12 Oct 2018

The Enduring Ephemera of J.M. Hill in Southwark

J.M. Hill, Union Street, London SE1

Although my Bankside Ghostsigns Walk ends further West along the road, it doesn’t spend any time on the Eastern end of Union Street. However, a few buildings in, on the North side, I recently spotted this mounted sign and shared a photo on my Instagram and Facebook page, simply giving the broad location as supplementary information.

On the Facebook post Tony Cherry responded to say that he used to work at J.M. Hill, the company featured at the top of the sign.

I worked and served my apprenticeship.with JM.Hill & Sons. I was the foreman bricklayer on the Union Steet site wjere we completely refurbished the building including major underpinning work. A part of the planning permission was to keep the front facade of the building. We replaced all the existing flat brick cambered arches using the existing bricks, including brickwork and repointing works.

Brings back memories. The works were carried out in late 1970. Unfortunately J.M. Hill are no longer in existence. They went into receivership in the early 1980s. Great company. Loved all my years there.

I asked for some further information about his memories of the sign, which revealed the following fascinating insight.

Those signs are a part of the site set up. The site agent who in charge overall was a guy called Roger Richardson and the contracts manager’s name was Brian Fagan. J.M. Hills offices were at Heather Park Drive, Wembley, Middlesex.

What this means is that this sign was only placed on the building for a temporary period while J.M. Hill were undertaking contracted building works. They then (presumably unintentionally) left it behind afterwards, and it has remained there, untouched, for almost 50 years. This is a wonderful example of a ghost sign as that contradiction in terms, ‘enduring ephemera’.

The full text of the sign is:

J.M. Hill & Sons Ltd.
All personnel to report to site office before entering the site.
Any persons found not complying will be liable for prosecution for trespass. Please do so for your own safety.

It looks to be on what is now 8 Union Street, SE1 1SZ, if anyone has information about the occupancy/ownership of that building in 1970 to find out who J.M. Hill’s ultimate client was.

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