22 Feb 2021

When Haig Finally Became Vague (RIP)

Painted wall signs advertising Haig whisky
Haig Whisky, Millwell Yard, Camberwell SE5. Photos: Ewan Munro and Roy Reed.

The “Don’t be vague, ask for Haig” slogan was always one of my favourites when gathering material for the History of Advertising Trust Ghostsigns Archive in 2009–10, and you can see their entry for this (now former) ghost sign here.

Milkwell Yard and Camberwell Green in 1963. Photo: StockCarPete (Flickr)

After being protected by billboards for periods of its history, the wall was fading rapidly, as can be seen comparing Ewan Munro’s 2009 photo with Roy Reed’s more recent shot. This increasing vagueness was finally obliterated during works in 2017 when the wall was cleaned, taking out this and other layers of signage beneath.

Google streetview showing cleaned wall at Milkwell Yard, Camberwell
2019 Streetview showing cleaned wall

The sign itself was operating as a painted billboard for Haig Whisky. It’s likely that there was once an illustrated element in the space below the main Haig logotype, as much of the company’s print and poster advertising featured pictures of their distinctively-shaped bottles.

Advertisements outside station, including one for Haig whisky showing two bottles
Haig poster at Mildmay Park Station, 1936, London Picture Archive 76685

The memorable and enduring slogan on the sign was written by Thomas Henry Egan, reputedly in return for £25 and a case of whisky. It was clearly highly effective as when it was used from the 1930s and well into the 1960s, Haig was Scotland’s leading whisky brand.

Advertisement for Haig whisky showing two bottles
1950s Haig advertisement. Photo: Alamy GJF9XN.

Haig, now owned by Diageo, also traded on the claim of being the world’s oldest Scotch distillers. The documentary origins of this are the fining of Robert Haig in 1655 for carrying out distilling work on a Sunday. The date 1627 appears on bottles today, which was when he established his farm in Stirlingshire.

The story of the brand is charmingly told in this 1970s promotional film by the company, but sadly this small chapter in Camberwell has now ended.

“Don’t be vague, ask for Haig. The oldest Scotch whisky distillers in the world,”

Milkwell Yard (corner of Denmark Hill) Camberwell, London SE5.

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