Survey of Ghost Signs in Birmingham

Birmingham is the second largest city in Britain with a population of over 1 million people. It has thirty designated historic conservation areas and a high number of statutorily listed buildings are found across the city. The Heritage List is managed by Historic England search the list here


 The Survey

The ghost signs survey of each of Birmingham's neighbourhoods started in 2013.  Due to the size of Birmingham, it has not been possible to survey every street therefore, the key focus of the research has been concentrated in the main urban centers and streets of each neighbourhood.


Typically, extant ghost signs are found on nineteenth and twentieth-century buildings where there has been less urban regeneration.  Birmingham city centre despite having a high concentration of historic buildings hasn't retained this type of signage so only a few rare examples of ghost signs are visible today.  Around 187 hand-painted ghost signs have been documented across Birmingham since 2013.



The survey of Birmingham has revealed that very few nineteenth-century signs are visible today and but these provide important insight into signs from this period. The oldest examples include: 


  • GWR sign for Bordesley Cattle Station on Adderley Street;
  • D.F. Tayler & Co Ltd pin manufacturer signs on Newhall Place;
  • Isherwood Sutcliffe a Birmingham Japanner who traded on Great Hampton Street.

The majority of the ghost signs are twentieth-century up to the 1970s around the time when the sign-writing trade went in to decline.


Historic Listed Buildings

Around 25 ghost signs are found on historic listed buildings in Birmingham.  Unfortunately historic signage isn't typically recorded as part of the listing so there is no official record of the signs existence.    Another 7 ghost signs are on locally listed buildings which includes the Bordesley viaduct. 


Ghost signs tend to be visible in areas where there has been less regeneration or where the historic environment has been preserved. Extensive development in Birmingham city centre has pretty much wiped out all traces of ghost signs the Tatler News Theatre is one of the best surviving examples of the type of advertising that once adorned the walls of the city centre.  

Contemporary Ghost Signs

 A small number of ghost signs have been re-painted in an effort to improve the facade of buildings during re-development.


The Melox Clarke's dog biscuits sign, Milk Street in Digbeth is one of the most well known examples in Birmingham.  



The survey has resulted in the identification of unique collection of Ghost signs found in Birmingham and provides an alternative view of the city explored through its painted walls. The collection exemplifies the practice of sign-writing once a dominate form of sign production in the city.  

Ghost signs are best viewed afoot and by walking the streets. Bespoke group walk are available all year round get in touch with Tracey Thorne at Ghost Streets



Ghost signs walks of the Jewellery Quarter will return in the spring 2019 click the link below for details of upcoming events.