This is a spectacular ghost sign - and although huge, it's also one of the most hidden away I've ever come across. It reads:
HOLBORN BOROUGH COUNCIL
CIVIL DEFENCE HEADQUARTERS
VOLUNTEERS WANTED ENROL HERE
It dates, I would guess, from the Second World War - when, as you can see, Holborn had an active civil defence operation. It's just possible that it's from the period of the Cold War, when fear of a Soviet nuclear strike prompted a revival of civil defence teams, particularly in sensitive areas such as Holborn in central London.
The sign is entirely obscured by Holborn Library, a building completed in 1960 - this photo was taken from the local history section of the library on the second floor looking out through a rear window.
The library building itself, on Theobalds Road, has been described as 'a milestone in the history of the modern public library'. Camden Council intends to refurbish the building - the spot I took this photo from is set to become a luxury apartment, and the local history collection is to be banished to the basement.
And the former Civil Defence HQ - in a building built between the wars as a furniture warehouse (and currently used by the council for storage and as the base for a number of arts and similar organisations) - is set to be demolished, though we don't quite know when, and the site redeveloped. Its side aspect is on John's Mews, if that helps.
Holborn Borough Council, by the way, was swept away in the 1965 reorganisation of London local government when it was amalgamated with St Pancras and Hampstead in the new London Borough of Camden.
So if you are in to ghost signs - or Holborn's history - or you are just curious (which is a good thing to be) - don't delay in getting a glimpse!
What a brilliant piece of political ephemera - from 150 years ago, and relating to my own back yard. Many thanks to the wonderfully named Bloomsbury booksellers, Jarndyce - yes, it's an allusion to Dickens's Bleak House - for providing me both with this prize item (at a price to match, naturally) and the high quality image above.
This is a programme for a Reform League procession to the Agricultural Hall in Islington's Upper Street, just a couple of miles from where I live. They were a nationwide, and very effective, campaign organisation which demanded an extension of the franchise and the introduction of the secret ballot. The Second Reform Act of 1867 didn't deliver the manhood suffrage they sought but it more than doubled the number of those eligible to vote (a property restriction remained, but male borough householders and lodgers who paid £10 or more in rent a year now qualified to vote). The Ballot Act followed in 1872. It was another half century, 1918 to be precise, before any women got the vote in Parliamentary elections
The Reform League was largely middle class-led, but artisan radicals and the craft trade societies also rallied to its standard. In central London (and Holborn most notably) several of the League's branches were notoriously left-wing, extending to sympathy for Republicanism and for the Irish nationalist 'Fenian' movement. Some of London's radical working men's clubs, such as the Patriotic on Clerkenwell Green - it's now the Marx Memorial Library - were born out of Reform League branches.
The legend 'God Save the Queen!', in capitals at the bottom of the programme, was clearly intended to emphasise the League's loyalty to the Crown, whatever some of its more wayward members might have spouted from their Sunday morning speaking platforms.
You can see from this programme how important the trade societies were to the Reform League - and also the care the League took in ensuring that its processions were well arranged and effectively marshalled. They even had mounted marshals (in other words, on horseback) - among their number was my old friend Samuel Brighty. Many years (sorry, decades) ago I started a doctoral thesis about popular politics in Clerkenwell in just this period (the chapter on the Reform League was finished, which is more than can be said for the wider thesis - details on request). Brighty was one of several local radical notables (in his case a member of the Clerkenwell Vestry) who engaged my attention. He famously gave evidence to the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes of 1884-5, but that's another story ...
I did wonder whether the 'Mr Coffey' who is also listed as a marshal might be William Cuffay, the noted black Chartist activist, Not so - Cuffay, whose father was from St Kitt's, was deported to Tasmania and elected to stay there at the end of his sentence. He died there in 1870.
As pub signs go, this is about as good as it gets. Not an old-fashioned 'swinging chad' pub sign, but a mosaic on a flank wall. This is The Enterprise on Red Lion Street in Holborn - directly opposite the equally welcoming Dolphin.
The work is dated - 2006 - and the artist is Tessa Hulkin. Her website explains:
The pub is named after a 19th century sailing ship that travelled to the Arctic in search of the missing explorer Sir John Franklin in 1852. The mosaic shows the ship in full sail watched by a polar bear on a floating iceberg.
Alas the pub's own site has nothing to say about its history apart from the blindingly obvious statement that it is 'Victorian'.
One of the more interesting, and hidden away, of central London's 'local' churches - the distinctly high church S. Alban the Martyr in Holborn. You don't know where it is? Not surprising. It really is tucked away off one of the least known London squares, Brooke's Market, which lies between Leather Lane and Gray's Inn Road. And as you venture in to a rather charming courtyard, you are immediately assailed by the striking sculpture above.
Saint Alban, by the way, is the first recorded British Christian martyr. He was beheaded in the third or fourth century at - you've guessed it - St Alban's.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!