Category Archives: Ghost Signs

‘Gardening Shopping with Copping’ – a Lee High Road Ghost Sign

On the corner of Marischal Road and Lee High Road a ‘ghost sign’ has recently (July 2021) appeared from behind an advertising hoarding. It is for a family business that traded from the site for around 90 years. 

Ghost signs are painted advertising signs, they are not meant to be permanent – although they lasted much longer than their modern-day counterparts.  The urban landscape used to be full of them but most have been lost – either to modern advertising, being painted over or the buildings themselves being demolished.  They can be

  • National – Bryant & May off New Cross Road; or
  • Local – such as the Holdaway sign on Belmont Hill or Campions in Catford, these were usually on the side of the building that they operated from – this one falls into this category.    

The age of this sign is a little uncertain in that while the front of the building may have been rebuilt either during or after World War Two, it is less clear with the wall  that the ‘ghost sign’ is painted on.   There could have been variants of the same design over the years – the current version certainly predates changes in telephone numbers from 1959 as ’01 852’ is painted over what was presumably ‘LEE’.  The original could be as early as the 1920s as the gardening part of the family business started to be listed in Kelly’s Directories then.

Whatever the exact age of the sign, there is an interesting story of a long-lived family business, whose story we’ll now tell.

The Coppings had first opened a shop on Lee High Road in the late 1880s, at what was then 87 High Road, Lee – unlike further up the road, the numbering remained constant, only the ‘Lee prefix’ being added.  The street it was on the corner of though had a different name, it was then Douglas Road. In the 1888 Kelly’s Directory it was referred to as ‘Copping, T & Sons, Fruiterer etc.’

The ‘T’ was Thomas; in the 1881 census he had been listed as a gardener living in Ravensbourne Street in Deptford – born in 1843 he came from Thornham Parva in Suffolk as did his sons Levi, born in 1867 and Spencer in 1868.  They seem to have moved to Deptford in the 1870s as they were still in Suffolk in 1871 when the census was taken.

While Thomas’ name was over the window, in the 1891 census he is listed as a market gardener living in Kelsey Park in Beckenham.  Living over the shop in 1891 was his son Spencer, who was presumably running the shop.  He and his father seemed to have swapped roles by 1901 – with Thomas running what had been listed as a florist for several years – perhaps selling produce from Beckenham.

The shop, without any painted advertising sign, is on the corner of the second turning on the right of the postcard below – the first was the original end of Marischal Road, although that turning was lost with the construction of the Mercator Estate in the 1960s.

By 1911, though the name over the window of the florist shop was still Thomas, his son son, Levi (1867) was running the business.  Presumably Thomas had died, although there is no obvious record of this.  In the 1911 census he was living over the shop, listed as a ‘fruiterer, greengrocer and florist’ with 6 children including Levi (1890), George (1905) and Thomas (1907).  Levi (1867) had moved around a lot since living in Deptford; they had lived in Ivy Terrace, close to St Stephen’s Church in Lewisham in 1891, although they’d been in Sidcup the year before where Levi (1890) was born.  They had spent much of the next 15 years near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, close to where his wife Susan hailed from.  He was working there as a market gardener.

Soon after Levi (1867) took over the business, it expanded into 85 High Road.  While it continued to be listed as a fruiterer, presumably also a greengrocer and florist, by 1925 there was change as the shop was listed as garden contractors too – presumably taking in the skills of the rest of the family too.

Levi (1867) was still  living at 87 in 1939 with his son Thomas (1905) who was listed as a motor van driver.  Next door at 85 was Levi (1889), with daughter Jessie (1912) and son Leonard (1915). Levi senior died in 1940, he was already widowed, and in his will of £1617 was left to sons Levi (1889), described as a florist, George and Thomas who were both listed as horticulturalists.

It is probably likely that brothers Levi (1889), Thomas and George, who in 1939 was listed as a Garden Contractor living in Morden Road in Blackheath, continued the business.  Levi(1889) had moved to the Isle or Wight by 1960, where he died.  It isn’t clear about George, but he may well have died in Beckenham in 1968.

