These pictorial panels depicting the products and services on what is now The Old Dairy on Stoud Green Road have always intrigued me, and ahead of next week’s talk at the North London Lettering Association I thought I should carry out a little research. The late-Victorian building once housed a branch of the Friern Manor Dairy Company, and a detailed history is available from the Hornsey Historical Society.
Close inspection of the panels reveals that they aren’t painted, and so not technically ‘ghost signs’ by our tentative definition. However, I’d never known quite how they were produced, as they aren’t ceramic or terracotta either. A couple of searches helped to locate this page with a brief history [Link expired], and the insight that these were produced using a technique called Sgraffito.
Sgraffito (sometimes spelled Scraffito) involves applying one or two layers of glaze to clay in contrasting colours. The upper layer is then scraped away to reveal the layer beneath. As the site linked above observes, “In this case the purple overlay has been removed to reveal the white base layer“. This video shows the technique applied to a simple tile and gives some indication of the time and effort that would have gone into making the series of pieces on this building.
I’m very happy to have learned of this technique and will now be on the lookout for it elsewhere. In fact, it reminded me of these decorated walls in Barcelona and I wonder if they were produced in the same way? (The lighter colour seems much more raised above the surface so it could be another technique altogether.)