Ghost Signs of Glasgow blog: A Walk on the Ghostly Side, by Elspeth Cherry

I first came across Ghost Signs on Instagram. I think I had posted a snap of a fading painted sign and when I searched around a bit I was introduced to the expression. Once an entity has been named you can’t help noticing it everywhere.

Ghost signs are peppered all around the city centre. It’s the nature of the beast. The moniker itself is evocative, capturing mystery and fascination in these relics from bygone times, sometimes living memory, often a lot older than that, deep in the Merchant City of Glasgow.

Ghost Signs Tour, City Centre, October 2021

When there was a guided walking tour of Ghost Signs during the Glasgow Open Doors Festival in 2019, I soon began honing a sharp eye to detect the traces of lettering on walls and doorways, over shop windows and on tenement gable ends. The guides had stories to tell: of Mr Benjamin who sold many types of natural sponges, imported from sparkling tropical waters to the factories, workshops, stables and homes of Edwardian Glasgow; of Ann’s shoe shop at the Barras which specialised in small sizes; of the warning to small boys not to play marbles or balls in the courtyard behind Royal Exchange Square. Fellow walkers on the tours pitched in with their own memories or local knowledge and made the excursion most enjoyable.

I even spotted some gilded fonts emerging from under flaking layers of paint in an alleyway which had not already been noted. There’s a little spark of joy in that.

Elspeth during a Ghost Signs tour, City Centre, October 2021

At the end of Lockdown I was looking round for new projects and the Ghost Sign Project was looking for volunteers. Researchers, photographers, social media posters and tour guides. Spark of joy! I sent off my details and offered my services as a humble researcher. Yes, I thought that learning how to use archives would be a useful skill. I’m not bad at googling and writing up results… Maybe in time, I could be good enough to help with a walking tour? I was accepted and duly supplied with a ghost sign to research. Burley’s Hammer Shaft Factory in Ibrox was a wonderful gift as there was an abundance of information about the long and prosperous history of this company. However, another ghost sign for a Strathbungo motor mechanic business near to where I grew up, was more of a task despite this business having existed in my own living memory, it was difficult to draw anything like the vivid tale of the hammer shaft makers. Another ghost sign for a southside pawnbrokers’ sign, dating back to the early 20th C til only a few years ago, was nigh impossible to squeeze the slightest flicker of life from. From this inspiration, I found my forte as I was quickly promoted, or hustled, into the role of tour guide for this year’s Open Doors Days!

With the knowledgeable Fiona as my leader, it was really fun and interesting.

Ghost Signs tour, city Centre, October 2021

Glasgow’s true commercial peak was the era of the Victorian Empire. Many of the ghost signs we see in the city centre open a little crack of light to the rich world that prevailed but also to the lives of the smaller businesses that glued its edifices together.

A hat maker here, a scrivener there, a typewriter repair business! In those old times, the signwriters prepared their own paints and mixed them to weather the elements and the grime of the city.

Today’s business signs are pre-made plastic and are exchangable and disposable. Still more businesses are digital and inhabiting online market places. In another hundred years, perhaps we will be excavating some archaic form of the internet to discover such tasty morsels of history?!

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Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow Blog: A Practical Guide to Historic Signs

For this month’s Blog, we’re talking to Building Conservator & Educator, Darren McLean, for some insight into why many of the Glasgow Ghost Signs have survived for so long.

J: Can you give us an introduction to yourself and the work you do Darren? 

D: Well, I’ve a passion for historic buildings and I’m fortunate enough to make a living not only by hands-on conservation, but teaching it too. I spent considerable time in Italy, where I studied traditional Marmorino marble based plastering in Venice, as well as the conservation of mosaics in Ravenna. In 2018, I became an adjunct assistant professor at The University of Hong Kong, responsible for the materials and techniques modules of the postgraduate conservation curriculum. I’ve also taught for heritage organisations, such as Historic Scotland, Glasgow City Heritage Trust, National Trust Australia, and the Yangon City Heritage Trust. I mostly work with wood, masonry, lime mortars, natural cements, mosaics and tile. I’ve also (very relevant to this topic) recreated and tested various historic whitewash, paint and varnish recipes.

