London ghost signs expert and Clapham photographer fundraise to publish book

An ex-London tour guide and a Clapham-based photographer have raised nearly £25,000 to create a book of around 250 ghost signs in London.

Ex-Londoner and tour guide, Sam Roberts, 42, who now lives in Catalonia, started researching ghost signs in 2006 and decided to manufacture a book with Clapham photographer Roy Reed during the lockdown, around six months ago.

Their Kickstarter has reached over £24,500 and needs to reach £25,000 for them to be able to print 320 pages for each copy.

A ghost sign is an old hand-painted advertising sign that has been left on buildings, either by indifference or by deliberate preservation.

LAMBTON ROAD, RAYNES PARK SW20: A. E. Williams. Electrical Hot Water & Sanitary Engineer ghost sign Credit: Roy Reed

Roberts said: “It seemed remarkable to me that people used to paint on a wall for advertising purposes. Technology in advertising has grown so rapidly.

“When I started posting about ghost signs the response was quite strong. Everyone seems to know a ghost sign or has grown up near one.

“They seem to resonate with people and that encouraged me to carry on with the interest.

“London also has a huge wealth of ghost signs, we could’ve easily put 500-600 in the book, which means the ones we do have are very good quality.

“Part of the reason for making the book is that when I started researching there was only really one major book on the topic of ghost signs, which was from the ’80s in America.

“We were approaching publishers and they’d say it’s a nice idea but it’s a bit too niche for us. That’s when we thought of creating a Kickstarter.”

Prior to this, Roberts had also made an app which mapped out the different ghost signs in London.

He said: “The unexpected consequence was that people from further afield would download the app and look at street view and do a virtual tour.

“One of the nicest comments I got was from a guy in America who had mobility problems and he said he’d never be able to come over to the UK for one of my walking tours but was glad that he could do a virtual tour through the app.”

To help promote the book Roberts has created #Ghostsignsworldcup where Twitter users can vote for their favourite signs each week up until the final on 3rd June.

As well as this, individuals who favour a particular ghost sign can ‘sponsor’ the appearance of their favourite sign in the book, which will be personally dedicated to them. 

The Kickstarter ends on 10th June and Roberts will be hosting an event called ‘Typographic Surprises’ about London’s sign painters on 4th June.

The foreword for the book ‘Ghost Signs: A London Story’ will be written by English designer Wayne Hemingway MBE.

Featured Image Credit: Roy Reed

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Sam Roberts
Sam Roberts
26 May 2021 11:44 am

Thank you Hannah for a lovely write-up. It’s very exciting to see the book becoming a reality day by day. Sam

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