Towns and cities all over the country are being haunted and we don’t even realise. These silent ghosts are often only a few steps away, watching us from largely unseen vantage points, echoing the lives of those long since dead. But fear not! These historic manifestations are nothing to be afraid of, but rather physical phantoms we should actually preserve. They are in fact, ghost signs.
My attention was brought to these commonly overlooked adornments of our streets by Phil and Caroline Bunford. They have a keen interest in local history and have made strident efforts to create a photographic record of Liverpool’s advertising past. They have certainly been busy. Late last year the couple published their first book, Liverpool Ghost Signs: A Sideways Look at the City’s Advertising History which includes more than a hundred separate depictions of Liverpool’s remaining spectral signage.
The Bunford’s fascination in this field has revealed nothing short of a pictorial doorway into a long lost world many us have never even noticed. Who alive today knew that a Mr Richard T. Richardson started a chemist business back in the 1880’s at number No.39 Smithdown Road? His beautiful mosaic advertising floor tile still exists at the door to the old shop. And what about No.134 Goodison Road? In 1911 two professional footballers lived here along with the cow keeper’s family when it was a dairy premises!
These timeworn shops were a part of an everyday life for our predecessors who could often be found mulling about the isles purchasing their essentials. They may not all have been based in lavish or stately properties but these traders served an invaluable purpose. Without them communities simply couldn’t function.
“Liverpool has a very layered and colourful history. We were both drawn to the lesser known buildings and characters that helped shaped the city” says Caroline. “The signs hark back to a time when life seemed to move at a slower pace, when people shopped on their local high streets so much more and they used independent, family-run firms. They are pieces of art, intricately painted or tiled, and it must have taken a very patient craftsman to undertake each job. The signs are indeed ‘ghostly’ but they are fantastic survivors of our social and consumer past.”
Phil and Caroline are always keeping an eye out for newly-discovered ghost signs and intend to revise their book in five years with updates and additions. “A lot of the signs in the book have already been covered up or vanished even since November’s publication” laments Phil, “a record really needs to be kept.”