J: You have a great understanding of the materials and techniques used in historic buildings, but you also know what went into the creation of many of the Ghost Signs we find around Glasgow that have helped to preserve them so well. 

D: Sure, and a good place to start is to clarify the different types of ghost signs we find today. In general, signs that involve paint were applied on wood, masonry and occasionally onto glass – something you tend to see more often on the continent. The science of making durable paints for all these substrates was well known centuries ago. It was routine for painters to produce their own paints, prior to the advent of ‘off the shelf’ tinned paint, and even then, they often needed to be manually tinted. Books relating to the architectural trades rapidly spread information & instructions on the production of materials, including recipes for paint. Many books offered advice on durable paints for signage, as well as which paints to avoid that were not so long lasting. Something very important when painting a difficult to access tenement gable! 

To look at signage on masonry, large wall signs were first drawn on paper, then the ground (base) was applied to the masonry wall and chalk lines used to create guide lines for the letters. Often these were drawn with broken clay pipe stems, sold for this purpose direct from factories such as the one located at the Barras. The best way to make painted signage last was to have a stable and durable base, often a type of whitewash (the name for limewash until the early half of the 20th century). Various additives improved adhesion and durability. Oil based paints (typically Linseed oil) created a durable ground, with linseed often added to whitewash to improve its adherence and resistance to erosion. Whitewash was always applied hot in the past, which vastly improved its ability to bond with its substrate. Whitewash is one of the cheapest types of ‘paint’ available, even today. This cost advantage was very important, as advertisers weren’t only painting shopfronts and building gables, they even painted enormous advertisements onto seaside cliffs – not a feasible option with expensive paints.

When painting shopfront glass, paint was applied to the inside, although not exposed to wind and rain, this could suffer from exposure to UV light. Nowadays synthetic pigments are often used to withstand UV light, however the pigments used in the past were predominantly natural, and derived from earth minerals which were UV resistant and colourfast: Ochre, umbra, sienna, burnt sienna are all extracted from various clays. While lamp black – a deep black pigment – is made by burning vegetable waste. Signage painted onto wooden shopfronts used oil paints, and occasionally gilding, then were protected by varnish. These were frequently installed at an angle, so the top of the sign is proud of the base. This created a slightly sheltered situation for the writing and, in some situations, there is a stone course, which is part of the building, directly above the timber. Both these provided protection for the paintwork, meaning that they are amongst the most frequently seen types of ghost sign. 

Unfortunately, paints could include some nasty stuff, such as lead, which most everyone will know is toxic. But there was worse: a wonderfully deep vermillion red was obtained from mercury sulphide-rich cinnabar, antimony and arsenic for yellows. Antimony was helpful as it slowed the drying of paints. Even reasonably safe products, manganese for instance, became toxic to those manufacturing the paints, due to the frequency and duration of contact, and inhaling dust.

A page from ‘The Painters and Grainers Handbook’, 1873
A page from ‘The Painters and Grainers Handbook’, 1873

J: Given that some of the additives used in sign painting could be toxic, were they also harmful to the fabric of the building?

D: Not really, where the masonry of buildings has been painted for advertising, it tends to be up high for visibility and doesn’t have the same deleterious ‘clingfilm’ effect as painting the entire building. It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, but high up walls will get wet, but also dry out faster as there’s more wind to assist evaporation. Even where ghost signs appear near ground level, such as the Regalia Whisky ghost sign in Partick, they don’t cause the kind of harm modern masonry paint does, the old paint was different & often weathered back, allowing evaporation to occur.

J: Are there less toxic materials around today that could produce the kind of longevity that the old methods produced?

There are, of course, highly durable, modern specialist paints available nowadays – think of paint used for airplanes, ships & oil rigs. But there are also durable water-based paints, that are far less toxic than historic paints. If someone were to repair or repaint a sign and permeability was a concern, I would recommend silicate paints which, although expensive, are available in a wide range of colours and have been in use since the late 1800s. They may not be as permeable as whitewash, but are far superior to plastic paints and very long lasting when applied correctly. 

