England's ghost signs: Are old fashioned painted adverts making a comeback?

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Media captionBBC Inside Out discovers the forgotten 'ghost signs' or old advertisement billboards

They offer a glimpse into the past and stand as fading tributes to products and services long since forgotten.

But an interest in the so-called ghost signs that still adorn thousands of buildings in England is making a contemporary comeback.

The quaint, hand-painted murals enjoyed their heyday in the 1920s and 1930s when homeowners used to make money by renting a gable end to advertisers.

But they were squeezed out by billboard technology throughout the mid to late 20th century.

Now, artists Shane Johnstone and Kate Drummond have been given Heritage Lottery funding to restore one of the signs in Morecambe, Lancashire.

Image copyright Shane Johnstone
Image caption This hand-painted sign in Morecambe, Lancashire, has been restored by two local artists

Staying true to the original rustic colour schemes, they have delicately repainted a 1920s advert for the town's long gone Palladium cinema.

And the pair have spotted several other crumbling ghost signs they would like to restore to their vivid former glories.

Image copyright John Rymes
Image caption The signs, such as this one in Leicester, were phased out after billboard technology was developed in the 1960s
Image copyright Picasa
Image caption This example was sent from Massachusetts to ghost signs enthusiast John Rymes

Mr Johnstone was trained as a sign painter's apprentice in Lancaster in the late 1970s, during the final years of the hand-painted era.

He said: "These signs are really special. I like to think of them of them as a sort of local 'folk art'. It was the only art work some people would ever see. Not everyone could go to art galleries.

"The really special thing was you could walk down any street in England and the subtleties of signs would change, because each would be painted by a local painter from a local firm. He would have his own turf and his own particular style.

"In the days of modern billboards and internet advertising everything is generic. We've lost that individual charm and uniqueness."

Mr Johnstone said he and his colleague decided to save the Palladium sign after hearing it could be lost when a developer bought the building to transform into flats.

"I was always aware of this sign. It was deteriorating and deteriorating and I just thought how amazing it would be to restore it,"

"There are a lot of interesting ghost signs around Morecambe. There's one for the old Palace Theatre that we would like to look at. It certainly won't be the last."

Image copyright John Rymer
Image caption Ghost signs are most commonly found on the gable ends of buildings, such as this one in Bradford
Image copyright John Rymer
Image caption This sign in Leeds features an advert for Bile Beans, an old fashioned slimming aid

Blogger John Rymer is another ghost sign enthusiast, who took an interest after spotting many well-preserved examples in his native Leeds.

Now living in Saltburn, Teesside, he runs a Facebook page which features pictures of the signs and has amassed more than 2,400 followers.

Mr Rymer says he is sent photographs of ghost signs every day from around the country - and from as far away as Beijing, China, and Massachusetts in the US.

Image caption John Rymer has started a ghost signs Facebook page

The 56-year-old said: "I noticed them while walking around Leeds. I used to go running but had an injury. I started looking into it and found there were thousands.

"I just like the look of them and the feedback on Facebook has been phenomenal. I try to do a bit of research but mostly I like letting people come to me with the facts and history of the signs.

"I get people sending me photographs from all over the world, every single day. I literally get hundreds every week."

Mr Rymer said the signs may be old, but new examples continue to be discovered all the time.

In some cases, the use of modern advertising has even protected some of the striking signs from deteriorating more quickly.

He said: "People find them behind billboards when the advertising leases end and they're taken down. Obviously a good advertising space today was a good advertising space 100 years ago."

Inside Out is broadcast on BBC One North West at 19:30 GMT on Monday, 12 January and nationwide on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.

Image caption Adverts for cigarettes and tobacco products were once commonplace
Image copyright Picasa
Image caption A ghost sign in Liverpool advertises a brand of real ale

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