“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.

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

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.

W R Grieve: Looking into the fabric of Glasgow. By Lauren Campbell

At 450 and 436 Sauchiehall Street, now home to Pizza Express, Bank of China and Indian Gallery, once stood the business of William Robertson Grieve, a couture dress maker, mantle maker and silk mercer.

Grieve, ghost sign

From 1905 this building functioned as headquarters of a series of warehouses, producing and selling a wide range of clothing items. Clues to the history of the building are visible through four large ghost signs which although faded, prominently state GRIEVE.

The story of William Robertson Grieve himself is both triumphant and tragic. A successful businessman, Grieve concurrently founded W. R Grieve and was a member of the Glasgow University Training Corps. In 1916, just four months before Grieve was sent abroad on front line service in World War One, he married Dorothy Crichton, a neighbour who had once lived across the street from him on Nithsdale Road, Strathbungo. After barely a month in France, in 1917, Lieutenant William Robertson Grieve was killed in action, and just six months after his death, Dorothy gave birth to their son. She named him William Robertson Grieve in honour of his father and grandfather.

Grieve, ghost sign, detail

Searching ‘W R Grieve’ into Glasgow Museums’ collection database, I was lucky to find a collection of women’s clothing items once manufactured and sold through the business. I arranged a visit to Glasgow Museum Resource Centre with the hope of finding out more through these items. On arrival, a curator led me to a room of carefully laid out blouses, cloaks, bodices, skirts, hats, purses and dresses.

The fifteen items date from 1903 – 1935, with a few labelled 19th century. The collection, with a wide range of garments, styles, colours, details and fabrics, intricate hand embroidery, hand sewn fastenings, lacework, tulle and copious amounts of silk, is a testament to the wide range of skills and techniques employed at W R Grieve.

Image reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums

The collection is predominantly formal woman’s wear; there are no socks, shoes or undergarments, no working clothes and no items of male clothing. Written notes accompanying a glamorous feather hat and matching lace and velvet dress explain they were both worn at Holyrood. Perhaps these items tell us as much about collecting and preservation conventions as it does about the history of W.R. Grieve. The collection tells a story of 19th – mid 20th century glamour in Glasgow.

Image reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums

A white bodice and an accompanying skirt both adorned with layers of lace, delicate trimmings, white silk bows and scalloped edges lay on the table in front of me; presumably an outfit for a bride. I unfold the bodice to reveal a fully intact cream silk lining, hand stitched boning and metal clasps. A gold silk tie is embroidered with ‘W R Grieve’ and an accompanying emblem. Although this well preserved and little worn set is in almost immaculate condition, could the stains on the elbow and down the front tell us a story of the bride’s celebratory wedding feast?

Image reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums

Another nineteenth century bodice and skirt lay next to this wedding set. Made from heavy white satin silk with a cream silk lining, this pair is less ornate but still formal and are decorated with a delicate hand painted rose motif. The curator and I discuss this as amateur decoration, perhaps an effort of the owner to repurpose what also might have been a wedding dress. I unfold the bodice to find another tie embroidered with ‘W R Grieve’ and an accompanying emblem, but also wear on the neck of the lining, sweat stains under the arms and a small loosely stitched label ‘Mrs Paterson.’ These items show us not just the history of W R Grieve, but intimate clues to the social history of the lives of those who wore them.

Image reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums

Through the hand painted rose motifs, I am reminded of Margaret Macdonald – artist, designer and also partner to Charles Rennie Mackintosh. A client of W. R. Grieve, she added her own beads and embroidery to the items she purchased. The creativity of Margaret Macdonald, together with the artist who hand painted these rose motifs, and the immense range of designs skills employed by those who worked at W. R. Grieve itself all reflect Glasgow’s role in art and design in nineteenth and twentieth century Europe.

Miller’s 1893, A sign spanning four generations. By Lucia Marquez-Leaman.

I was incredibly lucky with my first research assignment for Ghost Signs of Glasgow.

