The list below of painted advertisements in Islington was compiled in the hope that some of those reading it might write in with additional locations not known to the compiler, and in the belief that painted advertisements in other parts of London would make a useful, educative and rewarding topic for those, whether private enthusiasts or history teachers in secondary schools, who are interested in setting up a local history project that has not already been thoroughly explored.
This was how A. D. Harvey introduced his inventory of Painted Advertisements in Islington in an article for Volume 50 of Transactions of the London and Middlesex Archaeological Society. Last year I set myself the task of retracing his steps in 1999 to see what remained and what had been lost in the 19 years since. I completed most of the work quite soon after publishing the original blog post, but was waiting for just one location on Whitecross Street to become visible again after the removal of scaffolding on the building. This has now happened and I have subsequently completed my analysis. I am going to publish the findings as a series of three posts, respectively detailing numbers 1-17, 18-34 and 35-51 of Harvey’s original inventory which is recorded on this map.
I should first note that although Harvey lists 51 locations in his inventory, he actually details 54 signs in total. Item 8 is (inexplicably) split into both (a) and (b) while additional pieces of signage are referenced in the accompanying texts for items 16 (Graham Street) and 47 (Turnmill Street). I will therefore use this higher number in my analysis.
In total, 21 of the signs documented by Harvey are no longer visible. The reasons for this are broadly as follows: Building demolished (4); Building cleaned (5); Sign painted over (3); Faded completely (2); Covered by building works (1); Unknown (6). One sign (Mallow Street) was lost due to a combination of being painted over and obscured by the upward extension of the neighbouring building. Given that some would be still be visible despite the building works, I have categorised this as being painted over. Nonetheless, both factors in this sign’s loss fall under a broader category of ‘property development’ which accounts for 13 (just over 60%) of the 21 losses, with just two (c.10%) disappearing due to ‘natural causes’ and the remainder being unknown.
This rate of loss approximates to just over one per year since Harvey’s initial survey i.e. they are being lost at a rate of 2% per year. However, in parallel, signs in Harvey’s survey have since been revealed, or become more visible than when he was writing. There are six of these in total, including one (Chapel Market) which is a ‘like-for-like’ replacement; the Redferns Rubber Heels sign was revealed after the cleaning of the partial John Kinns sign. If we combine the losses and gains then we arrive at a net figure of 15 lost from an initial sample of 54 which gives an annual rate of loss of 1.5%. This shows that, within this specific geography, more are being lost than revealed with the ratio of reveals to RIPs being 2:7.
While this analysis pertains only to this particular part of London, it is nonetheless a useful gauge for the nature of losses (predominantly property development) and the rate at which these are occurring. I would be very interested to find similarly detailed historical inventories that could be compared to the current day to see if similar trends are evident elsewhere.
So, over to the report, first up Numbers 1-17 from Harvey’s survey…
1. 7 Alwyne Villas N1
This sign for John C. Mather is still visible and in relatively good condition; so much so in fact that more is clearly visible now than Harvey included in his original transcription of the text.
2. 92 Banner Street EC1
3. 48 Blackstock Road N4
This one no longer visible, cause unknown.
4. 60 Blackstock Road N4
This one can still be seen, although since the photograph above was taken the building has been cleaned and the text is now much less visible.
5. Branch Place N1
This one now gone due to cleaning of host building.
6. 1 Brecknock Road N7
Harvey describes this illustrated one for Bryant & May as “very faint” in 1999 and it is all but gone now (see above).
7. 2 Chapel Market N1
Strictly this is on Grant Street and Harvey probably saw something like the picture on the left above. In 2007 the building was renovated including the stripping back of some, but not all, of the paint to reveal the Redfern’s Rubber Heels sign which Harvey appears to have been unaware of. This is therefore both a loss and a gain, effectively cancelling each other out.
8(a). 10 Charlton Place N1
Very much still there and, according to one account, protected in some way, although the Register of Locally Listed Buildings and Locally Significant Shopfronts makes no mention of it.
8(b). 5 City Garden Row N1
This one (“…Fancy Boxes”) is not visible any more. (It’s not clear why Harvey labelled these 8(a) and 8(b) as nothing connects the two signs in terms of location or content.)
9. Dingley Road EC1
While the building and the sign are still there, it is now obscured by its new neighbour.
10. Duncan Terrace N1
The location in Harvey’s listing is somewhat ambiguous but strolling up and down Duncan Terrace yielded nothing for “Railwat Proprietors” (‘railway’ seems more likely). The wall pictured above is perhaps the most likely candidate for once hosting a painted sign.
11. 63 Essex Road N1
The photo above is from Google Streetview (2017) and it has been visible as shown since at least 2008. Harvey describes is as being “partly obscured by an illuminated shop sign” so it isn’t clear if this differs from what can be seen now.
12. 78 Essex Road N1
Still visible, advertising X-Zalia.
13. 159 Essex Road N1
Still there and since identified as the Eagle Dining Rooms.
14. 310 Essex Road N1
Still visible, although now very faint.
15. 103 Fairbridge Road N19
Another for Hovis still going strong.
16. Graham Street N1
While the external sign is still very prominant, Harvey references “larger, fainter lettering on the side of the factory building” which now appears to be gone.
17. 125 Hanley Road N4
This palimpsest survives despite the recent efforts of graffiti artists to obscure it.