Sunday 5 May 2024

Signs through time: along the A10

A quick look at changing styles of street signs, all from a stroll along the main road from Dalston Junction to Stoke Newington stations. (It's the A10, although its name changes from Kingsland High Street to Stoke Newington  Road and then Stoke Newington High Street.) They are a great example of how the materials, typography, and styles have evolved - but also look out for the changing local authorities and postcodes. 

The oldest signs were not standard in format, and some are quite elaborate. 

On a brick wall, a stone tablet in a carved stone surround says 'Garnham Street'. To its right is a modern sign with black and red lettering on a white backround saying 'London Borough of Hackney Garnham Street N16'; above are traces of a painted sign.

Garnham Street has a rather rich collection: fantastic old, non-standard signs; the faint traces of a painted replacement; and below it, the current 'official' sign. And on one side of the street, there's also the faded remains of a painting on tile.

 On a brick wall, a painted sign in a moulded rectangular frame says Garnham Street. Above it is part of a tiled panel with painted figures faintly visible.

Brighton Road has traces of a sign painted directly onto the brickwork (once quite common) above a modern sign attached to it. 

 A rectangular sign with black border and rounded cornders says 'London Borough of Hackney Brighton Road N16' in black and red letters. Faint painted words are visible above.

This blue and white sign is quite unusual, with something of a French feel to it. It looks like a move towards the contemporary format, although it still has a way to go. 

 Photograph of a white, rectangular sign with royal blue letters saying 'BOROUGH OF STOKE NEWINGTON HIGH STREET'

The standard format has itself changed significantly. Sometimes the changes are subtle - look in particular at the 'of' and the '6' in these two signs. 

On a white background, red and black text says 'BOROUGH OF HACKNEY STOKE NEWINGTON ROAD, N.16.' The word 'OF' is in a smaller font and the stroke of the '6' extends above the height of the neighbouring characters.

Photograph of a street sign, black and red letters on white, saying 'BOROUGH OF HACKNEY SANFORD LANE, N.16.'

 A more modern version has no borough name; the postal district 'N.16' has faded from red to pink.

A sign reading 'STOKE NEWINGTON ROAD N.16'

There is a nice pair of modern styles on Beatty Road, showing how much they have changed even in recent decades.

 A section of wall with two signs for Beatty Road, each in a different but quite modern style.

Crossway shows yet another modern style and colour scheme, but there's an intriguing plaque alongside it.

A blue sign with white text says 'LONDON BOROUGH OF HACKNEY CROSSWAYS N16'. It seems 'N16' has been placed on later. Also on the wall is a shield-shaped plaque.

A closer look at the plaque shows that it is a boundary marker - not for a parish but for the Borough of Stoke Newington. It is dated 1901; today, the borough is no more. As the street signs tell us, it has been absorbed into the Borough of Hackney.

A shield-shaped metal plaque on a wall. It is streaked and darkened, but says 'Borough of Stoke-Newington boundary centre of road 1901'.

Other signs have fared badly but still share their information as best they can. We can see that in fact, they tell us more than their words alone spell out!

A metal sign for Belgrade Road has been painted over in the same cream paint as the wall behind, but the raised lettering is still visible.

A sign for 'Tyssen Road' is a patchwork of different colours and texts - the borough and postcode details appear to have been stuck on later.


Saturday 27 April 2024

Baker Street's posters from the past

Baker Street Station is one of the oldest on London's Underground. It was one of the seven stations on the first line, the Metropolitan, which opened in 1863. The Metropolitan Line grew, the Circle and Bakerloo Lines were added, and the number of station users increased, so the decision was taken to rebuild the station from 1910. Unsurprisingly, there are all sorts of historical features and traces of the past still present today - including some vintage advertisements. 

One is visible on the platform, advertising 'London's new restaurant' in Chiltern Court. Don't be fooled! Chiltern Court is very much there, but its restaurant 'open to non-residents' is long gone. 

Photograph of an advertisement, now behind glass, reading 'Metropolitan Line. Chiltern Court - London's New Restaurant - Baker Street Station. Entrances from Booking Hall and Station Approach. Open to non-residents.'


The reference to non-residents may sugggest a hotel - and indeed that was the original plan for the building above the station. However, the First World War prevented the hotel from being built and instead, Chiltern Court was constructed in the late 1920s. It opened in 1929, the largest block of flats in London. Amenities included the Chiltern Court Restaurant, convenient for occupants and, as our advertisement points out, non-residents too. Luncheon, afternoon tea and dinner were all offered, with a table d'hote dinner costing six shillings and sixpence in 1933.

The restaurant survived long enough to get a mention in Metro-land, the 1973 documentary written by Sir John Betjeman. He asked, 'Is this Buckingham Palace? Are we at the Ritz? No.' It later closed and was used for a spell as the London Transport Recruitment Centre. Today, it is open for dining again (albeit without 'perfect cuisine and faultless service') as the Wetherspoons-owned Metropolitan Bar. Look at the ceiling for a glimpse of its past glories!

Photograph of dirt-stained, tattered theatre posters. Fragments of the names of Shakespeare plays are visible, and the words 'Tilly of Bloomsbury' are large and legible in the centre.

To see the other poster, you need to take a Hidden London tour of the station (highly recommended: there's lots to see!). In a disused passage, once providing access to lifts, is an advertisement for theatre performances. 'Tilly of Bloomsbury', playing at the Apollo Theatre, is the most legible. This 1919 play, a comedy, tells the story of a poor young woman who falls in love with an aristocrat. She pretends to be from a noble background but the truth is eventually exposed when his family meet hers. The play continues to be perfomed, albeit generally by amateur companies rather than in West End theatres; it was also made into a film two years later, and again in 1931 and 1940. The BBC televised a live studio production of it in 1948. However, we can date this poster more closely: fragments of the names of George Grossmith Jr and Edward Laurillard are visible at the top. They produced the play at the Apollo in 1919 and then managed the theatre between 1920 and 1923, before terminating their partnership. These posters are even older than the restaurant advert, then, but they too provide a tantalising glimpse of interwar London life.

The fine meals and comic performances may be long gone, but their ghosts linger below Baker Street.