Regalia Whisky Sign, Partick, Jan Graham
Detail of Regalia Whisky Sign, Partick, Jan Graham

J: Heated debate has arisen around conservation of Ghost Signs. During our Conference on Ghost Signs last year, we held a panel discussion on their preservation, bringing together Ghost Sign sites from across the UK & Ireland. Whilst our combined efforts do much to document & archive these ephemeral works, there were mixed views on conservation. Can you offer a view on the various approaches such as protecting with some form of coating, reviving through repainting, or leaving them to fade?

D: “Heated” is right, you could say that about almost every aspect of building conservation! Ask three conservators this question and you’ll get three (or more!) replies. The protective coatings option, can be a double-bladed sword. Few are as breathable, or permeable, as portrayed. With consequent dangers of moisture building up behind them and creating a blister effect, pushing the surface of the masonry away. Personally, I don’t like the idea of allowing things from the past to vanish, where it’s feasible for them to be sympathetically and respectfully kept for future generations to appreciate, or learn from. This may involve cleaning, or sympathetic painting to keep its present state. Having said that, bringing these things back to their original vibrant colours is too far the other way for me. It risks misinterpretation through conjecture. I like the Italian attitude, where what’s visible is conserved as sensitively as prevailing conservation practices allow, and where there are missing areas of a wall painting or mosaic, modern materials are used to recreate the missing section. This has no impact on the nearby original historic fabric, yet tells a story, educates and, should more information become available, is easily removed or modified. 

St Andrews Printworks, Govanhill, Julie Paterson

J: There seems to be a lack of regulation to protect this relatively new aspect of our built heritage. Some host buildings for ghost signs have listed status, such as the St Andrew’s Print Works building on Pollokshaws Road, but what’s your view on a legal framework that ensures ghost signs are considered on planning applications?

D: For me, retention of a building’s historic fabric is at the heart of conservation. The majority of historic buildings in Glasgow are residential properties in private ownership. A considerable number are in conservation areas or listed. If listed, it’s because the building is linked to a historical significance, be that something famous – or infamous – political, religious, artistic, or scientific. So listing is really an acknowledgement of historical events. Where a ghost sign has survived, and is visible, it IS a piece of history. Indeed, ironically, the signs can be more honest than the buildings themselves, which may have had numerous alterations over the decades, many of which are not obvious. 

A commonly used term in conservation refers to the “Character defining elements” of a building’s physical attributes. These can be carved stone facades, ornate plaster ceilings or something much more ordinary. The things that make a certain building interesting, if not unique. What can be more character defining than a massive painting on the side, or a subtler one painted on glass? A sign which reflects the lives of people around the time they were painted & that became a reference point for generations of local people!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow Blog: Ghost Signs of a different kind, by Karen Rennie

I happened to be scrolling through Twitter one day and saw a post about Ghost Signs of Glasgow. Intrigued, I started to follow it and enjoyed the idea of all the past lives they would bring to light. They put out a request for volunteers to help start the Ghost Signs journey. I was just starting my degree in history and social science and this just seemed like fate and so I applied for the roles of photographer and researcher.

Almost three years later I’m still doing, and loving both. Researching historical signs not only gives a glimpse of the history of said signs, but of the area at the time. Both of which really link in with my area of study. This felt like more than just a volunteering hobby, it felt like a great bridge between Uni life and my ‘outside’ life. And taking pictures of signs that we found was a great way to retain their legacy. Learning new research skills, and just getting to be plain nosey, finding out random facts about signs I walked by was great. How often do I walk by things and
take them for granted because I’m rushing, running for the bus, to Uni, to work, to the pub (ah, the days when you could go to the pub…or indeed to Uni!). It was a great spark to reignite my  passion for this city.

Regalia Whisky Ghost Sign, Peel Street.

Not only that, but we got the chance to make our own hand painted signs at a workshop at Glasgow City Heritage Trust. What a laugh it was trying our hand at doing this the original way.
Hats off to the people still doing things by hand, it is impressive work! We also ran talks and it was great knowing people were so interested in the project that they’d signed up to attend – and it was a sell out and it definitely pushed a few of us out our comfort zone, talking to a packed room!
We weren’t forced obviously, but it was good to push our boundaries! Listening to
everyone speak about their roles, from mapping to tour guide, or photographer to graphic designer, it was great for both the audience and for us. It was lovely to hear the comments about our signs and their stories and hearing other people’s stories from the past too really made our night, as did the well-earned beer afterwards.

