It’s good to have a hobby. Broadens the mind, stimulates the senses. But for SevenStreets reader, Caroline Bunford, we’re afraid the writing’s on the wall (oh
bugger, we promised ourselves we wouldn’t do that).
Forget our glorious art collections and cultural spaces, for Bunford, the city’s gable ends are her gallery. The art? The palimpsest of bygone advertising campaigns. Those ghostly remnants of painted-on slogans, shop signs and calling cards, splashed twenty feet above the city, and, after generations of summer sun and winter frost, the catastrophe of town planning, and the scorching of the Blitz still cling, faintly, to the city’s skin.
“I first became interested in Liverpool history at an early age; being inspired by the books of Richard Whittington-Egan. I always leaned towards the slightly off beat and mysterious tales of the city, rather than admiring the much documented listed buildings.
A spell working at the now defunct Liverpool Architecture and Design Trust ignited my passion for the city’s rich heritage and architecture, and sparked an interest in research which has never left me.
A few years ago, I became aware of the many ‘ghost signs’ dotted around Liverpool. These are old hand painted advertising signs that were commissioned to appear on brick walls to attract consumers and to spread the word of some of the bigger companies nationally. They reached their peak before the mass printed advertising posters began to be used and traditional sign writing slumped into decline.
I became aware of a project being set up via Flickr to digitally preserve these signs. The Ghost Signs Archive is now up and running and photographers from all over the UK and Ireland have submitted their photos to create an enviable resource for future historians.
Liverpool is a rich hunting ground for ghost sign spotters. Gable ends of buildings are the most common place to find them, and there are some delicious examples to be found. My particular favourites are the many cow keeper and dairy ghost signs which hark back to a time when we had a small dairy on almost every street in the city. This service ended when greater hygiene regulations were introduced.
These signs are a fantastic part of our social history, and can give us glimpses of products, companies, and businesses past, but what if the sign hasn’t stood the test of time, and you can not see the original lettering? This is always a sad time for enthusiasts. I’ve been looking to historic street directories more and more in the past year, to try and research the signs themselves, and the brands and people they represented.
There is such a sign in Liverpool, on Gladstone Road (on the corner of Marmaduke Street, pic r). For over a year, I tried to decipher the lettering on this sign, and could only see the ‘K’ on the left hand side of the advert.
I researched the house that the sign is attached to, and eventually it led me to the 1938 street directory for Liverpool, which listed a
‘Thomas Kidd, auctioneer’ living in this property. I was almost certain this was the answer, and posted this onto my Flickr site.
A few weeks later, I received a comment on the photo, reading:
“Thomas Kidd was my great-grandfather who was indeed an auctioneer living on Marmaduke St. I’ve never actually seen the sign myself but my grandmother told me about it which is why I stumbled upon your picture. She recalls the sign as reading ‘Kidd’s Auctioneers’.”
This comment clarified my research. Suddenly the sign came to life for me. It was no longer a simple painted advertisement that had faded over the years; it had been commissioned by a real person, an auctioneer, advertising his business on the gable end of his property.
Then, the day after this comment, I received another from another descendant of Kidd:
“This sign is on the side of the house which belonged to Thomas Kidd who was an auctioneer. The front of the house is on Marmaduke Street in Wavertree. His shop was on Great George Street. He was my grandfather and the family lived there until the late fifties I think.”
It really proves that an hour’s research and a photograph can unlock a family’s history, and also it makes you realise how worthwhile the ghost signs project really is, and that as technology develops and historical documents for research become more freely available, the archive will only progress and mature with time.”
Caroline Bunford If you’d like to contribute to the Ghost Signs project, visit www.ghostsigns.co.uk