The history behind Ghost Signs often feels like it is pulling away from the researcher, a train leaving the station into obscurity. However, learning about Miller’s 1893 was the furthest experience from that. I met David Millard, co-owner of the business and family historian, who was incredibly generous with his information and his family’s story. For David the family’s history came together through his own personal research as well as many of details surprising him, such as a long lost family member walking into the shop! The ghost sign that sits at the top of Miller’s 1893 is a testament to four generations of the Millard family. It’s also lovely to look at.

That story begins with William Millard, born in a poorhouse in London, he made his way to Glasgow as a travelling linoleum salesman. When he arrived he rented sheds at 11 Charles Street (Olympia Street since 1932) selling linoleum and other flooring, and adapted his family name to sound more Scottish. So Miller’s Linoleum Stores was established.

Millard later purchased the land from the North British Railway Company and in 1913 gained planning permission to build the current studio as seen in the planning permission papers. As the business grew Miller’s Linoleum Stores expanded to 3 Waterloo Place in Edinburgh. In 1916, after the death of his first wife, William remarried to a woman called Ellen Holden.

After Millard’s death in 1929 he bequeathed the Glasgow showroom to his son Albert, who was the eighth of his nine children. However, Albert’s inheritance came with a caveat; he was required to pay 10 pounds a week to his stepmother on top of her inheritance of the Edinburgh showroom. Albert continued to run the business until his death in 1964, when the mantle was assumed by his sons. His youngest son Allan set up his own business in the Barras Market, the Loch Fyne Shell Fish Bar, before joining the company in the early 1980s, eventually taking over the management of the business.

The current owners are his sons David and Stephen Millard who have grown and cultivated the company, extending the legacy of Miller’s Linoleum stores into the present. The building’s exterior is a result of the brothers’ refurbishment in 2013 as the building had fallen into disrepair, a project which revealed much of the original details of the 19th century business. The original exposed beams emblazoned with the word ‘blankets’ are juxtaposed with the brother’s new samples that tile the walls; the past and present are one in this inherited building.

The font used for the modern sign is based on a wooden sign found when work started on the building. However, the painted ghost sign was touched up last year as an effort by the brothers to help save the original sign from weathering. The sign was restored to its original glory by a sign painter using a combination of the paint remnants and photographs. Another sign is the original wooden shutter that says ‘Scotland’s leading linoleum house’ which had to be removed for preservation.

My visit to the shop delivered a collection of photos which are an impressive insight into the history of the building and the family that has been its guardian for four generations. One photo is a postcard a local cab driver found on eBay. Another shows a cart bearing the name of the business with men sitting on top. The beauty of most ghost signs is their ephemerality; they appear, are uncovered and often disappear. Miller’s 1893, unusually has survived for generations, its owners making an art of preservation.

Old street signs and Christmas wishes!


With Christmas fast approaching and the season of merriment in full swing, many of us Glaswegians will be heading out to meet friends and family around the city for evenings filled with fun, laughter, tradition and nostalgia.  As we head home weary but happy, we’ll probably walk down familiar streets with familiar names, or we’ll perhaps hop in a taxi, throwing out an address at our ever patient and knowledgeable cabbies, never giving a second thought to the origins of those street names.  This December the Ghost Signs of Glasgow team are taking a moment to consider some of the smallest and possibly most overlooked of ghost signs – the old street signs of Glasgow. 

Over the years a number of street names in Glasgow and its surrounding areas have been changed. If you’ve been lucky to spot them, some remnants of the old names can still be seen, often fading into obscurity alongside their newer replacement.  So why are the old streets of our amazing city stripped of their names and rebirthed as something new?  This is something we’ve been looking into with interest! 