Ghost Signs volunteers, sign writing workshop

The stories of the past really do engage us all and it is such a fabulous privilege to play a small part in rediscovering hidden gems that allow us to retain the magic of Glasgow past.
Obviously, the chance to go out and get pictures of ghost signs has slowed in this pandemic world, but everyone can join in and send a snap of any they see tagging us @ghostsignsgla.

We can all keep the ghost sign hunting going in our own local areas. We’ll continue to discover the treasure trove of history that lies behind the signs of the past. The ghosts of Glasgow.
This role has really reminded me to always take a minute, to stop, to look up and appreciate the beauty that is our city. It is magic.

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow blog: The Talisman Bar, Springburn -When is something worth documenting, but not preserving? by Rachel Campbell

Earlier this year the community in Springburn celebrated the news that the Talisman Bar would finally be demolished. By April 2021 this work has almost been completed. This victory comes after over 25 years of campaigning from local community groups who raised concerns over the health and safety of the building. Over the years it has become and eyesore and a target for vandalism.

The Talisman was first opened in 1966 under Scottish & Newcastle Breweries. The company has a fascinating history, dating back to 18th Century Edinburgh when the Younger family owned it. By the 19th Century Younger’s shipped globally and by the 20th Century it was making almost 25% of Scotland’s beers. The Talisman was run by manager W. McIntosh and his wife. In 1991 it was renamed The Baron. Despite being bought and sold on several occasions, the building has been left empty since 1994. 

Talisman Bar

The demolition of the Talisman raises important questions of building preservation and debates around when is something worth documenting, but not necessarily preserving?

Too many of Glasgow’s historic buildings are derelict. A 2018 report named Glasgow as the city with the highest number of empty buildings and spaces in Scotland, with 120 buildings placed on the Buildings At Risk Register. Within the past few years there have been several high profile campaigns to save buildings from dereliction, including the work being done to preserve the Alexander ‘Greek’ Thompson Egyptian Halls on Union Street.

In many cases these buildings are a part of a shared community history and more should be done to allow early intervention so that communities can reuse these spaces and buildings according to their needs. Councils should be doing more to allow historic buildings to be ‘recycled’ for different purposes. They are not only an important part of the community’s shared social memory but part of our cultural history, and should be saved to extend their legacy. In many cases the reuse of buildings is also a cheaper option in the long run.

Talisman Bar, ghost sign

It is important that communities have agency to decide when buildings are culturally significant, whether they are structurally reusable, and when, in some cases, demolition and replacement might be more appropriate. The collective memory of buildings such as The Talisman can be preserved in other ways, while communities themselves move forward. Derelict spaces can leave communities feeling left behind or forgotten, whilst giving a community agency over its own spaces and history can be empowering and uplifting.  For the people of Springburn, there was a long battle for the opportunity to decide on what they wanted to do with The Talisman bar, hopefully with its demolition, the community can now reclaim the space for its own needs.

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Planning exhibitions in the time of COVID, by Rachel Campbell

Ghost Signs of Glasgow is planning to  launch an online exhibition very soon. An exhibition was always an end goal for the project, but if you had told us back in 2019 we would be planning for this in the midst of a pandemic I’m not sure any of us would have believed you. I work in curatorial and interpretation in the museum sector and have done exhibitions for several large heritage institutions before. But never has there been so much uncertainty. 

Almost immediately the impact of COVID could be felt across the heritage sector. Museums across the globe were closed and galleries fell silent. Historic Environment Scotland ran two surveys in 2020 on the ways in which museums and galleries in Scotland were affected by the crisis. Published in July, the survey recorded that 70% of respondents recorded a loss of revenue and 65% cancelled all events for 2020. The ARTFUND COVID Impact Report recorded similar results. Out of 427 museums and galleries surveyed between April and May 98% had cancelled exhibitions and events. 

Kelvingrove Museum

Monetary losses have been even greater, with many heritage charities and institutions having to restructure, resulting in redundancies across the board. The Museum Association Redundancy Tracker has recorded almost 4,000 job losses so far, with many more people still at risk. Even the biggest names in the sector haven’t been safe.

