Did you spot Bath’s ghost signs on your last visit to the city?

18 June 2020

Bath may be known for world-famous landmarks like the Royal Crescent and Roman Baths, but it also has hidden treasures. Look hard enough and you’ll uncover quirky, fascinating and beautiful secrets tucked down the city’s streets. 

One such secret that not many people know about are Bath’s ghost signs. There are around 160 of them dotted around the city, unobserved by the majority of passers-by. But what are these ghost signs, and where can you find them? Let’s take a closer look. 

Hand-painted advertising, dating back hundreds of years

Ghost signs are the snippets, fragments or fading remains of advertisements that were painted on walls or facades of buildings.  You’ll find them all over the world, but there are over 160 of them in Bath alone. In fact, historians estimate that there may be more ghost signs in Bath than anywhere else in the UK, plus the city has some of the oldest. 

These ghost signs are so fascinating because they bring an earlier age back to life, where local shopkeepers and small business owners would tout for business using the art of the signwriter. Walk around Bath and know where to look, and you’ll see unusual fonts, exquisite detail and beautifully painted lettering. 

For many people, ghost signs are so irresistible because it’s remarkable that they’re still there at all. Some signs are crystal clear, because modern Bath business owners and residents have taken pains to preserve them. Others have muddled lettering, where one sign has been painted on top of another, or an old sign has been recently uncovered. If you look carefully at some, you’ll only be able to make out a couple of letters or the end of a word. 

Where to find Bath’s ghost signs

If you want a full roadmap of all of Bath’s ghost signs – the ideal basis for a treasure-hunting trip to Bath in the near future – local historians Kirsten Elliott and Andrew Smith have published a book dedicated to them. You can pick up Ghost Signs of Bath from independent local bookshops including Topping & Company Booksellers and Mr B’s Emporium of Reading Delights.

But in the meantime, here are a few highlights to look out for if you happen to be passing through the city:

  • Cleveland Terrace and London Road – this is a great spot for ghost signs, as a number of faded and newer painted signs for Nestlé’s Milk, furniture and more cover the curving corner of a traditional Bath stone building. 
  • Gays Hill, Camden – a famous sign here designates the building as a former Asylum for the Maintenance and Instruction of Young Females in Household Work, founded in 1819. Stay at Camden Crescent and you’ll only be a short stroll away. 
  • 27A & B Belvedere, Lansdown Road – the signs here are among the best examples of signwriters showing off their craft, where R Boseley uses a number of fonts and styles to showcase a trade sample for potential clients. Our beautiful Ainslie’s Belvedere townhouse is just across the road. 
  • Rivers Street – look out for a fading sign at the top of the building for ‘The Old Red House Bakery’, an old established business owned by high-profile Bath family, the Taylors. Stay at our Gloucester Street House or River Street Mews and you’ll be within a few steps of the ghost sign itself. 

Milsom Street – here you’ll find the ‘Circulating Library and Reading Room’ sign dating back to 1823, one of the most famous and oldest ghost signs in Bath.