Ghost Signs. A London Story

Sam Roberts + Roy Reed
London, England

In 2006, Sam Roberts started to walk the streets of London to discover the stories hidden behind these signs and the reasons why they remain in place

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Urban palimpsests help us understand the cities we live in. These evanescent traces, from the diachronic superpositions of buildings or streets to the faded remains of a sign or writing on a party wall, tell stories about the lifestyles and concerns of past dwellers. ‘Ghost signs’ – advertisements hand-painted, carved, or placed with moulded lettering on the walls of buildings – emerged in the 19th century, became popular during the interwar period, and ended up perishing and being replaced by paper billboards. Considered as forerunners of contemporary graffitis, nowadays these signs are being recovered and protected as valuable traces of the memory of cities.

In the book Ghost Signs. A London Story, writer Sam Roberts and photographer Roy Reed tell an alternative history of London, written after walking, as contemporary flâneurs, the streets of the British capital to identify these unique archaeological remains. The publication comprehensively lists each one of the signs, including photographs and interesting facts, and unveils the stories behind them or specific factors that explain why they have survived in the city. The authors study these signs not only for their undoubtable aesthetic value, but also for their anthropological interest, because they are able to shed light on consumer habits in today’s society.

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