The National Trust for Scotland lost around 200 staff in September 2020, despite a £3.2 million government bailout. The story is similar across the rest of the UK, with thousands of job losses at the National Trust, V&A, and Historic Royal Palaces. Only time will tell if our museums and galleries will be able to reopen this year, or if we face another year of cancelled events. 

In some ways the Ghost Signs project was lucky. Prior to lockdown we were able to launch our maps so you can hunt down the historic signs in your area, and these were also made available to download online. Much of our research into the existing Ghost Signs had also been completed. Our extensive archive gave us plenty of scope to create this exhibition around some of our favourite interesting and eye-catching signs. 

 We began discussing our plans for the exhibition back in October 2020. Despite the threat of another lockdown looming over us, we decided to press on with our plans to hold a physical one; in some ways we still had retained that sense of hope that it would be ‘better in a few weeks’. But it was crucial that we had the backup of a digital exhibition should this have to be postponed.

Tenement House (National Trust for Scotland)

Digital exhibitions have their advantages. In September 2020 Ghost Signs led a successful online conference for Doors Open Day alongside similar projects in London, Birmingham and Dublin. Going digital allowed us to connect with Ghost Signs hunters across the two countries in a way that might not have been achieved if the event was an in-person event. Hopefully, our digital exhibition will be able to provide something of a similar chance to connect with our city’s rich heritage without having to leave the house.

With vaccines being rolled out, there does seem to be an end in sight to the COVID crisis. We hope that the upcoming digital exhibition will be the first event of many this year as we look forward to another year of Ghost Signs hunting.

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow Blog: The Ghost of Christmas Past, by Lucia Marquez Leaman

I have started to watch the games of football on the grounds behind my flat with the rapt attention of a spectator in the stands.

Lockdown has transformed Glasgow from a great big city into what I can walk to within reason, a smaller and smaller circle as the pandemic has worn on.

On these walks around the East End, ghost signs have begun to appear to me, although I am sure they are not new. My favourite example is the former ‘VICE LAUNDRY’, three signs in one on Whitehill Street, now under construction.

What used to read ‘SELF-SERVICE LAUNDRY’ a business that has reviews online as recently as 2018 has now been collapsed into an attractive proposition, somewhere to clean yourself of bad habits. The two smaller signs that are only partially obscured read ‘McDougal & Sons’ a shop that provided both ‘retail’ and ‘wholesale’ according to the sign and the other sports ‘R.Gibb’ which also reads ‘Gents’ and ‘Ladies’. When I first moved to Dennistoun I would walk past these signs every day, I hope the new owners feel the same reverence over the sheer luck of having three well-conserved signs in one spot. 

Vice Laundry

A walk around the Barras revealed two incredibly well-preserved signs. Unfortunately, without the Mitchell Archives, we are limited in what we can say about these signs.

These signs are recently uncovered after a fire, there seem to be multiple layers of signs. One sign reads ‘confections’in a beautiful font, hopefully, once resources re-open we will be able to find the stories behind these signs. 

Ghost Sign, Barras

Alexandra Parade is an old high street so it makes sense that ghost signs have popped up. These signs include one that says ‘J.Wilson’, one that reads ‘B&M Electrics’ and further down the road towards COOP and Iceland there is a mysterious sign over a doorway. This sign shows the outline of faded paint, all layered on top of each other, a salad of fonts and letters. You have to look closely but it is a beautiful archaic puzzle to try and figure out. 

J. Wilson

I acknowledge the limits that the pandemic has placed on this blog, unfortunately, I am bound by the times, but I hope it serves as a miniature guide or mapping out of some recently found ghost-signs in the East End. 

"Word Salad"

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

‘Ghost Signs Conference’ by Jan Graham

We are very excited to host an online conference on Ghost Signs!

Coordinators Jan Graham and Merryn Kerrigan have invited speakers from across Britain and Ireland to share insights and experiences of the faded historic hand painted signs and wall murals found in their cities. We’ll delve into case studies of ghost signs from Glasgow, Birmingham, Dublin and London, and attendees will have the chance to ask everything they ever wanted to know about ghost signs.

We’ll consider the enduring appeal of old commercial signage, while excavating some of the social histories surrounding their making. During the free evening, online conference, we’ll also exchange and compare perspectives around the preservation and conservation of ghost signs, during our all guest panel-discussion.

