We have talked previously about how type can transport us. Some typographic genres seem to belong to cities and neighbourhoods helping to reinforce their identity. Allistair Hall (of We Made This) ongoing research into the vernacular of London’s Name Plate signage investigates and archives the voices of the city. "A unique collection of styles and forms that stretches right back to the 17th century." While walking and cycling the city Alistair photographs all the most interesting, curious, significant and beautiful examples, which he is curating for an upcoming book and also publishing on this instagram page.
Noting these street name signs 'hide in plain sight' they are read daily for navigation as visual wayfinding anchors but not often seen. Especially by locals, Allistair’s project is about looking at these signs critically to understand where they have come from and what narrative they may tell of his city. The project is drawing peoples attention to the signs - with a growing following of graphic design, typography and lettering enthusiasts via instagram but also to people who encounter the nameplates first hand on London's streets.
So far (over the last several years) Allistair has collected more than 2000 examples - "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 the no-longer-existent NE postal district. From enamel plates to incised lettering, from the simplest cast iron signs to the most ornamental architectural tablets" As he increases the communities awareness of the signs they better understand each nameplates historical, cultural and aesthetic value.
Alistair's research goes beyond a visual archive as he digs through libraries and interviews the people involved in the design and production to discover the stories behind these unassuming visual treasures! With a more specific type bent - Allistair follows threads of information and conversation to learn more about the lettering styles which adorn them. Diving deep into an elusive angled terminal Alistair hopes to uncover the origins of the genre and has asked the community to weigh in on what they know of the style. (Read more about this investigation and similar type specimens here).
I particularly love the Victorian examples, and found much delight in the masterful copyfitting tricks the sign painters/producers use. Next time I am in London I know I will enjoy finding my way through the city in a whole new light thanks to this project. Be sure to follow the londonstreetnameplates instagram account for a richly seeded source of lettering inspiration. And if you have any information about the trail of the angled terminal please reach out to Alistair directly!
We Made This is the graphic design studio of Alistair Hall, specialising in thoughtful, simple, beautiful communication. Alistair studied at Central Saint Martins before setting up his studio in 2004. Based in Clerkenwell, London, the studio’s output includes print design, books, branding, copywriting, packaging design and various other bits and bobs. Alistair has been writing about design and visual culture at wemadethis.co.uk/blog for over ten years.