John Campion – The Ghost Sign of a Family of Shopkeepers

Tucked away, high up on a wall, behind the gates of a timber merchant on Rushey Green in Catford is one of Lewisham’s best preserved ghost signs.  It is easy to miss; I first noticed it from the top deck of a bus, and harder to photograph – it is behind gates at weekends, views from buses are dependent on clean windows and stopping in exactly the right place, and the sun gets in the way on bright days.

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Like the even better hidden, Spricknell Greengrocer sign on Anerley Road, its rather inaccessible location has probably offered it some protection from the elements and allowed its survival over a century after its painting.

Running Past has covered ghost signs several times in the past – they are the painted advertising signs on the sides of buildings that predate advertising billboards which seem to have become more commonplace from around the 1930s.  They offer an insight into changes in shopping patterns – many of the trades and shop types covered here have all but disappeared – a grainer, the small upmarket general food store, a carver and guilder, and the small scale outfitters and hatters of this post.  They also show something of the migration of population into London with the growth of the railways – with none of the new shopkeepers being Londoners – they have come from Biggleswade, Reading, County Galway, Essex and Wiltshire.

The wording of the sign seems to be

John Campion, Merchant Tailor, Hosier & boys outfitter

and at Lee Bridge Lewisham

Broadway House for Clothing Hosiery Hats and Boys Outfitting.

 

Lee Bridge is a name that has fallen into disuse, but referred to the area around the bottom of what is now referred to as Lee High Road where the Quaggy was bridged before re-emerging alongside Lewisham High Street. Broadway House was the name given for the building the sign is painted on.

In addition to the fading sign in Catford, John Campion also advertised in the Blackheath Gazette, a short-lived local newspaper which was published in the 1890s, in January 1892 they were advertising ‘cricket trousers, football breeches and bicycle suits’ and three years later ‘overcoats, boys’ reefers, and sailor suits’ sold out of a shop at 17 High Road, Lee.

 

They were listed in the 1891 Kelly’s Directory at that location too, although not yet in Catford.  They wad certainly been at the High Road shop since 1881 as one of John Campion’s sons, Edward, was living ‘over the shop’ in the 1881 census.

By the time the 1908 Kelly’s Directory was published, the shop in Catford had been added – it was listed as 163 Rushey Green, Catford – this was probably the side of the building that it was painted on (the timber merchant is 161), which they referred to as Broadway House.  They were also listed at 143 High Street, Lewisham (presumably having moved from 15 and 17 Lee High Road). Since the sign presumably predates their move to 143 High Street it would have been painted somewhere between 1891 and 1908.

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John Campion was born in 1830, close to Loughborough on the Nottinghamshire/Leicestershire border.  At what stage he moved to London is unclear but it was certainly by the 1851 census, as he was in Southwark married to Ann (also referred to as Sarah Ann) – he was working as a hatter.  The first three recorded children were born in Lambeth – James (1855), Edward (1856) and Thomas (1859).  It is likely that they moved on soon after, as a daughter, Ellen, was born in Kent in 1863 – this was probably in Deptford, they were certainly in King Street by the time the census enumerators called in 1871.  He was trading from there, and, by 1881, several of his family members were working in the family hat making business.

It seems that John Campion was either keen to expand and/or set up other family members in business.  The shop at Lee Bridge, trading by 1881, was just the first of these.

Opposite, by the 1891 census, the eldest son, James, was working as a hatter – no doubt using the skills learned in the Deptford shop.  Whether fashion changed or he wasn’t quite as good a hatter as his father, the trade certainly didn’t pay – by 1901 he was still on High Road, Lee (as Lee High Road was then called) but trading as an ironmonger.  James moved on to become a cycle maker at 117 Lewisham High Street in the 1914 Kelly’s, and was still there at the end of World War 1.

Around the same time as James opened the hatters, another shop was acquired, at 242 High Road, Lee, next door to the still serving Duke of Edinburgh pub, close to Lee Green.  This shop traded as Campion and Son – they advertised Boxcloth (1), Beaver (2) & Melton Overcoats in 1895.

The ‘Son’ was Edward – with whom he had a legal partnership – which was dissolved in 1899, probably so John could retire.  While Ann and several of the younger children had moved to 242, Ann died in 1895 and all the children had moved on by 1901, when John was living there as a ‘retired outfitter’ with a couple of servants.

The shop near Lee Green, as well as the one on Lewisham High Street, survived well after John’s death in 1905 – both were listed in the 1914 Kelly’s Directory, with the High Street shop still there after the war finished in 1919. In addition to the Lewisham shops, the slightly younger brother, Thomas, had a shop at 27 Dartmouth Road, Forest Hill, also as an outfitter.

And finally …. there was a court case in 1895 involving the fraudulent obtaining of two overcoats and a Norfolk Suit by someone that Edward Campion had believed to be an employee of a well-known, at the time, African American boxer, Frank Craig (3). The defendant had been released from the ‘Coffee Cooler’s’ employ a few days before.

Campioncraig

 

Notes

  1. Boxcloth – a heavy felt like woollen coating made dense and almost waterproof by considerable fulling and shrinking and given a hard smooth face
  2. Beaver – may have been beaver skin but is more likely to have been thickly napped cotton cloth or woollen cloth often used for work clothes
  3. The Standard (London, England), Tuesday, May 21, 1895; pg. 6; Issue 22116

The data from Kelly’s Directories was from the University of Leicester on-line collection, with census and related data from Find My Past.

 

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2 thoughts on “John Campion – The Ghost Sign of a Family of Shopkeepers

  1. Pingback: A Hither Green Ghost Sign of a Long ‘Lost’ Brewery | Running Past

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