Historically, there are a number of reasons such changes have taken place.  The first and simplest is the development of the city – changes to the architecture of our buildings and the spaces around them have often seen our streets merge together, or twist and separate to suit the diversifying layout of a progressive city.  Streets names such as Parliamentary Road are now firmly consigned to the past.  Likewise beautiful building names like Ashcroft Terrace and Crown Mansions, are now replaced simply with a number and the name of the encompassing street, in this case Gardner Street, to avoid confusion.  My own flat, a fairly new build, is in a close which actually has two street numbers for the same front door to accommodate the numbering of the previous tenements which stood on the Dumbarton Road site,  As a result, my neighbour, directly across the close, has a different street address to me!

The second reason is that names have simply fallen out of fashion, favour or taste, losing relevance over time or perhaps becoming contentious, as we see currently with the ongoing debate around the old Glasgow Merchants names used in identifying our City Centre streets.  A good example of this is recorded as happening in Dennistoun where a street, previously called Kaiser Street was renamed as Marne Street following the outbreak of WWI.  Likewise, possibly, Edelweiss Terrace in Partick.

The third, and perhaps the most interesting, relates to the rapid growth of Glasgow across the years. Medieval Glasgow was centred around the areas we know as Cathedral, River Clyde, Saltmarket and High Street. Throughout the 18th & 19th centuries growth in industry, changes to the working capability of the River Clyde, and an influx of workers saw the parameters of the city changed forever.  Nearby villages and small towns such as Gorbals, Govan, Anderston, Partick and Finnieston were soon incorporated within the Glasgow boundaries.  Where these areas had a name that duplicated one already existing within the City, a name change was required for the newer area.  In the West End, Minard Street in Hyndland became Turnberry Road, and Alexandra Street in Dowanhill became Elie Street.  South of the river, Main Street in Pollokshaws was renamed Shawbridge Street and Morrison Street in Govan was changed to Burleigh Street. We can only imagine the headache this must have caused for residents, visitors, postmen and cabbies alike!

However you find yourself getting home this festive season, spare a thought for those who may have found themselves with a less straightforward set of directions at one time or another, and keep your eyes peeled for these glorious little glimpses into the past. 

Wishing you all a very merry Christmas, Happy Hogmanay and of course safe travels, from all at Ghost Signs of Glasgow.

Pipe bands, whisky and a Roll Royce, the fascinating story behind Red Hackle ghost sign:

For this month blog, Ghost signs of Glasgow volunteer Fiona Murray tell us the interesting story behind the ghost sign for Red Hackle Whisky, in the heart of the West End.

This fading ghost sign appears on the gable end of a building at 42 Otago Street. It is a painted sign for Red Hackle Whisky, possibly two layers with two different fonts, on one side is depicted a bottle of the said blended whisky.

Red Hackle sign, Otago Street

This company was founded in 1920 by two former members of the Black Watch Regiment who both served in WW1. The name Red Hackle was after the red feather in the head dress of the regiment.

Charles Hepburn and Herbert Ross founded the company and at the time claimed to have a workforce of ex military servicemen. This was at a time when many of these men were finding it hard to get employment.

The company sponsored a pipe band which became known as the Red Hackle Pipe Band. They were known to deliver their whisky around Glasgow in a specially made Rolls Royce which was a common sight due to the black and red stripes.

The whisky was a hit in the USA and the West of Scotland where they did a blend aged in oak barrels and a 12 year old which was aged in sherry barrels. They supplied the bars in RAF bases during the WW2 and it was claimed that the Prince of Wales who was Edward VIII requested it at a Vienna night club.

Herbert died in 1952 and Charles continued until the death of his wife when he lost the appetite for business and sold the company to Robertson and Baxter.

He then became a benefactor to many causes including Glasgow University, Glasgow Zoo and Scottish Rugby Union. This money paid for the installation of underground heating at Murrayfield which became the first international stadium to have underground heating.

In 1964 he was given an honorary doctorate by Glasgow University. He died on 16th July 1971 at the age of 80 and gifted his house and art collection to the university.

This whisky is no longer made but bottles can still be found on E-bay or whiskey auction sites where they are sold for a considerable amount of money.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow, a volunteer perspective.

Ghost Signs of Glasgow volunteer, Maggie Smith, gives an insight into her role as a researcher volunteer.

