Thursday 5 September 2013


As a fan of ghost signs, I'm always looking out for interesting lettering. Here are two examples, not painted onto walls: one historical, the other very contemporary. 

The churchyard in Hawarden, North Wales, has many interesting graves including one with Crimean War connections. A more humble example caught my eye as well, for rather different reasons. 

The deeply-cut lettering on this small gravestone helped ensure that it is still sharply legible, more than two centuries after the death of Ann Owen in 1793. What also survive, though, are the guidelines which the mason used to keep his lettering straight and even. I haven't noticed such clear examples on other gravestones - even ones in the same churchyard and from the same period - so I wonder whether it was an early attempt by an apprentice. (Another stone from 1825, for example, also had guidelines but they are only visible on close inspection.)

Where such lines were not used, however, chaos could result!

A lack of experience might also explain the way the word 'interrd' has run over two lines. It is by no means the only gravestone to include such a mistake, though. Poor William Piercy nearly got only half of his home town. 

For more contemporary lettering, visit the Victoria and Albert Museum between 14-19 September 2013. As part of the London Design Festival, Type Tasting has an exhibition of creative typography which includes a ghost sign-themed contribution from Sam Roberts of Ghostsigns. His piece and others complete the phrase "London =". You can even contribute your own answer at one of the drop-in workshops. 


Ralph Hancock said...

The naively elegant style of lettering on 18th century gravestones, quite different from the style used in printing -- which at this time in Britain was mostly derivatives of Caslon -- was a strong influence on John Baskerville when he designed his famous tyepface of 1757. You can see a sample of the font at

Baskerville is one of my heroes, not just for his beautiful font or his inspiring life as a self-made man, but for his heroic atheism at a time when there was great pressure to conform. When he died, he had himself buried in his Birmingham garden, upright in an urn, under a conical monument with this inscription:

Stranger – Beneath this Cone in unconsecrated ground
A friend to the liberties of mankind directed his body to be inhum’d
May the example contribute to emancipate thy mind
From the idle fears of superstition
And the wicked arts of Priesthood.

The tomb has not survived, because it was smashed by a rioting mob.

CarolineLD said...

Thank you - I knew the font but not the fascinating story behind it.