Photographer: Gordon Baird

Invited Speakers Include:

5pm-5.40pm: Silvia Scopa, Community Engagement Officer for the Glasgow City Heritage Trust and founder of the Ghost Signs of Glasgow project. Silvia is an Archaeology graduate with a post graduate Masters in Museum Studies, and a major interest in social history. After living in Italy and Spain, she moved to Glasgow eight years ago. Before working at the Glasgow City Heritage Trust she spent four years at the National Trust for Scotland.

5.45pm-6.25pm: Emma Clarke has been photographing old signs & tracking Dublin’s changing streetscapes for over a decade. She started the site dublinghostsigns.com in 2013. The site features Dublin’s traditional hand-painted signs, as well as signs for businesses which no longer operate. 

Intermission

7pm-7.40pm: Tracey Thorne, a Birmingham artist who spent six years walking, exploring and photographing the streets of Birmingham to record the city’s disappearing hand-painted advertising signs. Her work provides a document to the craft of the sign-painting that once dominant in the city, and offers an alternative way of navigating the streets to reveal the stories behind some of city’s buildings.

7.45pm-8.25pm: Sam Roberts, the Director of Ghostsigns.co.uk and Better Letters. In addition to numerous published articles on ghost signs, Sam authored and published Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie about street signs in Cambodia and is co-editor of Advertising and Public Memory: Social, Cultural and Historical Perspectives on Ghost Signs. He curated the History of Advertising Trust Ghostsigns Archive, and has led the Ghostsigns Walking Tours in London for over four years.

8.35pm-9pm: Panel Discussion. The conference will be followed by a panel discussion on ghost signs with the invited speakers from London, Dublin, Birmingham and Glasgow.

To register for this event go to:

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/ghost-signs-of-glasgow-conference-tickets-118288988549?ref=eios

*Ticketing for this event is free and covers the whole conference.

You might also be interested in...

Glasgow Historic Environment: A Snapshot – 2019

Ever wondered which buildings in your neighbourhood are listed, or even on Scotland’s Buildings at Risk Register?

Our new interactive map shows data collated between February and April 2018 which gives a snapshot of the current state of Glasgow’s historic built environment.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

Read our latest blog post about our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project, pondering the nature of ghost signs and what they tell us about the urban landscape.

Enjoy Family Fun with our Kids Trails!

So…we’re allowed out every day for a walk, we have kids at home to entertain and the streets are deserted – sounds like an ideal time to have a go at some heritage detective work!

Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Each year, our events help over 2000 people to understand and appreciate Glasgow's irreplaceable built heritage. Can you help us to reach more people?

We are hugely grateful for the support of our Friends whose subscriptions help cover the costs of these events, thereby ensuring accessible pricing for everyone in Glasgow in these challenging times.

The easiest way to support the Trust’s work is to join our Friends scheme. Our tiered loyalty scheme means you can choose the level that’s right for you.

“The times are a-changing: Ghost Signs of Glasgow project enters a new phase” By Jan Graham

These past months have undoubtedly been very strange times to live through, but for many they have also been a time to see our city anew. The surreal photographs of familiar thoroughfares, that circulated in recent months, pictured a city completely bereft of people. The built environment was brought into focus in many ways, during these extraordinary times, from the renaming of street signs to the reclaiming of the streets for humans.

As the Ghost Signs of Glasgow project enters a new phase, under these unusual circumstances, it’s worth reflecting on the significance of the project for Glasgow’s built environment. Preserving and archiving old signs, faded to the point of illegibility, isn’t just a form of commercial archaeology, it also serves to activate the public memory and social history of the communities surrounding these sites. Because the ghost signs are not purely objects in themselves, but are situated within a wider set of historical, social and environmental contexts, they act to recover many of the Glasgow oral histories that might otherwise be lost to us. Therefore, the signs aren’t just about the remains of the commerce of Glasgow’s past, they are also about the lives of Glasgow’s people too.

