9 Jul 2014

Restoration of Palladium Cinema Ghostsign in Morecambe

Fading sign painted on a wall advertising the Palladium Cinema

This is the first in a series of three blog posts documenting current activities in the UK to repaint and restore ghostsigns. It is worth referring to my general discussion of the issues and debates connected to this practice, a previous blog post titled ‘A Fresh Lick of Paint‘. See also ‘Restoration Period‘ for a more extended take on themes relating to protection and preservation.

This former ghostsign advertised the Palladium Cinema in Morecambe which, along with the supposed ‘entrance through the arcade’, disappeared some 50 years ago. The sign itself is dated to the early 1900s and its state of decay caught the eye of locals Shane Johnstone and Graham Cass. They, with support from Kate Drummond and Lancaster City Council, set about the restoration effort that was completed in April 2014.

Before undertaking the repainting some research was done to determine the colours required. As Shane Johnstone describes, “from the ground, what remained looked like faded whites and greys but when I got up close evidence of blues, reds and greens could be seen”.

Fading sign on wall with hints of colour around the white letters

Researching and documenting the sign before starting the work was further complicated by evidence of a series of previous re-paintings, at least three dating from between the 1930s and 1950s. This ‘palimpsest’ effect showed more recent coats of paint juxtaposed with older coatings that had been protected by the layers of paint applied on top. A lack of consistency in decay was caused by some parts of the sign having more and less protection from the elements. With the detective work complete it was time to start the repainting, ensuring the colour matches to the original and remaining as true to the original layout as possible.

Repainted wall sign for Palladium cinema replicating fragments of colour from faded original
Work in progress on repainting a wall sign for the Palladium Cinema

The completed sign is shown below and Shane Johnstone makes the following comments on the overall approach, including a theory about the line of curved text at the bottom.

The lower curved line presented a different conundrum. We see the vertiginous text tumble down the roof tiles to direct potential punters through the now defunct arcade with a jaunty pointing finger. It is quite possible the original sign writer worked without scaffolding and was supported from a rope held by a colleague. As a consequence, the precariousness of the situation may have added some ‘fluidity’ to the styling. Some aspects of letter shape appear to a modern eye as distorted and the temptation to ‘tidy them up’ was great. However, we were very careful not to change a thing, although it was clear to see this is exactly what each new painter had done over the decades the sign had evolved.

Repainted sign on a wall advertising the Palladium Cinema

As with repainting efforts in the Netherlands this work has followed a process of detailed research in attempting to ensure an ‘authentic’ restoration that is as close to the original as possible. This type of work appears to be getting more prevalent in the UK now and my next post will look at work on a more recent sign in another part of the country.

Thank you to Kate Drummond for providing the photos and background story to this sign.

[Update: October 2022] The repainted sign, and in particular the blue, is now fading to once again regain ‘ghost’ sign status.

Fading repainted sign for Palladium Cinema.
Photo: Borin Van Loon via the excellent Ipswich Lettering site.

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