The business was run by Thomas and his family from the 1960s, 85-87 was listed as a ‘Coppings Garden Centre’ or variants of this from 1965. The shop seems to have survived into the 1990s, while Thomas died in 1981, his sons Peter and Michael, along with the latter’s family took over the reins of running the shop.

By the 1990s 85-87 had become a shop selling aquarium and related supplies, run by Peter Copping.

Michael continued the gardening contracting business based on the Charlton/Woolwich borders, initially as Copping’s Landscapes then through Coppings (Maintenance) Ltd between 1995, and the death of Michael Copping in 2015. There are fond memories of working for the landscaping business in the late 1980s – ‘a rough tough crew.’

More recently the shop has become a Oriental food supermarket.


  • Kelly’s Directories are via the always helpful Lewisham and Southwark Archives
  • Census and related data is via Find My Past (subscription required)
  • The postcard of Lee High Road is via eBay, March 2020

Thank you to Richard Sanderson for letting me know that the sign had appeared, without whom this post wouldn’t have happened. Thank you also to Syd Kennedy for making a link to the more recent gardening contracting business – see comments below.

Thank you also to Minnie Copping (see comment below) for helping join some of the strands of the story together.


A Faded Sydenham Ghost Sign of a Fine Sign Writer

Knighton Park Road in Sydenham is a street of small late Victorian three bedroom houses, typical of its era.  Apart from a few cars that use it as a cut through to try to avoid the traffic lights at the junction of Sydenham Road and Kent House Road, it’s very quiet once you get away from the internal combustion noise of the main road.

It isn’t an obvious location for looking for advertising ‘ghost signs’, like their modern billboard counterparts, they tended to be on main roads, in prominent locations, but this wasn’t an ordinary ghost sign – on the corner with Hillmore Grove there was a fading ochre painted advertising sign relating to ‘H Price.’

Henry Price lived and worked from 39 Knighton Park Road from before just World War Two to around his death in 1973; he painted signs and advertising boards as well as cars, vans and trucks.  His handiwork was on the corner of the house he used to live in.

The sign was striking, but much more impressive are the signs that he painted on the sides of vans, often those for a variety of stationery firms.  The stunning one below on a 20 cwt Morrison-Electricar has been shared by his grandson through Geograph  on a creative commons, but there are several others which have been scanned as part of a set on Flickr.

Sadly the sign is no more – I had waited for the perfect photograph opportunity on the north facing wall, hoping for the adjacent tree to be covered with spring blossom and combined with a lack of vans, trucks or cars before writing this post.  That perfect opportunity sadly never arose and, alas dear reader, the sign is gone – the house has been extended upwards and outwards and the outside render along with its ochre sign has been replaced.

This is no criticism of the owner or developer, signs like this are generally not protected, although their value is beginning to be recognised in some boroughs and local listing has given to a few signs in Hackney.

imageThere are better examples in Lewisham that tell more of the history of trades and shopping such as those to the family of outfitters John Campion in Catford and the painters and grainers C Holdaway & Son at the bottom of Belmont Hill that perhaps are more worthy of protection.



As the locations are being recorded and photographed on websites such as Ghostsigns, vast numbers probably don’t need to be protected.  In any case those that have survived generally only remain by chance – their location has protected them as in the case of the Campion one, or they have been hidden behind more modern advertising hoardings such as the Holdaway sign.  In any case, the signs were not designed to last that long and left to the elements will rapidly fade – the Wittals sign on the corner of Bankwell Road and Lee High Road was clear when it first emerged from behind a hoarding around 2005 but is now barely visible.  In any case, it is often the story ‘behind’ the sign that is more interesting than the sign itself – helping tell stories of lost trades, 19th century migration into the city and shopping patterns that have changed.



A Hither Green Ghost Sign of a Long ‘Lost’ Brewery

In the middle of a row of shops on Hither Green Lane is a single-storey building, which seems oddly out of place in the two/three storey late Victorian properties – it has created some advertising space which remains filled by a painted ‘ghost sign’ which, at its very latest was painted in 1909 – more on that later.  The single-storey building may have originally been the same size as the rest of the terrace, the building was destroyed in a fire in 1894 (1).


