24 May 2021

Save Our Signs: Bath’s Rapid Response Unit

This enduring fading fascia was recently saved by a keen-eyed signwriter in Bath…

Shopfront with three layers of painted signs.
London Road, Bath. Photo: Eric Porter (Straight & Narrow Signs)

Fading Fascias & Covid-19

Fading fascias‘ are old painted shopfronts. They are often glimpsed for a matter of hours while covering signage is replaced. In the current pandemic there has been an increase in this phenomenon, at least anecdotally. This could be explained by businesses going under, while others have used the period of enforced closure to carry out various improvements. That said, the pictured fascia in Bath has long been on view and is revered locally.

The Events of Tuesday, 11th May 2021

One person whose appreciation of the sign is perhaps higher than most is local signwriter Eric Porter (Straight & Narrow Signs). As he was driving past on Tuesday morning last week he saw a painter-decorator at work on the front of the building. Worryingly, he could see that the right-most portion of the fascia had been painted out, and that the same fate was coming for the main shopfront. Observing all local speed limits he quickly swung the car around, parked, and went to talk to the painter.

Shopfront with three layers of painted signs, close to being painted over.
Works in progress, London Road, Bath. Photo: Eric Porter (Straight & Narrow Signs)

He was successful in getting the work to pause while reaching out to the property developers whose sign was affixed to the window. He also reached out to me for help, but I was too slow on the uptake due to our kickstarter for the book launching that day. I was only able to reply suggesting that talking to the developer/owner would be the way forward, and that any other locals that could second his motion to save the sign would be beneficial.

24 Hours Later

After the successful launch of the kickstarter I made a post to Instagram in support of Eric’s efforts. This was clearly unnecessary as, very quickly, the developers replied with the following comment.

“We really appreciate the community flagging this so quickly to us yesterday morning. There was never any plan to paint over the ghost signs and we were shocked when this did happen. We had pre-warned the painting contractor and are investigating this further as to why part of the sign was initially covered.

Works have stopped now and the paint was removed from the ‘Library’ sign above the door without damage to the historic signage.

There never was and still isn’t any intention to paint over these signs as we are in agreeance with the community that they are an important part of Bath’s history.”

I commend Eric’s efforts, which show how quickly things can be lost in the urban environment. It is also encouraging to see, yet again, developers considering the written history present on buildings and incorporating this into their plans. It suggests that, gradually, a sense value is being placed on these signs.

The Sign

There is a detailed entry for the sign itself on pages 150 and 151 of Ghost Signs of Bath. (My review here, and order page here.) It is a remarkable three-layered palimpsest with signs for J Bucknall and R C Buck (toy shop in the 1950s) clearly visible. Less so is the oldest layer which corresponds to the ‘fancy goods’ and ‘tobacconist’ copy that flanks the signs in a very traditional style. And then, finally, there’s the ‘library’ copy that was painted over.

Shopfront with three layers of painted signs.
Detail of the fading fascia on London Road, Bath. Photo: Eric Porter (Straight & Narrow Signs)

Somerset Live covered the story and their article gives a bit more of the historical context from the book if you’re interested.