If you’re wondering what we’re on about, ‘ghost signs’ are those faded advertisements found plastered across the walls of old building, intriguing reminders of a bygone age and there is quite the variety to be found around the streets of Bath. With more than 100 noted across the city, it is arguably the most populated area for such in the whole of the UK.
Not only are they intriguing to the eye, but ghost signs offer a wealth of history, each with their own unique story behind them. Lately, these hand-painted advertisements appear to have sparked quite a lot of curiosity, preserved from a bygone era only imaginable to those of us now. They are diverse, though faded, with some dating back hundreds of years from forgotten businesses of years ago. Some remain more viable than others, but wither way they are seen to only add to the city’s character.
These signs are evocative of another age, an earlier existence when bread only came hot from the bakery, with dairy and meat sold direct from the farm in the heart of the town. Today you can find a varied selection of these historic advertisements from Batheaston all the way across to Twerton and add an additional layer of interest to an already colourful city of culture. They offer proof that the concept of advertising isn’t as modern as many of us think, with similar signage found at Pompeii and across other ancient archaeological sites around the world.
The first sign-writers chalked signs onto convenient walls, before signwriting went on to become a skill in its own right and was a combined trade from different craftsmen, from plumbers to gasfitters, decorators and engineers, with the earliest ghost signs mostly carried out by local tradesmen.
For a long time it was thought that the notable ‘Circulating Library’ sign opposite Waterstones on Milson St was the oldest surviving sign in Bath, dating back to 1823, however it has since emerged that there is one older yet on Burton Street, dating back to 1819, once thought to be a kind of apothecary selling stomach pills, snuff, perfume, magnesia and elixir. It is said that this is signage is extremely rare, possibly the earliest surviving ghost sign in the country. Other notable signs include a corporate Nestlé poster on the corner of Hot Bath Street, since painted over but still visible.
If you’re planning on a break in Bath or the surrounding area in the foreseeable future, than it high recommended that you keep an eye out for these intriguing signs across the city, with a considerable number easily found throughout the streets of the city centre and its outskirts.