3 May 2021

The Curious Case of Two French Milliners

I’ve long been familier with the painted shopfront on Brushfield Street, Spitalfields, advertising the French Milliner (hat maker) A. Gold. My 2014 photo shows it occupied by a grocers that adopted the A. Gold name. To me it always appeared to be a touched-up painted fascia sign and I had never investigated much further. However, an exchange on social media led to Pablo Scott emailing me, opening up a very curious case.

Painted shopfront for A. Gold, French Millinery
42 Brushfield Street in 2014.

The ‘Twin’ Fascias

Pablo shared a photo of a fading fascia in Islington advertising another French Milliner, in this case A. Wyld. He noted the similarity in the lettering and fourishes on the trade descriptions and speculated that they were painted by the same signwriter. This didn’t seem too far fetched as the two addresses are just a couple of miles apart and so easily within the ‘patch’ of a single writer.

Two French Milliner signs side by side
French Milliners Comparison.

While there are some apparent differences in the lettering, the overall layout and specifically the positioning of the decorative flourishes clearly indicates a relationship between the two signs. Having recently researched the history of signwriters in London I wondered if there might be any way of pinning the work to a single writer. Or perhaps a shortlist of possibilities, based on the locations and dates of the businesses.

Gold & Wyld

The milliner Jacob Gold was at 42 Brushfield Street for a few years round 1890. Prior to him, in 1885, milliner Jacob Rosenbaum is listed there and in 1882 the linen draper George Williams. After 1895 I haven’t found records of a milliner at the address. However, an A. Gold, ladies hat manufacturer, does crop up 1921, nearby at 43 Fashion Street.

There are online references to a milliner at the Brushfield Street shop by the name of Amelia Gold in the 1880s, and also to an Annie Gold and her husband Jacob being there 1889–92. These would fit the A. Gold shopfront, but I’ve not yet found either name in the street directories. However, a female milliner with a business registered in her husband’s name isn’t far fetched at all. [Update: The Census verifies that Jacob Gold, fur liner, and Anne Gold, milliner were married and at the address in 1891.]

Painted shopfront for A. Wyld, French Milliner
71 Cloudesley Road. Photo by Pablo Scott.

The bootmaker John Wyld was at 71 Cloudesley Road for a few years, roughly 1891–5 with unrelated businesses in the shop after he moved to nearby Barnsbury Road. He seems to have emigrated to Australia and I can’t find records of any children that he had. His father was also John Wyld, and did have children with the initial A, but they haven’t so far been connected to the millinery trade, nor the Cloudesley Road address.

Dating the Painting

The A. Gold sign appears to have been painted relatively recently and has certainly been there from at least 2008. It’s not clear if was painted with reference to a pre-existing fascia board, and the lettering isn’t visible in archival photos I’ve found, including this one from 1990. A possible sequence of events is the removal of a covering panel and then a repainting of a piece of earlier signage found beneath

In around 2014 the lettering under the window was repainted to replace ‘A. Gold, Traditional Foods of Britain’ with ‘Cundall & Garcia, Home-Cooked Food & Provisions.’ There was then some local outcry in around 2018 when it was covered by a sign for ‘Butter Believe It‘ which has now been removed to reveal A. Gold again.

Painted shopfront for A. Gold, French Milliner
42 Brushfield Street after 2014. Photo by Pablo Scott.

The A. Wyld one looks more like an authentic original. It’s a bit trickier to work out any sequencing as the streetview record for this residential street only goes between 2008–12 when the whole frontage is painted in one colour. By the time of Pablo’s photo last year (2020) redecoration had occured and the Wyld fascia is there. Between 2012 and 2020 the paint could have been stripped back to reveal the lettering beneath, or perhaps a covering panel was removed.

The Puzzle

We therefore have two businesses, contemporary to each other but with shopfronts that don’t perfectly correspond to their listed names. With Gold, the trade fits. but in Wyld’s case French millinery seems an odd thing for a bootmaker to highlight on their sign. The similarities between the respective designs suggests they were either painted by the same hand, or that one was inspired by the other.

It’s entirely plausible that Jacob Gold was the frontman for his wife’s business. [See earlier update about this.] It could then be that John Wyld was continuing an earlier business registered as A. Wyld, and that both signs were in fact produced at about the same time by the same person.

Another explanation is that one or both of the signs are ‘faux,’ possibly with one inspring the other. The A. Wyld sign would be the most likely candidate based on the historical records, but this jars with it appearing to be more of an authentic original than the A. Gold sign.

If anyone has any clues, or alternative theories, that can help unlock things further then please let me know. 

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