The sign has clearly gone through at least two incarnations, painted over the top of each other, and have unevenly weathered, it appears to read – ‘Fox & Sons’. Below that is ‘…nborough’, then ‘Ales Stout’ and finally ‘In bottle and cask’.  There looks to be ‘wine’ in the midst too.


It is quite common for ‘ghost signs’ to relate to the business on the side of the building that it was painted on – Running Past has covered several including John Campion & Sons in Catford, a bakers in Sandhurst Road, Catford, a now hidden one at Lee Green and perhaps my favourite Wallace Prings Chemists in Bromley.

Fox & Sons were brewers from Green Street Green in Farnborough, now on the edge of Bromley. In the period up until the end of World War 1, and probably much longer, 210 Hither Green Lane seems to have been one of a pair of butchers shops on Hither Green Lane run by Joseph Hurdidge.  Hurdidge was born in Old Ford in 1865 and seems to have taken over the (presumably) tenancy of the 132 Hither Green Lane around 1890 and probably expanded to 210 when the shops were developed a little later.  Hurdidge certainly remained in the trade and remained in the Lewisham area for the rest of his life – in the 1939 Register he was still working but widowed and living at 78 Eltham Road, Lee, where he died in 1952.

There were a couple of off licences on Hither Green Lane – one just to the north of Harvard Road, run for years by a Robert Mott and one adjacent to Woodlands Street run by Florence Jackson.  Neither was mentioned in the sign though, although they may have sold bottled Fox and Co beer. More likely though is that there was a very short-lived off licence in the single story building next door – there is a photo of it but it didn’t seem to last long enough to make local directories.

Like most modern advertising billboards, it seems to have been a more general sign which the Brewery probably repeated in many locations – there is a postcard of a still serving pub from around 1906, the British Queen in Locksbottom, with an identical advertisement on the building side.

Source eBay April 2016

Source eBay April 2016

So what of the brewery? John Fox (born around 1787 in Buckinghamshire) had moved to Green Street Green in 1818 to run Oak Farm.  He brewed a little for himself and his employees but decided to set up a proper brewery on the site in the 1830s.  The business was taken over by his son Thomas (born 1819) who was still running the brewery (pictured below) with his sons in the 1881 census, but died in 1886. The third generation, Thomas (born 1852) and Walter St John Fox (born 1855), took full control after their father’s death.


Source here

By the mid 1860s they had three main beers – BB Bitter, which they sold at £2 a barrel, XL Pale Ale at £2.25, and East India Pale Ale for £2.50 cash price.   All had been “carefully brewed from malt of the finest quality and they are hopped with the best Kent growths.”  They delivered to most of the then rural suburbs of south east London – including Lee and Lewisham every Thursday.  By 1891 the Oak Brewery was attempting to mimic the Burton Pale Ales and treated the water with gypsum, quarried by the River Trent to try to do this.

By 1909 they had expanded their range of beer – the best known was Farnborough Ale (FA) – which they described as ‘bright, sparking and nutritious.’ They had almost 40 tied public houses and employed 110 workers in brewing, distribution as well as associated trades such as barrel making and a blacksmith.  The brewery was the centre of village life in Green Street Green, with around 30 tied cottages.

Early in the 20th century, the brothers may have been in some financial problems – they were certainly re-mortgaging some of the ‘tied houses’ in 1906.  The partnership was dissolved in 1907 and they decided to retire, putting the brewery put up for sale including its ‘tied houses.’ (2 – see cutting below).


It was not a good time to sell – values in the brewing industry were falling sharply (3), the 1904 Licensing Act gave magistrates more powers to refuse licences, particularly if there were a number of pubs in the area, although the value of the smaller number licences was expected to increase (4).

The Oak Brewery was bought in June 1907 for £89,000 (5); but the new owners clearly struggled and there was a second auction in April 1908 (6), but with a ‘reserve’ of £60,000 it failed to attract any interest.  It was split into smaller lots in June 1909 (7 – see below) with other breweries buying up the tied houses.  As brewing stopped in July 1909, presumably there was a separate sale of the buildings which were put to a variety of other uses after 1909 including military uses in the First World War and a later a plastic factory. The buildings were demolished for housing in the 1960s.



