8 Mar 2015

J.R. Brewer, the Butcher

Painted shop front for J.R.Brewer

I’d always noticed number 77 Shacklewell Lane because of the ghostsign below. Although very faint, I always thought it advertised a business called/run by Grime. However, as we’ll see below, this word was in fact ‘Prime’.

Painted sign fading on a wall

Below this was a blacked out shop fascia, overlooking the bus stop.

Fading sign on a brick wall, above a blacked out shop fascia

Back in January I was cycling past and had to stop to take a closer look at some brightly coloured lettering that had been revealed from under the black paint.

Part of shop fascia lettering showing through blackwash
Painted letter B

I knocked on the door which was answered by Cal who was responsible for the partial removal of the black paint covering the old painted shop fascia. A couple of weeks later the removal of the paint was complete and, by a strange coincidence, I was chatting to a former housemate of Cal’s who knew of the work and sent me this photo of it taking place.

Man at work stripping back black paint to reveal a painted shop fascia
Photo: Naomi Fitzgerald

Cal is a trained furniture restorer and so has approached the project diligently, finally revealing the entire fascia in bright red and ochre.

Fading sign on a brick wall and fascia for J.R.Brewer

The positioning of the bus stop is very annoying from a photographer’s point of view. However, it could prove useful when Cal launches his new business on the site, touted as, ‘Café and shop by day, craft beer bar and event space by night’, also showcasing ‘ethically sourced textiles and handcrafted furniture’. The name of this business? Well, J.R. Brewer of course! As with E. Mono in Kentish Town, Cal has taken inspiration from the discovery of this fascia in the naming of his new venture. It’s due to open in late Spring 2015.

View of J.R.Brewer shop fascia

The original J.R. Brewer (or James Richard to give his full name) was, unlike his moniker, a butcher. He, and his wife, were in business at 77 Shacklewell Lane from the mid-1930s until 1981. There are still rails on the ceiling in the front room of the building that would once have had carcasses hanging from them. The site housed a butcher prior to Brewer moving in, George Sly in the 1920s and, before him, William Hazlewood as far back as 1890.

[Update, November 2022: Andrew Webb got in touch with, “I was researching my great-grandfather, Bert Webb, who was a master butcher at this address in 1893. He moved to Brighton in 1895, but his family had been butchers in Dalston (Clare Street) for 30-odd years. Polly, his wife, had two children here who died in the first month. She was also a local girl, from the Elephant on the Kingsland High Street. Sadly, now no more.”]

View of J.R.Brewer shop fascia

I shared the discovery with Peter Hardwicke who has suggested that it is the work of an apprentice signwriter earning a few extra shillings by moonlighting on a Saturday. It’d be fun to think it was Ron Barnes who wrote about trying out as a signwriter in Stoke Newington in the 1940s.

Juxtaposition of fading painted sign on brick and J.R.Brewer fascia

Here’s a close-up of the numbering.

Painted number for 77 Shacklewell Lane

While we’re in the area, might as well grab a couple of photos of the nearby fascia for Elliott’s Dairy, and the little milkman illustration in the window…

Elliott's Dairy shopfront on Shacklewell Lane
Elliott's Dairy shopfront on Shacklewell Lane
Painting of a Milkman in a window

Thank you Cal and Naomi for helping to plug some of the gaps in the story of 77 Shacklewell Lane. After 30 years as a residential property I’m looking forward to J.R.Brewer’s reincarnation as a business.

Subscribe to my newsletter for news, events and projects from the world of ghost signs. I curate the newsletter roughly monthly and welcome submissions.