29 Dec 2021

Advertising Time Capsules in Paris and London

Holland Park Underground Station, London.

“It is possible to resent the ‘trespassing’ of today’s billboards and graffiti, while also celebrating the reappearance of fifty-year-old advertising. When disused tunnels were recently reopened on the London Underground, they revealed time-capsuled posters from the 1960s and 1970s, provoking delight among many.”

Ghost Signs: A London Story

The above quote is from the ‘Sign Protection’ chapter of our book where we explore how the passage of time can change the perceived value of advertising in the public realm. The posters referred to were found at Euston Station, but the topic of these advertising time capsules underground cropped up again recently. This was with reference to a Paris Metro station, and this tweet from Tim Mc Inerney was shared with me by many.

This led to more fascinating replies and here I have collated material shared in response to my idea of a blog post. There’s more from Tim Mc Inerney towards the end, but first we’ll hop back across the channel for the first instalment in West London.

Advertising Time Capsules at Notting Hill Gate

Mike Ashworth was the Design & Heritage Manager at London Underground in 2010 when work was being carried out at Notting Hill Gate. In the process, contractors discovered a long-disused passageway. Although this wasn’t an uncommon occurrence, Ashworth notes that, “what made this discovery different was that sealed up in the disused space was a gallery of original advertising posters, dating from between 1956 and 1959”.

Advertising time capsules at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
The disused tunnel at Notting Hill Gate, London. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.

Ashworth continues:

“The first glimpse of this strange, still place was astonishing. On other stations old posters survive but rarely in such numbers and in such surprisingly good condition. The colours were still vibrant and the lettering, ranging from the well-behaved to the garish, still stood out as clear as when last seen by the eyes of passengers. The posters ranged from those issued by London Transport itself to consumer products – all presented in the then-standard pasted format of grouped banks of posters on black paper background frames. As well as these there was a superb series of film posters of varying design styles.”

Mike Ashworth, former Design & Heritage Manager, London Underground
Advertising time capsules at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
One of the arrays of 1950s posters at Notting Hill Gate, London. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.

Following their discovery there were discussions of what to do with these Pompeii-esque remnants of advertising past. Removal was an option, albeit expensive and time-consuming. Another would have been finding a way to make the space accessible for viewing. Ashworth had concerns about the former as that would displace them from their original context, and the latter would run the risk of damage or poor maintenance. For Ashworth, their survival “as they were designed to be seen” was an important aspect of their discovery. This subsequently guided the decision to re-seal the space and leave it there for a future generation to discover once again.

Ashworth cautions that you shouldn’t ask staff if you can see the posters: “They are obviously entombed and I doubt anyone can recall which sign or even which platform they are on – so, just enjoy the poster ghosts of the past in these images!”

(Captions below taken from Mike Ashworth’s research, with an even older discovery to follow.)

Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
Victor Galbraith‘s ‘Party Travel’ elephant on this poster issued by London Transport to advertise its group travel services. Note the company’s roundel logo as the elephant’s eye. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
Poster by A C E. Adams for the Science Museum’s new ‘Iron & Steel Exhibition Gallery’ at South Kensington. The exhibition lasted as a gallery for many years. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
Too Many Crooks‘ is a 1959 film starring Terry-Thomas, George Cole, Brenda De Banzie and Bernard Bresslaw along with Sid James. Two of these actors would become stalwarts of the ‘Carry On’ films. At this time the Odeon Marble Arch was still the 1928 building which was not long after replaced. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
This cheery sailor by artist Daphne Padden was commissioned by the coach company Royal Blue, whose vehicles ran between London’s Victoria Coach Station and many West Country resorts. Padden (1927–2009) was a noted artist and designer who was commissioned by several travel companies as well as the General Post Office (GPO) for posters and stamp designs. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
A trio of faded and water damaged London Transport posters. They advertised some of the many publicity leaflets and pamphlets that the company regularly issued and that could be obtained from their Travel Enquiry Offices, or by writing to head office at 55 Broadway. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
A poster by ‘Hanna’ (likely John, as opposed to William) for the long running annual Ideal Home Exhibition sponsored for many years by the Daily Mail. This one in 1959 was, as usual, at the Olympia Exhibition Centre in West London. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsule at Notting Hill Gate station in the form of a vintage 1950s poster.
One of the boldest graphics on any of the posters and, in style, already looking forward to the ‘Swinging’ Sixties. It promoted the United Artists film ‘The Horse’s Mouth‘ that starred Alec Guinness and that had been the Royal Command Performance Film for 1959. The screenplay was by Guinness himself and the film was directed by Ronald Neame. It received critical acclaim at the time of the release but is not now one of the best-recalled films starring the great actor. Photo: Ian Bell / London Underground, courtesy of Mike Ashworth.

