London Sign Fonts Tell Their Own Stories

Walking around London yesterday I found myself paying attention to the secondary narrative of the city’s fonts, text and signage. How the current condition of some of the texts differ from their original form, and that within the aesthetic of that difference lies the story. The image above is from a suit maker and tailor in the City of London. While the shop is now closed and empty, the entryway shows that at one time, there was enough foot traffic to wear away the firm’s name. A sad marking of a once prosperous shop and tailor-based culture.

The signage from a toy store in Clapham Junction – the store itself is still in operation, but, as the sign tells, it has lost something of its glamour and relevance, selling mostly board games and models in an era of computer games and online entertainment. The sign has obviously lost its covering and illumination – requiring an appreciation of the tradition of the name and its stoic character instead of a glaring call to attention, as with the entertainment it sells, and recalls an era of a more robust engagement with its community and youth market.


Mismatched pavements are the scars of the city, showing its growth, repairs and upgrades. Not much can be done about the colour or texture of the pavement matching, but as is evidenced here, London roadcrews seem to take special care to only replace the pieces of text that their works directly disrupt. The half-rendered S and O above are especially painful to see as evidence of the rigid limitations of where someone’s job ends and the assumption that someone else’s job supposedly begins. The ‘not my job’ culture, as told in two simple words.

london_font_4In Brixton, a multi-tiered story of a hastily-reworked sign, the passage of time, and the eventual upgrade bolted on below as fortunes improved. Clearly the first generation of the signage under a different name was done in vinyl letters, simply painted over rather than removed, with another vinyl lettered sign stuck on below. As time passed, the original letters peeled, revealing its history and slowly removing its new moniker. Rather than engaging with the organic nature of the sign and its time-based rebellion, the owners just slapped a new sign below, letting the old one continue its war.

london_font_5There is a phrase in Britain, “it does what it says on the tin”, meaning that the product and function is as literal as its claim was when sold. Here, the gradual erosion of the signage is in keeping with its function when first installed.