Doors Open Days 2019, Picture by Gordon Baird

This next stage of the Ghost Signs of Glasgow project will see original founder Silvia Scopa, pass the coordinator mantle onto Jan Graham and Merryn Kerrigan, two Glasgow School of Art graduates who have been with the project from its beginning as volunteers. The two plan to continue in the vein of Silvia’s work to establish the project, alongside the dedicated team of project volunteers, documenting, researching and archiving ghost signs from across Glasgow. While future plans for the project have evolved to operate within the ‘new normal’ including an online ghost signs conference with speakers from across the British Isles, virtual ghost signs city tours, and a virtual tour of the up-coming Ghost Signs of Glasgow photography exhibition. Stay tuned!

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Become a Friend of Glasgow City Heritage Trust

Glasgow City Heritage Trust is an independent charity and your support is crucial to ensure that our charitable work promoting the understanding, appreciation and conservation of Glasgow’s historic buildings for the benefit of the city’s communities and its visitors continues now, and in the future.

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Take a walk on the ghost side: download our Ghost Signs of Glasgow maps! by Lauren Campbell

Ghost Signs of Glasgow are excited to announce the digital launch of three maps with carefully selected Ghost Signs, enabling you to discover hidden stories of Glasgow. The maps are now available to download and print for free, allowing you to go on self-guided tours of Ghost Signs in Glasgow’s City Centre, East End and West End in your own time, at your own pace. Each map has a number of carefully selected Ghost Signs, complete with historical information, photographs and a carefully designed map detailing the locations of the signs.

City Centre Walk, text
City Centre Map, Front
City Centre Map, back
East End Walk, text
East End map, front
East End Map, back
West End Walk, text
West End map, front
West End map, back

For those of you who don’t already know us, Ghost Signs of Glasgow is a volunteer-based project started by Glasgow Heritage Trust. The project tracks down, researches and archives fast disappearing signs around Glasgow. This might take the form of an old shop front, a faded painted advertisement or even a hidden stained-glass window. Through crowd sourcing, architectural, social, biographical, material and oral histories, the project has unearthed some interesting stories of Glasgow, its buildings and the people who have lived here.

Beginning in 2018, through free, volunteer-led guided walks, we have been able to share our research with the public, often also gathering more historical information from walk attendees themselves along the way. Whilst we are currently unable to facilitate volunteer-led tours of the Ghost Signs tours, these maps enable self-guided tours.

Feel free to use these maps to mark any undiscovered signs and get in touch to let us know @ghostsignsgla on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram or via email ghostsigns@glasgowheritage.org.uk

 As a crowd sourced research project, we are constantly updating our archive and welcoming new signs and information! Despite lockdown measures over the past few months, we have been kept very busy with the design and production of these maps. In true Ghost Signs style, the process has been a volunteer-based effort.

Initially meeting regularly in cafes around the city, remember meeting in cafes?  We eventually turned to Zoom once the lockdown was enforced. Our resident graphic designers, writers, proof editors and illustrators were then kept busy working on cartography, design, writing, illustration and editing.

Drafts of the maps were sent through email by our graphic designers, who compiled the information, which we then discussed, proof-read and edited. All photographs, design, research, text and original drawings visible on the maps are sourced from the work of the volunteers – Research Assistants, Photography Assistants, Tour Assistants and Map Assistants; the final product a true collective piece of work.

We are happy to say how proud we are of the maps, everyone’s efforts, and hope you have as much fun with them as it has been creating them.

Free copies will be available from Glasgow City Heritage Trust office at 54 Bell Street as soon as it will be safe to open again to the public, in the meantime download your digital free copy and have fun!

Indoor Ghost Signs: Old Fruitmarket, Britannia Panopticon and Argyll Arcade. By Julie Paterson

As ghost sign enthusiasts much of what we share is found out and about on the streets of this vast city, some seen in our daily commutes, some as the result of exploration.  As we emerge from a very wet Winter, more than a little weather weary, it got us thinking – what ghost signs be found indoors?  In a city rich with heritage and historic buildings there must be much to uncover. In my new (and not entirely selfless) indoor quest I decided to take a closer look at three sites. 

First up, The Old Fruitmarket in Merchant City.  Second, The Britannia Panopticon Music Hall in the Trongate and finally The Argyll Arcade which runs between Argyle Street and Buchanan Street in Glasgow City Centre.

The ghost signs found in the Old Fruitmarket in Candleriggs are perhaps the most well photographed.

