In the post-war redevelopment of our cities one aspect which does get over-looked is the way the new buildings were detailed. And perhaps the most crucial aspect of that detailing was the signage. I enjoy seeing surviving examples of the sign manufacturers art which have escaped the updating by subsequent owners or retailers. The firms which specialised in this sort of work often used the latest acrylic materials alongside more traditional stove enamelled metal letters. Not long ago I nosed about the remains of one of Sheffield’s oldest suppliers (soon to be a landmark block of flats no doubt), and rescued a handful of interesting sales brochures. These by Wards & Company (Letters) Ltd. of Bristol were particularly nice.
A modest A5 wallet contains a selection of the firm’s typeface sheets, along with a die-cut business card shaped in the letter W, which introduced Mr. Wilson of Leeds, Ward’s local district agent. It also included some attractive colour leaflets, each explaining the virtues of a different type of signage; cast lettering, box signs, illuminated lettering and so on. These have painted commercial illustrations to show off the signs, not unlike those which featured in Ladybird books of the period.
These signs today are generally junked. Sometimes signmakers just reverse them and install a new fascia – leaving something for future historians to discover. Once stripped out they rarely have the appeal of earlier shops signs, which end up as decorative objects for homes and cafés. And who has the room to store them anyway? I do admire one Sheffield person who spotted the acrylic sign for the Crazy Daizy Nightclub being removed. A fondly (or otherwise) remembered nite spot for many a teenager he couldn’t let it end up in the skip. It was too big for his car, so he broke it in two to fit it onto his back seat and back home stuffed it into his garage. It was recently restored for a local exhibition about Sheffield’s music heritage and venues, providing an instant point of reference for many visitors.
As for Wards, I assumed they would have gone the way of many businesses but was childishly delighted on search engining their name to learn that they are still going strong. From their website I discovered that they have being going ‘over fifty years’ (it’s all you can learn about their history on the Wards website!) which puts them back into the late fifties or early sixties. This would make this literature contemporary with their formation.