Image of the side of a brick building with a red faded advertising sign for matches.
A ghost sign advertising matches in Blyth, Northumberland. © Historic England Archive. DP087752.
A ghost sign advertising matches in Blyth, Northumberland. © Historic England Archive. DP087752.

Public Asked to Help Hunt Ghost Signs This Halloween

Ahead of Halloween, Historic England is inviting the public to share images and information of ghost signs across England on a new online map to help us better understand these pieces of hidden history.

What are ghost signs?

Ghost signs can come in many forms. They are typically historic hand-painted advertising signs or old shop signs preserved on buildings which have since changed use.

Often found in urban areas, ghost signs are an important part of the historic fabric on our high streets. These faded relics can tell us much about our collective architectural, cultural and social history.

They give us a window into how buildings were once used and have changed over time, as well as what products were popular and how they were advertised to the public.

Once you start looking up on high streets and hunting for ghost signs, you’ll find that they’re hidden in plain sight, tucked away down alleyways or hiding among rooftops. These mysterious pieces of secret history are a special reminder of the people who came before us, and the urban spaces and high streets they made their own. We want to hear what people know and love about their local ghost signs, and to create a map that we can all use to explore this evocative part of our urban heritage.
Duncan Wilson, CEO Historic England
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Examples of ghost signs

We hope the new online map will encourage people to look up beyond the shop fronts in their towns, villages and on their local high streets.

We'd like people to share images and information about their locally loved ghost signs, inviting others to visit and explore them too. We want to learn more about where ghost signs are and what they mean to local communities.

Here are some examples:

Sankey's Soap, Manchester

The Grade II* listed Beehive Mill in Manchester was built in the 1820s as a cotton spinning mill and was later used to manufacture soap. A nightclub, Sankey’s Soap, opened in 1994, taking its name from the former factory. The club closed in 2017, but the sign remains.

F.R.Stubbs Ironmonger, York

F.R. Stubbs was an ironmonger first established in 1904 but later relocated in 1915 to the Grade II listed Foss Bridge House. F.R. Stubbs traded here until 2001, when the building was put up for sale. Despite the building having changed function over the years, the sign remains.

South Western Railway Offices, Plymouth

The Grade II listed former South Western Railway Offices at The Barbican in Plymouth. The building now serves as a gift and ice cream shop, but the original South Western Railway signage remains on the side and front.