“Carrying out research into Glasgow’s ‘ghost’ signs actually opens up whole new worlds: for my first assignment, to investigate the history of the beautiful ‘golden’ sign for the long-gone business of Jacobean Corsetry in Virginia Street, Merchant City, I found myself in the mysterious world of underwear designed to accentuate the female form, from its earliest inception when worn by both men and women in Ancient Greece, right up to the modern versions sported by celebrities such as Madonna, Lady Gaga and the Kardashians.

Then It was the turn of the Glasgow Hospital for Sick Children’s Dispensary in West Graham Street, Cowcaddens, which opened in 1888 to provide free medical treatment and medicine to the poor children of the city. During my research I discovered the many advances in child healthcare that were made in the city over the years since then. 

A fading sign in Royal Exchange Court in the city centre, warning that  “Boys found playing at balls or Marbles will be handed to the Police” led me to ponder on the lives of the people who lived in the then-residential block in Victorian times, and to discover that an attempted murder, very much in the style of Jack the Ripper, had taken place in that very court in 1889.

Next up was the beautiful mosaic tile sign above the Buchanan Street entrance to the Argyle Arcade, which led me into the fascinating background of one Europe’s oldest covered shopping arcades, famous for its jewellery shops, and where many a courting couple have strolled to admire its displays of engagement rings, while my research into the Glasgow company of Wylie & Lochhead took me from its beginnings as cabinetmakers and undertakers in the 19th century to becoming a household name in the city, well known for its furniture, whose designers included Charles Rennie Mackintosh, Herbert McNair, Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh and Frances Macdonald McNair – all graduates of Glasgow School of Art.

So, in addition to discovering valuable information about our city’s forgotten signs, I have been getting quite an education in many fields, and it has been an extremely interesting and rewarding occupation, which I would heartily recommend to anyone interested in Glasgow’s history.

Blog Post: Ghosts and Zombies

by Stuart Hashagen

Strolling round Glasgow looking for ghost signs and taking photographs raises some interesting questions about what is a ghost sign, what isn’t, and whether definitions matter so much after all.

Matters are not helped by the fact that definitions of ghost signs are contested, and lacking widespread acceptance. According to Wikipedia: ‘A ghost sign is an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building for an extended period of time. The sign may be kept for its nostalgic appeal, or simply indifference by the owner.’ 

In article written by Geraldine Marshall together with Sam Roberts, the founder of Ghost Signs UK, we read that a ghost sign should be ‘faded to the point of illegibility… echoing the robust commerce of times past’, and that ‘it must be more than 50 years old, and advertises a product that is now obsolete.’

So consensus is approached around the concepts of age, redundancy and almost illegible old paintwork. Do these thoughts work for us as we look around Glasgow? Should we only be interested in those signs that meet the criteria? Or should we take a broader view?

Here is one of the signs from the Trongate area, that seems to meet all the criteria: it is old, painted, redundant, and probably refers to earlier ‘robust commerce’:

Here is another sign for the “TOBACCO WAREHOUSE” on James Watt Street, this time it is old, redundant and certainly linked to robust commerce. However, does the fact it is not painted or faded mean it does not qualify as a ghost sign?

The notion of redundancy is particularly interesting when ghost signs are recognised as a notable element of a building or environment, and become looked after or repurposed. This old Woolworths sign, at the corner of Renfrew Street, does fit most of the criteria for a ghost sign, other than abandonment: this sign is reportedly maintained and guarded by an enthusiastic local resident.

Then we come to the signs that have been ‘purposefully repurposed’. There are now a good number to be seen in the West End, especially in the on-trend bars, cafés and restaurants springing up across the city. Here is a former dairy, now a restaurant, and a former antiques shop, now an Indian restaurant. In both cases the ghost signs have been incorporated into the façade of the new business. But if they are no longer redundant are they still ghost signs?

Perhaps more interesting are businesses that have changed hands, in this case after a considerable period of dereliction, but continue to trade under the original business name, and with the original sign, for example the Kelvingrove Café – although now a bar rather than a café.

