Arts & Entertainment

Edinburgh’s ghost signs, a cause for preservation

By Remei Calabuig

Edinburgh, UK, Jul 8 (efe-epa).- Forgotten shop signs and vintage advertisements plastered onto buildings in Edinburgh that are emerging with the removal of a few layers of paint are becoming an increasingly trendy design feature in the Scottish capital.

Known as ghost signs, they not only give a retro feel to a business exterior but offer a glimpse into the city’s history.

Many business owners stumble across these bygone features of Edinburgh when renovating their premises.

They serve to inform customers that what is now a shoe shop used to be a place to pick up milk or what is now a bar used to be a bakery.

You only have to take a quick stroll around the center of Edinburgh, which is a Unesco-listed heritage site, to see some examples of old shops signs.

Common on the Royal Mile, which links Edinburgh Castle with Holyrood, vintage signage can also be found on a variety of buildings around the city from apartment blocks to factories.

At the beginning of the year, just before the United Kingdom was plunged into the coronavirus lockdown on 23 March, the owners of Artisan Coffee in the Leith area removed some panelling on their exterior only to find a well-preserved sign from 1850.

The owner of the cafe, Lynsey Bozkurt, tells Efe: “When we started doing the renovation and people passed by, they asked if we were going to keep it, so we did an Instagram survey to find out what our followers wanted and most of them answered that we keep it.”

She says her first thought was to cover it up again, believing that a large sign from the old business Art Dyers P&R Hay Dry Cleaners could confuse prospective customers.

“At first I thought it could be confusing and that we should cover it but when everyone said they wanted us to keep it, we decided to do it,” she adds.

The solution was to attach a round sign with the name of the modern-day cafe to the lintel of the door while leaving the former advertisement in place for all to see.

The decision to preserve the dry cleaner sign was also underpinned by the notion that it belonged to the neighborhood.

Just a few meters from Artisan Cafe on the wall of what is now part of a housing block there is another glimpse into the commercial past of the neighborhood, a semi-circular sign that reads: “Suits for men and women”.

In nearby Bothwell Street, another reads: “Andrew Whyte and Sons”.

Leila Kean runs the Edinburgh Ghost Signs Facebook page and spends her time documenting the city’s lost lettering with the help of the public.

She described herself as a “veteran ghost sign hunter”.

“Everyone loves a bit of nostalgia and Edinburgh ghost sign-hunting definitely taps into that too,” she tells Efe.

“Our page currently has just under 5.5k fans and it’s lovely to see the enthusiasm and genuine dedication when something new is uncovered somewhere — we get lots of people adding photos to the community page and they always spark some kind of conversation or curiosity.”

“There’s definitely an increased awareness of the social and artistic merit of keeping, even carefully restoring pre-existing signage as it’s uncovered during refurbishment works,” she adds.

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