  1. The Times (London, England), Monday, Dec 10, 1894; pg. 10; Issue 34443.
  2. The Times (London, England), Saturday, May 18, 1907; pg. 20; Issue 38336.
  3. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Dec 28, 1907; pg. 13; Issue 38528.
  4. Ibid
  5. The Times (London, England), Saturday, Jun 19, 1909; pg. 15; Issue 38990.
  6. Ibid
  7. ibid

Census and related information comes from Find My Past

Kelly’s Directory data is from the Collection at Leicester University




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.


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.


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.




  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.


A Bromley Ghost Sign – J Morton Crouch and Son

An incredibly well preserved and detailed sign has emerged from the protection of another more recent advertising hoarding on the side of 41 Masons Hill, close to Bromley South station.  It was on the side of the business that it relates to.

James Morton Crouch was born in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire in 1862. He moved to Penge at some stage before 1881. He was listed in the 1881 census as an Ironmonger’s Assistant living above the shop with the proprietor, Arthur Barrett, at 37-39 Beckenham Road.

Before the decade was out he was listed as being on the electoral register in Bromley.   In the 1891 Kelly’s he was listed at 4 The Parade, Masons Hill and by 1903, he was at the two locations in the ghost sign, as was the case in 1913.

Other than on the side of the shop at 41 Masons Hill there were adverts for the business in several places in 1906 – including the Bromley library bulletin in May 1906. 

The son was called Alfred and was born around 1896 in Bromley, he seemed to have stayed in the area – an Alfred M Crouch died in Bromley in 1958.  As for the business and J Morton Crouch it hasn’t been possible to trace the family or the business on line beyond 1913 – but presumably the sign post dates that as the ‘son’ was not listed in Kelly’s – he would have been 17 at that stage.

The ghost sign certainly wasn’t there in 1910 when it was photographed for that year’s Bush’s Directory (see below for picture credit).



There are some parallels with another Bromley ghost sign that has featured in the blog – that of Uridge Stores.  They both had shops at either end of the shopping centre in Bromley – oddly next door to each other in Widmore Road, Crouch’s shop is now the Terrace Café and Restuarant, and Uridge’s is clear from the ghost sign.  On Mason’s Hill – Isaac Uridges shop there was at 25.

Picture Credit

Thank you to Sheldon from the excellent Cemetery Club blog spotting the advert in the 1910 Bush’s Directory at Bromley Archives, and to them both for letting me use the picture.


A Bromley Ghost Sign – Uridge’s Stores

There is a well preserved ghost sign on the side of the top storey of the  Bromley Bike Co shop on Widmore Road.  I have been in the shop, stood at bus stops opposite but had never looked up until it was mentioned to me on twitter after posting on the Wallace Pring sign at Bromley Common.

The business was run by Isaac Uridge.  However, it wasn’t the first shop of a similar name in the area.  The first was opened by Isaac’s father, also Issac, who had moved with his wife Elizabeth to Bromley in 1855 where they opened a shop at at 12-13 Market Square.

The shop had clearly become well known, such that by 1872 when there were calls for greater traffic involvement from the police due to the level of accidents at ‘Uridges Corner’.

Isaac, senior, died in 1874 and it appears that at least some of the older children carried on the business until around 1881 at the Market Square, as there were still Uridges listed as living there in the census.  However, by the 1882 Kelly’s Directory, the Market Square shop was no longer trading.  This seems likely to be because the building was demolished to widen the road.  The building on the corner, now Café Rouge, is dated 1883.

The two oldest children Henry and William were running the same business at 15 Widmore Road, a few doors doors down from the sign, and now a Pizza Express.  Kellys listed them as grocers, wine and sprit merchants and were agents for W & A Gilbey – who were then wine retailers, they didn’t add their own brand gin to their portfolio until 1895.