Holland Park

Just one stop further along the Central Line at Holland Park, some more discoveries were made during works. Rather than the dedicated poster spaces at Notting Hill Gate, these were pasted directly onto the glazed bricks. They have once again been covered by modern signage, awaiting a subsequent reveal.

The theatrical one dates these to almost 50 years earlier than those above, as detailed in Mike Ashworth’s captions.

Advertising time capsules at Holland Park station in the form of vintage 1910s posters.
Milner’s Safes were a long-established company, later bought out by Chubb Safes who retained the brand for many years afterwards. The poster for ‘The Mousmé’ states that it’s a ‘new musical play.’ It premiered on 9 May 1911 at the Shaftesbury Theatre and so this helps to date the poster. As noted, it was produced by a famous UK theatrical figure, Robert Courtneidge, father of the actress Dame Cicely Courtneidge. Photo: Mike Ashworth.
Advertising time capsules at Holland Park station in the form of a vintage 1910s poster.
This fragment is promoting the availability of advertising locations in London. There’s a slim chance it could be for the Willing firm given the visible NG at the end of the name. Photo: Mike Ashworth.

Advertising Time Capsules at Trinité–d’Estienne d’Orves

Here are some highlights from the twitter thread, photographed by Tim Mc Inerney. He was fortunate to have jumped off the train when he spotted them, as later in the day when he returned they were no longer there. As with many of those at Notting Hill Gate, these date from 1959.

Advertising time capsules at Trinité–d'Estienne d'Orves station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
It wasn’t just Tim’s eyes drawn to these reveals in the setting of the main platforms at Trinité. Photo: Tim Mc Inerney.
Advertising time capsules at Trinité–d'Estienne d'Orves station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
Trinité, Paris. Photo: Tim Mc Inerney.
Advertising time capsules at Trinité–d'Estienne d'Orves station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
As with the London posters, there was lots of advertising for the public transport system itself. Photo: Tim Mc Inerney.
Advertising time capsules at Trinité–d'Estienne d'Orves station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
A margarine brand, Planta. Photo: Tim Mc Inerney.

Marcadet-Poissonniers

Just one year before the reveals at Trinité–d’Estienne d’Orves, something very similar occurred at Marcadet-Poissonniers. These images were captured in November 2014 by Eric Darvoy aka Pixdar, author of ‘Sur les traces d’un passé urbain‘. They include a mixture of commercial advertising, and posters for the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) which manages the city’s public transport network.

Advertising time capsules at Marcadet-Poissonniers station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
Rafael is a wine brand with this distinctive logotype also found on painted walls across France. Photo: Eric Darvoy.
Advertising time capsules at Marcadet-Poissonniers station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
Savora was a condiment brand marketed by the British Coleman’s. It is still available within the Unilever stable. Photo: Eric Darvoy.
Advertising time capsules at Marcadet-Poissonniers station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
Puget olive oil, with a fragment of an older poster also visible . Photo: Eric Darvoy.
Advertising time capsules at Marcadet-Poissonniers station in the form of vintage 1950s posters.
Spred paints. Photo: Eric Darvoy.

The Shifting Sands of Opinion and Time

Returning once again to our discussion of fading painted signs in the book:

“Public opinion is also in flux. When they were first painted, the signs were seen as garish and adding to the commercial clutter of the street. Similar views are held about today’s billboards, although these aren’t new: in 1960 the American adman Howard Gossage referred to billboards as ‘trespassing on your field of vision’… The passage of time no doubt affects these shifts in opinion.”

Ghost Signs: A London Story

While we marvel at these seventy-year-old (and older) posters, it would be interesting to know what their contemporary passengers felt about them. And indeed,what those in 2090 might think about survivors from today’s outdoor advertising…


With thanks to Mike Ashworth, Eric Darvoy and Tim Mc Inerney for their kind permission to reproduce these photos on the blog.