The visual history of London's street signs

A new photography book by London Met's Alistair Hall documents the most beautiful and curious nameplates of the capital.

Date: 07 August 2020

London Street Signs, a new book by London Met lecturer Alistair Hall offers a visual history of London’s street nameplates – from the curious to the ornate.

London’s street nameplates constitute a remarkable archive of lettering, a unique collection of styles and forms that stretches right back to the seventeenth century. They hide in plain sight, these modest labels; we use their information daily, but too often fail to really notice them. They are visual anchors, telling us where we are, but temporal anchors too, telling us where we’ve come from.

On 21 August 2016, Alistair picked up his camera and wandered out onto the streets of London, with the idea that it might be useful and interesting to document the incredible variety of the city’s street nameplates. Almost four years and over four thousand photographs later, he has compiled his pictures together in a book.

He has selected the most significant nameplates, the most beautiful, the most curious. From enamel plates to incised lettering, from the simplest cast-iron signs to the most ornamental architectural plaques, a visual record of this rather shaded corner of our collective history.

The book also tells some of the fascinating stories behind these unassuming treasures, revealing where they came from before being affixed to brick or stone for decades, sometimes centuries, to come – from the iconic nameplates of the City of Westminster to the stunning tiled signs of Hampstead, from the revival nameplates of Lambeth to the ghost signs of London’s no-longer existent N.E. postal district.

Alistair is Associate Lecturer of London Met’s BA Graphic Design and Illustration & Animation courses at the School of Art, Architecture and Design. He is also Art Director and co-founder of a children’s writing and mentoring centre, the Ministry of Stories, as well as its fantastical shopfront, Hoxton Street Monster Supplies. Alistair has been writing about design and visual culture on the We Made This blog for over ten years.

A street sign in East London