The brothers’ partnership was dissolved in late 1884, though William continued the business opening new shops in Blackheath (Shooters Hill Road) and Chislehurst.  Henry and William both married 2nd cousins of Bromley’s famous ‘son’, HG Wells, (Marion & Minnie respectively) and both died young, William in 1895 aged around 37. The shops formerly run by William in Blackheath and Widmore Road were quickly disposed of.  The executors of his will were still running the shop in Chislehurst in the 1913 Kelly’s.

Isaac (junior) was born in 1866 and by 1903 was running the shop with the ghost sign at 27 Widmore Road as well as another at 25 Masons Hill. By 1913 (Kelly’s) he had extended the business to include a shop at 2-4 London Road, Sevenoaks.

Isaac took over the  W & A Gilbey franchise, and described the shop as ‘High Class Stores’ in an advertisement in a 1906 Bromley Public Library Bulletin which had them selling groceries, fresh and dried fruits, provisions, wines and spirits, pork and poultry, ales and stout – an early incarnation of Waitrose, perhaps?

The business was certainly trading into the early 1950s and possibly beyond, although it is not clear whether it was still at Widmore Road and how long they remained in the family – the Sevenoaks shops was sold in 1938, when Isaac would have been 72. However, it is possible that his daughter, Ella, may have continued to run the business.


Bromley Ghost Signs – “Wallace Pring’s for Chemist Things”

I spotted this rather attractive sign on the side of a chemists (and post office) in a shopping parade at the corner of Chatterton Road and Walpole Road, close to Bromley Common when out running, ‘picked out’ by a street light and had been meaning to go back for a while. It is relatively unusual in that it is for the same name as the current business that occupies the shop.

Chatterton Road is a pleasant Victorian shopping parade probably built around the early 1880s (the 1882 Kelly’s Directory has homes but few businesses). It is named after an 18th century poet, Thomas Chatterton, who was posthumously recognised by many of the Romantic Movement, including Wordsworth, Rossetti, Coleridge and Shelley, after committing suicide from arsenic poisoning aged just 17.

William Wallace Pring seems to have bought the shop from a Charles Litten somewhere between 1903 and 1907 (there was a change in ownership in the Kelly’s between those years). The 1907 Kelly’s has them described as a chemist and post office, the same slightly unusual mixture of businesses as today. William had previously been the manager of a chemist in Crouch End.

The 1911 census has the Prings living ‘over the shop’. William, who was then 36, hailed from Reading; his wife Daisy, 29, came from Lamberhurst in Kent and helped run the shop, and there was a son, also William who had been born at around the same time as they moved to Chatterton Road. They had sufficient income to be able to employ a servant.

The business seems to have stayed in the family with William’s younger son Maxwell, who was born in 1913 and also had the Wallace middle name – presumably a family tradition. It appears that it was one of a pair of chemist shops that they owned in Bromley – the other was at 7 Bromley High Street.

(William Wallace Pring in the middle plus a child, probably Maxwell given William’s WW1 uniform)

It is possible that they may have initially started a couple of doors down from the current location, as the 1907 Kelly’s lists Wallace Pring at 24. However, by 1909 they were certainly at 28 (which is now 40) as the postcard below seems to be was dated from then. Similarly, the 1911 census and 1913 Kelly’s has them at 28. However, it could, of course, just be a street renumbering.

While the shop was sold, the name lives on in both the shop name and the ghost sign. Given the longevity of the business it is difficult to date the sign, but it certainly wasn’t there in Edwardian postcard photograph of the shop.

I would like to thank, Courtney Oneka Kennedy-Sanigar for letting me use the family photo and the postcard of the shop. She has produced a lovely family history centring on another Wallace Pring shop in Whitstable which is a clothing store.

A Review of the Year

January 2nd seems slightly late to be doing a review of 2014, but it is the anniversary of my first post, on the Battle of Deptford Bridge, so it seems quite apposite.

My expectations 12 months ago were limited, I was writing and researching for me and didn’t really expect there to be too much of an audience. I was surprised to start getting people reading my posts, the first one that got more than a handful of views was Ghost Signs in Lewisham and Catford, which has had a steady trickle ever since – including several around Halloween who were using the search term ‘haunted Catford’, sorry that I probably disappointed you.

