London street signs, published by Batsford, is a new book by Alistair Hall that gives us a visual history of these interesting nameplates – from the curious to the ornate – and opens our eyes to the remarkable archives of lettering, a unique collection of styles and shapes which extends back to the seventeenth century. “They hide in plain sight, these modest labels; we use their information daily, but too often don’t really notice it. They are visual anchors, which tell us where we are, but also temporal anchors, which tell us where we came from. “, remarks Alistair.
In August 2016, Alistair took his camera and wandered the streets of London, with the idea that it might be useful and interesting to document the incredible variety of nameplates on the city’s streets. “I started with a list of about 50 nameplates that I knew that were interesting or unique,” he says. “I created a Google map to mark their specific locations, then went out to photograph the panels, finding many more as I walked between each one. I used Instagram to document the project, share pictures and stories on the signs. People were really brilliant and shared their own favorites with me from all over town. Little by little, my list of nameplates to study grew.
Almost four years and over four thousand photographs later, he collected his images for this book. He selected the most significant, the most beautiful, the most curious nameplates. From enamel plaques with incised lettering, from the simplest cast iron signs to the most ornamental architectural plaques, here is a visual testimony of this rather shady corner of our collective history.
The book also tells some of the fascinating stories behind these unassuming treasures, revealing where they came from before being affixed to brick or stone for decades, if not centuries, to come – iconic nameplates of the City of Westminster to the stunning tiled signs of Hampstead, from the nameplates of the Lambeth revival to the ghost signs of the no longer existing North East London Postal District.
“One of the joys of this project was the chance to delve into the history of archives and libraries and reconstruct the stories of the panels,” adds Alistair. “Nameplates are interesting not only for their stunning lettering, but also for the richness of the stories they reveal about London and its people. Hopefully, by drawing attention to the signs, people will look at them in a new light, and maybe discover a little more about this wonderful city. “
Alistair Hall is the art director and co-founder of a children’s writing and mentoring center, the Ministry of Stories, as well as their fantastic showcase, Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Alistair wrote about design and visual culture at wemadethis.co.uk/blog for over ten years. He teaches at Central Saint Martins and the School of Art, Architecture & Design at London Metropolitan University and has lectured on his practice across the UK and abroad. Follow the London road signs on Instagram or grab a copy of the book via www.londonstreetsigns.info.