16 Jun 2007

Bile Beans

Bile Beans York

Speaking yesterday with a guy writing his dissertation on the preservation of Ghost Signs I heard about this iconic example from York for Bile Beans. According to my contact it was restored by the York Arts Forum in 1986 just at the same time as the product was being discontinued by the manufacturer.

However, despite not really wanting to publicise the fact they weren’t going to make the beans any more, the company agreed to pay for the restoration.

There’s some discussion of the sign and an alternative picture on Flickr. There is also a useful discussion at this site where one of the original painters tells the story:


Yes, of course Bile Beans were real. They were a product similar to Liver Salts and Made by Fisons. Latterly thet were available in compressed pill form. Fisons phased them out in the 1980’s.

I was involved in repainting this piece of ‘Industrial Archaeology’ in 1986. I founded the York Arts Forum in January of that year. It was to be an interdisciplinary Arts group designed to get the citizens of York involved in the impending 1987 York Festival. I had been a successful artist since the mid 1970’s, selling hundreds of paintings, – but this was different!!!

We organised several exhibitions throughout 1986, then locals asked us if we would repair the crumbling wall mural which is much treasured by some locals. We approached Fison, the owners of Bile Beans about this and they paid us a sum of money for the paints and agreed to sponsor the effort, though they did stress at the time that Bile Beans was a product they were trying to discontinue and did not want it to be re-popularised. We were due to begin repainting in August 1986, but unfortunately I had become seriously ill with a severe early bout of Multiple Sclerosis. After a week in hospital undergoing tests I was ‘sprung’ from hospital in my wheelchair and I was taken to a local DIY company to choose the paint. It was a bit tricky at the time as I was still paralysed down my right hand side, lost the use of one eye and looked somewhat Piratical as I was wheeled over York’s cobble stones.

Anyway, I chose the paint and we set to work straight away with the able bodied members of the York Arts Forum (YAF) atop the scaffolding tower which Fisons had paid for us to hire. I observed the quality control and ensured an accurate match. I was re-deposited in hospital where I remained until the end of the following week when I was well enough to be discharged and actually ‘do my bit’ atop the scaffolding.

It turned out well really didn’t it? If you look carefully you will see that we signed it “YAF.”

Huge thanks are due to Ian Anderson, Iian Simpson-Laing, the poet Christopher John Gallagher, artists Gill Douglas, Helen Santersola and some I might have forgotten because I was in hospital!

There! Now you know who repainted it!!!”

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