23 Oct 2022

New Brands on Holborn’s Gillette Palimpsest

Current building developments have revealed new brands on Holborn’s Gillette palimpsest. In the wall’s entry in our book (page 219) we noted that these works would eventually obscure its historic layers of painted signage. However, what we didn’t know at the time was that they would also briefly reveal more brands once advertised on the wall.

Street scene with prominent painted advertisements on main building.
Gillette palimpsest on Grays Inn Road, Holborn, London. Photo: Roy Reed.

The Wall’s Advertising Past

The wall is located at the southern end of Gray’s Inn Road, WC1, near the junction with Clerkenwell Road [Map | Streetview]. Advertising here was managed by the Boro’ Bill Posting Company, whose history we discuss in the ‘Sign Economics’ chapter of our book. Their ‘10,000 Sites’ claim at the top of the wall is mirrored in press advertising from 1919, although this pre-dates their change in branding from Borough Theatre Billposting Co. to simply Boro’ or Boro’ Bill Posting Co.

Print advertising for the Borough Theatre Billposting Co. from a 1919 London suburbs street directory.

At some point, the firm leased the wall to Gillette, or their agency, who used if for painted advertisements on at least two occasions. As with many walls licensed for painted advertising, this one was later converted for billboard use, as shown in this 1937 photo at the London Transport Museum.

The New Brands on Holborn’s Gillette Palimpsest

Roy Reed, co-author of the book, was briefly allowed inside the building site to snap the photo below. Given the history of the wall, it was perhaps unsurprising that this revealed more brands than the two obvious Gillette layers.

Multiple layers of fading painted advertising on a wall.
The new brands on Holborn’s Gillette palimpsest, including Iron Jelloids and Redfern’s Rubber Heels.

Redfern’s Rubber Heels

Most apparent straight away is half of the word ‘Heels’ in yellow towards the bottom of the wall. This directly corresponds to a piece in Islington for Redfern’s, a rubber manufacturer that appears alongside Gillette in the ‘Branding the City’ chapter of our book. It seems likely that the ‘Make walking a pleasure’ slogan was also once visible in cursive lettering just below the ‘Redfern’s Rubber Heels’ headline.

Fading painted sign on a wall.
Redfern’s Rubber Heels: Make Walking a Pleasure. Photo: Roy Reed.

Iron Jelloids

The next brand visible is one that we could have spotted with closer examination of our earlier photos, namely Iron Jelloids. Their distinctive logotype is visible on the word ‘Iron’ just above the right half of the uppermost of the two Gillette names.

Detail of fading painted sign on a brick wall.
The word ‘Iron’ is visible in the space between ‘Money’ and ‘Gillette’ in this crop of Roy Reed’s photo above.
The distinctive Iron Jelloids logotype that could have appeared in a stacked form on their painted sign on this wall.

Iron Jelloids were an iron supplement, sold as a remedy for anaemia among other conditions. Ghost signs for the brand survive elsewhere, including this one in Clapham.

Other Fragments

There are some other fragments of words on the wall, but so far we’ve been unable to make any sense of these. For example, near the top, starting above the ‘G’ of ‘Gillette’ is some cursive lettering running upwards on a diagonal into the ‘Save Money’ line. And, towards the bottom on the right side, the letters ‘mo’ are clearly visible at the start of a word that looks to end with a question mark.

These elements may be connected to one of the three brands already identified on the wall, or perhaps to other layers as yet unknown. A larger version of Roy’s photo can be downloaded here in case any readers are able to decipher more than we have already.

An RIP in the Making

These new brands on Holborn’s Gillette palimpsest will only be visible for a limited time. Eventually the building works below will extend upwards, locking them all in a time capsule, perhaps to be revealed again in many years’ time. Catch them while you can, before they become another RIP among London’s ghost signs.

Roy Reed’s photo of the Gillette palimpsest on Gray’s Inn Road from the book Ghost Signs: A London Story.

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