The building is now linked to the City Halls and is a much-loved and well used event venue.  Although in use as a market site since the 12th century, a defined fruit market was located here from 1817, with its grand market hall created in 1841. It was redeveloped multiple times, lastly in 1907, eventually closing in 1970, with the fruit market relocating to Blochairn where it remains to this day. The original ironworks and grocers’ signs have been listed and retained. It’s a magical space to see.  The signs run around the perimeter of the room, listing the names of the grocers who sold their produce to the city’s cafes, shops and restaurants.  R. Jenkins & Co., W.M. Martin & Sons and Russell Turnbull & Co. are but a few of those recorded within the fabric of the building.

We found this excellent photo, previously supplied to Lost Glasgow by Walter Martin, descendent of the W.M. Martin & Sons family, showing his predecessors in the Fruit Market around 1860.  W.M Martin were still trading at Blochairn as recently as 2015.

Situated in Trongate, I first visited the Britannia Panopticon Music Hall in around 2004, when only a couple of small public events had been held there. I was totally captivated by the space and the story of its rediscovery.

The venue opened in 1850, running across the years in various guises from its early inception as a somewhat salubrious music hall to its final incarnation which included a basement zoo and a carnival in the attic.  Eventually closing in 1938, the building was taken over by a firm of tailors.  With a shop at ground floor, and workshop at first, the remaining balcony levels of the music hall were simply closed off with a false ceiling and they remained so until the 1990’s.

Image courtesy of the Britannia Panopticon website.

The spoils of this rediscovery are a treasure trove of goodies, a time capsule of social history running almost a century.  Gloves were found on seats and discarded cigarette boxes, leaflets and more than a few trouser buttons (with their own salubrious stories to tell!) were unearthed from below floorboards.  Two large original signs dominate the stage area, advertising for new talent and a 2.30pm opening.  Just behind them you can also see graffiti from across the years, etched into the walls.   Whilst not all strictly “ghost signs”, the collection of found and donated posters and leaflets, advertising everything from dancing ladies to comedy acts, are a fabulous means of weaving together the stories the music hall has to tell.

Heading west along Argyle Street, The Argyll Arcade is discreetly tucked away, linking Argyll Street and Buchanan Street.  It was built in 1827 and is one of Europe’s oldest shopping arcades, not to mention Scotland’s first.  Designed by John Baird (1798-1859) the space is Parisian in style and is Grade A listed. The project was the brainchild of a John Reid who turned his then family home on Buchanan Street over for the development. Rumour has it that the two shops at the entrance were formed from the front rooms of his house!  The arcade has always been associated with selling luxury goods and today hosts a huge selection of jeweller’s stores.  Many of us will remember pressing our face up on the shop windows as our mums dragged us in for a nosy at the diamonds whilst we waited for the rain to stop!

As is tradition I dipped in out of the rain on a soggy Tuesday, this time keeping my eyes peeled for ghost signs rather than jewellery.  At the Buchanan Street entrance, a beautiful plaque lists the opening date of the building.  This entrance is also covered by a fantastically ornate gold mosaic sign, noted as a “paired mosaic, semi-domed tympanum” in the Grade A listing.  Glorious marble signage identifies the internal entrances to the Argyll Chambers (the offices above) and to Sloans restaurant.   At the Argyle Street entrance an original sign, dated 1904, has been maintained across the years, reminding us that nipping into the arcade to keep out of the rain is no new thing!  Very little has changed in the arcade across the years and the preservation of these glorious signs is a treat for those seeking some shelter on their ghost sign hunting travels.

All of these amazing spaces can be visited by the public.  A group of brilliantly knowledgeable and enthusiastic volunteers now make it possible for us to visit the Britannia Pantoptican and see its collection most days.  The Argyll Arcade is open during shopping hours and the Old Fruitmarket has a constant run of events and concerts.  Have a look on the relevant websites for more information. 

As for my quest – well, I’m sure there are many more fabulous ghost signs to be found tucked away in our public and private buildings. Some of these will fare better than those we find on the street, safely protected from the weather elements.  Some of them will be enjoyed privately as part of a family or company history.  Some will go unnoticed, slipping through the cracks, consigned to skips as our buildings grow and develop with our evolving ways of living.  We hope that curiosity keeps you on the lookout and that the importance of retaining these glimpses into our past remains of growing interest.