The number of ‘views’ steadily increased during the year and the other most read pieces included
The Zeppelin Attack on Hither Green
Anti-German Atttacks in WW1 Deptford
Ghost Signs – Charles Holdaway, a Lewisham Painter
Listed Lewisham – The Excalibur Estate
Thomas Murphy and the Charlton Greyhounds

My original aim was a post every two or three weeks but somehow have managed 95, although about half of those are largely running based – I never really intended to write about running, seeing it as a means of transport for posts rather than a topic in its own right; but it seemed natural once I started.

As for my favourite posts, there are a trio of standout ones because I enjoyed the research for them
Shakespeare and Lewisham – when I found that the story of King Lear was linked to the old Manor of Lee;
The Inaugural Women’s AAA Championships – which brought together a national championship in Downham and some family history; and
Rollo Richards the New Cross Post Office Bomber – where I ‘discovered’ a large anarchist group in Deptford and the bomber’s later funding of a church bell in Cudham.

A big thank you to everyone who has followed me here or via Twitter and/or retweeted links to the posts. Thank you too to those who have commented on posts, it is always great to get feedback. And the final thank you is to those relatives of people who were part of the histories that I have written about who have shared their family stories and their family photos. I hope that I did justice to your relatives and their tales.

Finally, writing this blog has opened my eyes to a lot of other great writing , I followed Transpontine and Caroline’s Miscellany before I started writing but discovered a lot of others too – my favourites are on my ‘blog roll’ – do try them out.

Ghost Signs – Frederick Stimpson, Carver and Gilder

Going north along Lee Road, from Lee Green towards Blackheath, the road crosses the River Quaggy and, at head height, on a building by the side of the bridge, is (or was) a ghost sign.  It is an odd location and painting much of it would have presumably have involved wading through the Quaggy, carrying ladders under the bridge from Osborn Terrace, with the ladder standing in the river whilst painting the sign.


Other than the ‘F Stimpson’s’, ‘…works’ in the middle and ‘fine’ on the bottom row of lettering, it is difficult to decipher what remains – due to a combination of several layers, re-pointing and age. However, census data and Kelly’s Directories are of assistance – it is a sign for Frederick Stimpson who ran a carving and gilding business at 120 Lee Road, the side of the building on which the sign is located.


So what was gilding and carving?  The carving element would relate to carving wood for furniture and picture frames; in some some cases it might also involved carving an shaping, plaster on ceilings.  The gilding part was applying gold leaf. A newspaper advert for a similar business in Burnt Ash Road in the 1890s focused on the picture framing part of it (1).

Frederick Stimpson was born in Killower, in rural County Galway 15 miles north of the city of Galway in 1876. His family had moved back to London, via Sussex where his sister was born, as by 1881 he was living at 29 Horton Street, just off Loampit Vale, in Lewisham.  His parents were William, was a ‘naval pensioner’ of 39 from Sheerness, and  Mahala who was from Messing in Essex.

By 1891 he was living in Footscray Road in Eltham with his family and was listed as a Cabinet Maker’s apprentice aged 15, perhaps with his brother William.  He married Annie (nee White), who hailed from Bexleyheath in 1900 and by 1901 he was listed in the census as living over the shop at 120 Lee Road.

He had probably only moved to Lee Road a year or two before the census – in 1896, 120 was occupied by Edward Lynch a picture frame maker . Over the next 10 years Annie and William had four sons, and the business was clearly successful as they were able to afford a live-in servant, Jessie Parsons who came from Islington.

Frederick died in 1935, still living at 120 Lee Road and was buried in the churchyard of St John the Baptist at the top of Eltham Hill.

The widowed Annie was still living over the shop in 1939 – listed as a picture dealer. Also there were two sons Harold (1901) and Geoffrey (1907) along with a lodger.  Both the sons were listed as married but there was no sign of their wives at Lee Road.

