

  • Jane and Rob at Bicycle Beano Cycling Holidays ( have done their own research into the origins of the word ‘Beanfeast’, providing the following account:

    ‘The Oxford English Dictionary says the origin of beanfeast is:-

    Early 19th century: from bean + feast. The term originally denoted an annual dinner given to employees by their employers, where beans and bacon were regarded as an indispensable dish.

    According to the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica the word Bean-feast is:-

    Primarily an annual dinner given by an employer to his workpeople, and then colloquially any jollification. The phrase is variously derived. The most probable theory is. that which connects it with the custom in France, and afterwards. in Germany and England, of a feast on Twelfth Night, at which a cake with a bean buried in it was a great feature. The beanking was he who had the good fortune to have the slice of cake in which was the bean. This choosing of a king or queen by a bean was formerly a common Christmas diversion at the English and Scottish courts, and in both English universities. This monarch was master of the revels like his congener the lord of misrule. A clue to his original functions is possibly found in the old popular belief that the weather for the ensuing twelve months was determined by the weather of the twelve days from Christmas to Twelfth Night, the weather of each particular month being prognosticated from each day. Thus the king of the bean of Twelfth Night may have originally reigned for the twelve days, his chief duty being the performance of magical ceremonies for ensuring good weather during the ensuing twelve months. Probably in him and the lord of misrule it is correct to find the lineal descendant of the old king of the Saturnalia, the real man who personated Saturn and, when the revels ceased, suffered a real death in his. assumed character.

    Another but most improbable derivation for bean-feast connects it with M.E. bene ” prayer,” “request,” the allusion being to the soliciting of alms towards the cost of their Twelfth Night dinner by the workpeople.

    Wayzgoose; Misrule, Lord Of; also J. Boemus, Mores, leges et ritus omnium gentium (Lyons, 1541), p. 222; Laisnel. de la Salle, Croyances et legendes du centre de la France, i. 19-29; Lecceur, Esquisses du Bocage normand, ii. 125; Schmitz, Sitten und’ Sagen des Eifler Volkes, i. 6; Brand, Popular Antiquities of Great Britain (Hazlitt’s edit., 1905), under “Twelfth Night”; Cortet,. Fetes religieuses, p. 29 sqq.

    Also, beanfeast could hark back to ancient Greece and further as it relates to a Greek festival called Pyanopsia which means literally bean-stewing. It was held in October so it was after the harvest. One element was a common meal eaten out of a common pot. See Themis: A Study of the Social Origins of Greek Religion by Jane Ellen Harrison (2010).’