There has been a fascinating and (mostly) positive development in the wake of our 2018 ‘scavenger hunt’ to locate and document the remaining street signs bearing London’s defunct N.E. postal code. Following a tweet that was then picked up by the mayor, Hackney Council have recognised the significance of these heritage artefacts in the public realm.
However, this came about as a result of reports that since our survey some of the surviving 58 signs (see map) have been removed. It’s not clear if this has been a result of public theft or council replacement, but either way they aren’t there any more. (The pictured example from Ickburgh Road has been long gone, is not one of the 58 surveyed, and is only shown for illustrative purposes.)
Amir Dotan (History of Stoke Newington) was in touch with the council in February this year regarding signs that he considered to at risk of replacement in Stoke Newington. Their response stated that, when replaced, old street signs should “be broken and recycled on removal to prevent their resale for personal gain “. This council policy was seized upon by Nick Perry at the Hackney Society. His reply urging cooperation in this area between the streets management and planning teams contained the following comments.
“The logic might be defensible if made in isolation, but in a wider context, it is a crude [sic] that destroys built heritage. I wonder if you might reconsider this approach and perhaps remind colleagues that each time they remove something, it is worth considering what it contributes to our built environment and whether renovation might not add something as well as helping with sustainability.”Nick Perry, Hackney Society
These points remained unanswered until very recently when the streets management team replied with the following, no doubt after the mayor’s intervention.
“Older, heritage nameplates have only been replaced to date if they have been vandalised or because we had received complaints that they are no longer fit for purpose. We certainly have not had a major programme of replacing all the nameplates in an area of the Borough for over fifteen years. Notwithstanding this policy, the relatively small number of the older nameplates remaining in the borough and having taken your comments on board, I have given instructions to my team that any future heritage nameplates should not be removed without having first consulted Planning.”Hackney Council
This development is extremely positive for the fate of the N.E. and other heritage signs within the borough, at least from the potential threat posed by council actions. However, it doesn’t prevent the forcible removal of signs for profit by members of the wider public. There is clearly a market for these types of artefacts, but like trophies from the savanna there is something perverse about their illegitimate removal for proud display at home. Alistair Hall in his excellent book London Street Signs warns that
“If you are planning on buying an old sign, do try to check its provenance before you buy. Some city of London nameplates come with certificates of authenticity. And if a nameplate is scratched or damaged, it’s likely that it was replaced by the local council with a newer sign and is therefore being sold legally.”Alistair Hall
Although it isn’t clear if the recently lost signs were due to council or more malicious actions, it’s hard to escape the thought that our work in 2018 may have raised their profile in both positive and negative ways. By drawing attention to them, their age and history, it is entirely conceivable that darker intentions have been at play in the loss of some.
All that said, these new developments have given me some fresh impetus to finally write up the final report of the project. Watch this space…
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- Attached is a copy of The London Postal Districts by Simon Morris from the London Topographical Society Newsletter, No. 29, November 1989. This provides an excellent account of the story behind the rise and fall of the NE postal district, and the related issues of its street signs.
- Visit the Better Letters site for a review of the London Street Signs book.
- Some more on this story can be found here on the Loving Dalston site.