27 Oct 2021

Missing in Action: Barlow & Roberts

The Barlow & Roberts name towards the top of the ghost sign on Southwark Street.

While working on the book, news reached me that this ghost sign for Barlow & Roberts, Southwark Street, is now missing, and unlikely to be seen again in its former home. I was alerted to this by Antony Robbins who was passing while building works were happening on the plot of land immediately behind the sign.

The land, and presumably the sign, is owned by Transport for London, but it seems that the contractors aren’t putting it back any time soon. It seems likely that the wooden boards comprising the sign will find themselves for sale in the architectural salvage market that I’ve written about previously…

I’d always argued that the sign’s positioning put it at risk from graffiti, but it seems that a more existential threat eventually did for it. It would have made a nice artefact for somewhere like the Museum of London, and perhaps it will surface again somewhere unexpected. Please let me know if you come across information leading to its whereabouts. In the meantime, here’s a bit more about the sign and its former location.

Before and after the sign’s removal. Photos: Roy Reed.

Roy and I decided that we wouldn’t include it in the book. However, the accompanying text, location and transcription were already written as follows. (I have also had to remove it from my Bankside Ghostsigns Walk. Look out for the new revised and updated digital version of this coming in November.)

Barlow & Roberts’s Story

Barlow & Roberts were shopfitters, so it is likely they either directly employed a signwriter, or had one that they regularly subcontracted to. It seems that this person was given free rein here, and used the opportunity to demonstrate a range of lettering styles.

The company’s origins were in the City of London in the 1880s. It then relocated to Peckham before settling at the address on this sign from 1908 until 1920. After moving to a final location on nearby Borough High Street, the business shut up shopfitting in the late 1920s.

The water damage at the bottom of the sign happened when it was covered and its exposed position at street level makes it prone to vandalism. In 2016, the sign was recreated in the medium of light as one of Craig Winslow’s Light Capsules.

Southwark Street (under railway arches) SE1 [Map]


Barlow & Roberts

Shop Fitters, Builders and Contractors

Saw Planing & Moulding Mills

15 Redcross St, SE1

First turning left

Estimates free for all kinds of Building Work & Structural Alterations

Light Capsules

The sign was illuminated at night for a series of five Light Capsules from Craig Winslow during the 2016 London Design Festival. This patricular installation then made a comeback for one night only during the London Letterheads event in 2018. This video shows some more from the 2016 series, and Craig’s site has dozens more of his Light Capsules from the USA and Canada.

More Photos

‘Builders and Contractors’
Lettering detail.
Lettering and water damage towards the bottom of the Barlow & Roberts ghost sign, formerly of Southwark Street, London SE1.

RIP (or see you soon), Barlow & Roberts, Southwark Street.

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