Tag Archives: ghost sign

‘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.


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.


The Ghosts of Manor House Gardens’ Air Raid Shelters

There used to be several signs in the area around Manor House Gardens pointing towards air raid shelters in the park. The best preserved visible one is close to where Old Road meets Manor Lane Terrace suggesting ‘Shelter for 600’ (pictured below).


The remains of one is fading rapidly on Lee High Road, at the corner of Brandram Road – although this may relate to one that was built in the grounds of Merchant Taylors Almshouses rather than the Manor House Gardens one.

Another is hidden behind advertising hoardings on what was once known as the Firs Estate,


The one surviving structure that was used as a was the Ice House. It was probably built in 1773, when the rest of the grounds of the Manor House were laid out; the House itself had been constructed the year before for Thomas Lucas. It stayed in use as an Ice House until around 100 years ago but fell into disuse when the Manor House was transferred to the council and became a library, although at one stage the Ice House was used as stables. It was refurbished in 2000 and is open to the public between 3pm and 5pm on the 1st and 3rd Sundays between May and September.

There is certainly plenty of room inside the Ice House, but nothing like enough space for 600 people. One of the information boards within the Ice House mentions the decision to close one of the three Air Raid Shelters on 24 June 1941, ‘construction was substandard and the structure dangerous.’ So where in the Gardens’ were the other two shelters?

One seems to have been the flat area behind the Manor House at the top of the large grassed area – post war it was to become a grass tennis court.

As for the other while there appears to be nothing on-line that would help in locating it, there is a tool that the modern archaeologist uses – the aerial photograph, and with this Google Maps is helpful, or at least was in 2014 when the screen shot below was taken.

The likely location is next to the Ice House, as there are both outlines on the aerial photograph as well as ARP Log references to bombs falling in Manor House Gardens between the shelters and the pond.  

During the dry summers of 2018, 2020 and 2022 the outline of this likely air raid shelter by the Ice House was visible on the ground, the photo is looking south towards Manor Lane.

There may have been a further shelter to the front of the Manor House itself – there is reference to it in the ARP Logs during World War Two, although on busy nights there were sometimes mistakes made and it may have meant to refer to Manor House Gardens.

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)