This ghost sign in Tooting, and the man that painted it, present something of a chronological conundrum. It can be found at 49 Tooting High Street and once advertised the pawnbroking business of Frederick Henry Perry. He was up and running on these premises by 1896, adding another shop at number 90 between then and 1901.
The business was still trading in 1941, 20 years after Perry’s death, and it was presumably the son mentioned on the sign that was running things then. This son’s presence on the sign itself is the curious feature, as I’ll now explain. (Images of census and directory references are pasted at the end of the post.)
The Hall Family
The signature of the signwriter that painted the sign can be seen in very small letters in the bottom right corner (‘Hall, Writer, Tooting’). He is Frederick Benjamin Hall, the son of Benjamin Hall, a ‘beer retailer’ aka pub landlord at 268 Merton Road. Hall Senior was still running the pub, then called the Gardeners Arms, in 1920, and the pub is still there to this day.
Hall Junior is listed as a signwriter at 268 Merton Road in street and trade directories in 1900–02. His first child was born in 1902 in Wandsworth, and his second in Hove in 1907. This places the family’s move to Hove to between these dates, and so the signature on the sign would pre-date this move.
The Perry Family
Frederick Henry Perry was born in 1860 in Somerset to John and Eliza Perry. With his wife Lucy they had four children: a son, also Frederick Henry Perry born c.1896, and three younger daughters born between 1901 and 1909.
For Hall Junior to have painted the sign prior to 1907, Perry Senior would have to have been sufficiently happy with his less-than-10-year-old son’s work to add him to the business name. This seems highly unlikely. Given that Perry Senior’s father John was a shoemaker it is also unlikely that he himself is the son referenced on the sign as he seems to be the first pawnbroker in the family.
The Position of the Sign
The sign today is only partially visible due to the construction of a new building immediately in front of it.
In his post about the sign Sebastien Ardouin mentions a 1904 photograph with the sign in it, but where it is already partially obscured. It is this building that can be seen at the far left edge of the 1912 Collage photo. It was later demolished and replaced with the two-storey structure that can be seen today, and which now blocks half the view of the sign.
Squaring the Circle
So, in summary we have a sign painted by Hall Junior close to the turn of the century which mentions what appears to be a very young boy as a partner in the business.
The final clue could lie in the age of Perry Senior. When his son with wife Lucy was born c.1896 he was already 36 years old, fully eight years after their marriage in 1888. Given that Perry Senior was 28 when they got married, could he have had a son with another woman before this? If he’d done so aged 22, then that son would have turned 18 in 1900 and could have been considered worthy of inclusion on the sign.
I haven’t found a record of such a son in the Perry household, but it’s conceivable that the child was already living independently, or with his mother. This to me seems the only configuration of dates and personnel that would fit with the creation of this sign, but I’d welcome any other thoughts and/or clues that could help to finally unlock the puzzle.
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