120 Lee Road was listed as Blackheath Galleries in 1940, whether this was a re-branded business with Annie at the helm isn’t clear either way though, it didn’t survive the war – the shop was empty in 1945. A similar business emerged in 1950 called C C Ham, a picture framer, but with no obvious link to the Stimpsons. It was a business that remained until the late 1960s since when it has been a series of takeaways.  The first, perhaps not one for a speedy service was a Chinese restaurant called ‘Slowboat.’

Edward Lynch’s business in 1896 wasn’t the first (or last) business to trade from the shop.  It makes for an interesting slice through retail history – hosiers Morton & Co were there in 1884, Albert Barnes a hosier and outfitter in 1888, in 1892 the short-lived Blackheath Gazette carried adverts for a W Francis who was a ‘Dyer, Cleaner, furrier and plumassier (someone who works with feathers),  a Miss E Francis who had dropper the second two bits of her father’s (?) trade in 1894.


The ghost sign was still visible when this post was first written in 2014, but seems to have been boarded over by the current occupants of the shop, The Vintage Fish, who moved in around 2016.  Long term. this will protect what remains of the sign which is badly faded.  Those partial to painted artwork on bricks may still want to pay a visit to the site, as opposite, at river level, is one of the best examples of the Lewisham Natureman stag, ‘grazing’ by the diverted outflow of Mid Kid Brook.


  1. Kentish Mercury 27 January 1893


  • The Kelly’s Directory data comes via Southwark Archives
  • Census and related data is via Find May Past (subscription required)

Ghost Signs – Charles Holdaway, a Lewisham Painter

This very well preserved ghost sign, next to the bowling alley on Belmont Hill in Lewisham was uncovered in early 2014, the previous advertising hoarding having been removed. Despite my expectation that it would be re-covered with a more modern advertising display, aimed at almost constant stream of drivers and bus passengers stopped at the traffic lights, it still there (mid 2017).

The C Holdaway was probably Charles Parneth Holdaway, although as it was almost certainly a family business, by the time the sign was written it may have been his son who was also Charles.

Graining was something common in the 19th and early 20th century – it was essentially either creating a wood grain effect on a non-wood surface or imitating hard, expensive woods by applying a thin layer of paint onto soft woods such as pine to mimic hardwoods such as mahogany.

The exact vintage of the sign is not completely clear, although it is certainly some time before 1912, as around halfway down on the left hand side there is an old street name, Granville Mews, painted over the advertisement. This name was replaced with its present name, Myron Place, in 1912.

Charles, senior, was born at Woodford in Essex in 1845. This predated the arrival of the railway there by a decade, so it is likely to have been largely rural in character. He had clearly moved away from the area by his early 20s, as he had married to Maria who was from Pimilco, and they had a son, Charles junior, was born in Brixton in 1868.

By the 1881 census they were living at 36 Molesworth Street, although given the birthplace and years of the other children, they had spent at least 5 years in Stratford en route from Brixton.

There was probably originally an address for the business on the sign, but this was undoubtedly lower down the wall and is now covered by several layers of paint. While this could have been Molesworth Street, it is much more likely to have been a little further up the road towards Blackheath at 27 Belmont Hill, where the family was living in 1891. Belmont Hill was the location given in the various adverts that appeared for the firm in the short-lived Blackheath Gazette in the early 1890s, a November 1892 edition included

C. Holdaway, Plumber and Painter, 3, Belmont Hill, Lee. Special attention given to Sanitary Work, Estimates for General Repairs, Contractor under the London Provincial Sanitary Company ….

Although as other editions had 0, 4 and 27, it may just have been typesetting of pre-computer Guardian levels of accuracy.

By the 1901 (and in the 1911 census) they had moved to the other side of, what would then have been known as Lee Bridge, at 33 Lewis Grove where they had a shop front. Charles, senior, was still listed as working at 68 in 1911.

Charles, junior, was at least in the same ‘trade’, working at a ‘paper hanger’ in 1901, probably in the family business. He lived close by at 59 Cressingham Road. He is listed for the same trade in 1911, but three doors away from where he was living in 1881, at 30 Molesworth Street.