Tuesday 18 June 2013

Ghost signs (90): Bexleyheath

This sign in Broadway, Bexleyheath is one of those unusual examples which has been both preserved and obscured by a later building. Its neighbour is only an alley-width away, making it both surprisingly fresh and more difficult to decipher and photograph. The fact its left portion and very lowest part have been covered in rendering doesn't help. 

We can see, however, that the sign advertised 'Snowden ... fitter to ... of taste', with a rather nice manicule pointing to the shop. 'Outfitter' seems a reasonable guess. Underneath is '...thur ... nt & Co ... agents for ... ath & District', which is more difficult although 'Arthur' leapt to mind for the first word, and 'agents for Bexleyheath and District' for the last part. And once more, we can appreciate the style of the sign (here, the distinctive two-tone lettering) even if its meaning is less than clear. 

Sure enough, some research confirms that while neither business existed in 1915, one Frederick George Snowden was a gentlemen's outfitter at 185 Broadway, Bexleyheath in 1927. The same edition of Kelly's Directory also listed Arthur Kent & Co, Estate Agents at 126 and 314 Broadway. Online company information suggests that Arthur Kent might have been trading into the 1990s, moving from the Broadway in 1992 and being wound up a few years later; F G Snowden appears to still be in business, although long gone from this address. 

Bexley Borough Photos, 1934 (detail)
However, we can narrow down the sign's origins rather more closely than that, with the help of the excellent selection of old photographs on Bexley Borough Council's website. In 1920, 185 Broadway was already an outfitters, but named E F Davison. By 1934, our sign was visible in all its glory in a photograph of the cinema across the road being built. The sign's neighbour was the original Conservative Club whose more spacious grounds left the sign visible. It must have been painted, therefore, between 1920 and 1933.

A close look at the photograph, and the wording is confirmed: 'F G Snowden, Outfitter to men of taste' and 'Arthur Kent & Co, House agents for Bexleyheath & District'. The bottom line, now obscured by rendering, is less clear but appears to say 'offices 126 Broadway'. Our mystery is largely solved! And in the process, something of the development of Bexleyheath town centre has been revealed.


Anonymous said...

Found FG Snowden at Companies House


Lovely site - thank you for your work

Sam Roberts (Ghostsigns) said...

Fantastic work on finding the corresponding archival photograph, great that it's still in good shape going into the next 80 years of its life...

Martin said...

Just to let you know, the second photo from 1934 showing the building going on is of the building of the Regal cinema.
The Regal cinema was opened on 3rd September 1934. It has been since demolished and a large ASDA in it's place!

CarolineLD said...

Thank you, that's really interesting to know!

Martin said...

Caroline I thought you might be interested in a earlier shot of the sign, this time from 1919 and with EF Davison written on it.

Peter said...

Fantastic,as Arthur Kent was my Grandpa! He was also chairman of Bexleyheath Conservative association and knew Edward Heath quite well, as Ted was the MP for the constituency. Thanks for the pic - does it still exist?

TeddyBoy said...

The building that can be seen on the left in the earlier dated photograph was a grand, white house originally called 'Mount Pleasant', later renamed 'The Chestnuts'. In 1871, the hardware shop tycoon, George Mence Smith, founder of the once well known and widespread chain of 187 shops, 'Mence Smith' and shareholder in the Bexley Heath Railway Co. bought the house and lived there with his wife, Jane for ten years.
He then sold up and moved to a substantial house called 'Elmhurst' in Clapham. He died there in 1895.

Anonymous said...

I have lived in the house that Arthur Kent used to own (Belmont Ethronvi Rd), for over 40 years.

Martin said...

TeddyBoy the house you speak of, The Chestnuts is not the building on the left in the photo it is the Conservative club.
The Chestnuts was on the opposite side of the Broadway and was demolished in 1934 with the Regal cinema being built on the site. An ASDA store now stands on the site.