Bath is rightfully globally renowned for its glorious Georgian architecture and radiant Bath stone, which to this day still gives onlookers an idea of how the city’s 18th Century streets would have appeared. Look closer, however, past the curved façade of The Royal Crescent and the imperious columns of The Circus, and you will notice the faded remnants of a more recent past.
Bath’s Listed walls play host to a great many ghost signs – advertisements that were painted or mounted onto an external wall, mostly before the Town and Country Planning Act (the basis of today’s Listed Building system) was introduced in 1947. Since then, these signs have been left to fade into obscurity, just like the businesses whose wares they used to promote.
There are an incredible array of ghost signs in Bath; some are obscured, some are barely legible, others look as though they were painted yesterday. We have picked 5 of our favourite signs, but wherever you are in the city – remember to look up! You will probably find one close to where you are standing, and if you find one we have missed – send it to us on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.
1. Hay Hill Dairy
Location: Hay Hill
Hay Hill is a picturesque pedestrianised street connecting lower Lansdown Road with The Paragon. This sign advertises a business that is not only a dairy, but also a “cheese ham / bacon factor”. ‘Cheese Ham / Bacon Factor’ was not the popular reality show of the day; a ‘factor’ was an agent who would buy and sell goods on commission.
2. The George Gregory Book Store & Lending Library
Location: Argyle Street
The ghost sign is now accompanied by a rather tasteful false window, illustrating what the building may have look like in times gone by. The well-worn bottom line of the sign declares George Gregory’s bookshop to be ‘well stocked with all the latest fiction’. Given that the shop was situated on Grove Street during the very late 19th & early 20th Centuries, locals would have flocked to the store for the latest tomes by the likes of Oscar Wilde, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle & Thomas Hardy.
3. J.Ellett: Smith & Plumber
Location: Prince’s Street
A striking alternative to the painted ghost signs so often seen in the city, this iron sign has a more industrial appearance, in keeping with the business being advertised. A ‘smith’ would smelt and forge metal, so it is possible that J.Ellett could have personally been responsible for the sign that adorns the building.
4. Asylum For Teaching Young Females Household Work
Location: Gay’s Hill
Little is known about one of the more bizarre signs that you will see on Bath’s walls; the word ‘asylum’ implies that the building in question was a type of correctional facility, rather than an educational institution.
Update: Kirsten Elliott, a local historian and writer, kindly contacted us on Twitter to tell us the intriguing and tragic story behind this sign. Kirsten can be found on Twitter at @KirstenTElliott, and her publications are available at www.akemanpress.com:
“There can be no more eloquent expression of the attitudes of the wealthy to poor girls in the early nineteenth century than the sign on Gays House in Margaret’s Hill, Bath. The Asylum for the Maintenance and Instruction of Young Females in Household Work was founded in 1819. It was ‘intended for the reception of such destitute female children who are of an age to leave school but not yet old enough for household service.’ Since children went into service at the age of twelve, this is a chilling indictment of the times.
Although attracting titled patrons, and being the subject of charity balls and concerts, by 1827 it was in trouble financially. There had been typhus, and paid nurses had been required. After just over twelve years, in 1832, it was forced to close. In that time, 61 girls were placed in service, eight discharged for ill-health, three expelled, five died, and seventeen were left in the asylum. The children are long gone – but the sign reminds us of the not so good old days.”
5. Nestle’s Milk
Location: Cleveland Cottages
In 1873, two brothers from Illinois established the first British branch of the Anglo-Swiss Condensed Milk Company in Chippenham, just a few miles outside of Bath. In 1905, the company merged with its fierce rival, The Nestlé Company; this sign presumably post-dates the merger. The image to the left of the word ‘milk’ depicts the Swiss flag set against a white background.
So rich is Bath’s history, that these glorious faded signs can be easily overlooked. If you spot one you think we’ve missed, please send it to us so that we can include it in a future blog!
These ghost signs have been added to Reside’s Map of Hidden Bath, which also plots items of interest from earlier blogs.