And here is an even more convoluted story: The old Coopers grocery shop in Great Western Road was converted into a pub – Chimichungas (as featured in the TV series Tutti Frutti) in the 1980s. It is now still a pub, but with the original shop name of Coopers and the original brass nameplates on the pavement and the mosaic threshold.

These signs are no longer redundant – so can we really call them ghost signs? Perhaps they are zombie signs …. until the next time things change.

Whether we call them ghost signs, zombie signs, or something else, they are appealing in themselves as an element in the urban landscape, evidencing its evolution and change. They also give an insight into the story of rising and falling business and commerce in the city. For example, the abandoned BHS store in Sauchiehall Street still has a large sign which is hardly a ghost sign, but does say a lot about the fate of the high street.

To conclude, ironically several of the emerging businesses now make good use of ghost signs as part of their identity, so ghost signs can signal both decline and growth in the urban landscape.

G.S. Nicol: The Life Behind the Sign

By Taylor McDaniel

G.S. Nicol ghost sign

High on a brick wall on Blythswood Street, a fading sign advertising G.S. Nicol furriers, ladies tailors, and habit makers looks down over a vacant lot. This ghost sign, spanning the width of the building its painted on, helped inspire our Ghost Signs of Glasgow project. 

Project Coordinator, Silvia Scopa, came across a garment label reading “G.S. Nicol Glasgow” while taking inventory of historic costumes as part of her Masters degree. The next day she saw the large G.S. Nicol ghost sign just off Bath Street. Soon after she began seeing ghost signs everywhere and wanted to find a way to document both the signs and the stories behind them throughout Glasgow. 

G.S. Nicol label in a bodice from 1905. Reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums.

The G.S. Nicol sign does indeed have quite the story behind it. George Stronach Nicol was a women’s tailor, milliner, and furrier who opened his shop at 186 Bath Street in 1894. Originally from Dallas, Moray, Nicol and his wife Isobella made the move down to Glasgow by 1890. The couple’s five children–George, Alexander, Violet, Isa, and, Roberta–were born in various residences around Glasgow. The family eventually settled in a large 8 bedroom house in Pollockshields that Nicol named “Forres House” after the location of his and Isobella’s wedding. 

A bodice made by G.S. Nicol, 1905. Reproduced courtesy of Glasgow Museums.

Nicol ran his shop until the 30th June 1908, when the Scotsman and the London Gazette reported Nicol would be retiring, but the business would continue to be run by his partners John Hossack Stronach and Duncan Macdonald Stronach. George Stronach Nicol died at home in Pollockshields on the 21st March 1939. G.S. Nicol continued trading at 186 Bath street long after its namesake’s death until closing down in 1967.

Detail of the G.S. Nicol ghost sign.

Nicol is remembered for causing a stir after the death of Queen Victoria on the 22nd January 1901. The day after the Queen’s death, Nicol placed an advertisement in the Glasgow Herald reading, ”Mr Nicol, during the next 10 days, will make up all mourning gowns at his off-season prices. He holds a unique selection of black materials.” Many readers were outraged by the poor taste of the advert following the beloved monarch’s passing and the newspaper was bombarded with letters to the editor complaining. 

186 Bath Street, where G.S. Nicol once stood, now houses the Hummingbird Nightclub. Furs made by G.S. Nicol can still be found today; a recent Gumtree listing advertised a chocolate-coloured squirrel fur jacket from the 1930s. And finely made clothes aren’t the only pieces of G.S. Nicol’s past floating around today. Ghost Signs of Glasgow was lent a beautifully detailed metal sign for the shop by a generous collector. 

G.S. Nicol Sign

The tale of G.S. Nicol is just the first of many interesting stories we’ll be exploring as part of the Ghost Signs of Glasgow project. If you see any ghost signs while out and about in the city, send us a picture on social media at @ghostsignsgla or send us an email at ghostsigns@glasgowheritage.org.uk.