The Lucozade Question


Last November, outdoor advertising giant JCDecaux applied to Hounslow Council to change the famous Lucozade sign next to the M4 flyover in Brentford. They wished to switch the animated neon sign for a modern technology giant LCD screen, the type which has become commonplace on major trunk roads in recent years. The content was to remain Lucozade.

Locals (including me) got wind of this very late and there was outrage that the beloved sign was in danger. But on 31 January, the council turned down the application to sighs of relief all round. I announced this on Twitter which evinced a huge and positive response, and not just from Brentfordians. The sign is widely loved, it seems. Read more here. Not very good film clip by me on YouTube, here.

The current sign is, in fact, a 2010 replica of the original 1954 version which was on a building about 250 yards east of the current site. The first sign is stored in Gunnersbury Park Museum (worth visiting). Lucozade was a locally manufactured product along with other household names such as Mcleans toothpaste and Brylcreem. That remained the situation despite various mergers and takeovers over the late 20th century resulting finally in the pharmaceutical giant GSK. GSK offloaded the Lucozade brand to Japanese company Suntory last year, giving rise to the current Lucozade sign brouhaha.

I think this affair raises a lot of questions. First, if the owners of Lucozade decided they no longer wanted to pay for advertising, would it be okay for them to get free publicity on the massively busy M4 flyover? Furthermore, who would then pay for the electricity and maintenance of the sign? JC Decaux? Hounslow Council? English Heritage? I don’t think so.

There is a precedent, of sorts. Back in sixties, Ferodo – makers of brakes and related accessories – decided that their medium of choice was to be railway bridges and the deal was done, presumably with British Rail at that time. Of course, when the deal came to an end, clever Ferodo got many years of free advertising. Last year, the one on the Caledonian Road got painted over but I saw another one still proudly with us in Bow. There must be others.

Ferodo advert

Caledonian Road. Half done. “Ferally”

Ferodo Advert

Bow Road.

Of course, there are key differences. Ferodo brake pads are less personal products than Lucozade and crucially, the Ferodo signs are ubiquitous whereas the Lucozade sign is a one-off and has strong local connections. For the moment.

But what else is going on here? This is pure speculation on my part. Suntory have picked up Lucozade, and with it the Brentford sign, which like it or not, they’re obliged to keep going. What to do? Change the sign for a modern one while committing to keeping the advertisement exclusively Lucozade as a sop to local and motorway traveler sentiment while fulfilling the heritage brief. Then, it’s the easiest thing in the world to change to other advertisers later because with a modern sign, the heritage argument has actually been lethally undermined.

Suntory and JC Decaux will be back. In the end, I think they will win. For some of the above reasons, I believe we must reluctantly accept that the sign will eventually go, there are much more deserving things to fight for around London. Equally as worthy in my opinion, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining (except me!) when we lost the lovely Christmas trees on the old Beecham building after Barratt Homes took it over.

George III was very interested in maps, collecting them in huge numbers, along with views, architectural drawings and miscellaneous printed ephemera.  George IV, by contrast, was not. He dearly wished to convert his father’s library at Buck House into a ball room and very quickly began to dispose of the collection. Fortunately they were taken up by the British Museum and in 1973 ended up in their logical home: the British Library. The total collection amounts to over 60,000 item of which around 1,200 are directly London-related. While the British Library possesses 4.5 million maps in total, this is a very shiny jewel indeed. 

The collection includes all the great maps of London in the original and because they were acquired through royal patronage and acquisition, they are best quality and in a very many cases, unique. Gems include original drawings by Robert Adam of the Adelphi and all the London churches by Hawksmoor. These represent the tip of an iceberg of drawings and plans from the leading architects of Georgian London.  There are other etchings, engravings and views. Being famously miserly, George would encourage his buyers to pick up unsold items at auction. The result is that the collection also contains a large amount of ephemera, unloved in their day by connoisseurs but of massive value to the modern historian.

British Library Maps Collection

Wenceslaus Hollar’s famous survey of the destruction from the Great Fire, executed in 1667. Collection of the British Library.

Led by BL’s Head of Map Collections, Peter Barber, the department recently embarked on a project to digitise King George III’s Topographical Collection (K Top for short) in its entirely. With only their own staff to call upon and the work being too technical for volunteers, Unlock London Maps is expected to take at least four years but will be released online as it goes. Some, like those in this post, are already available. As a lover of maps, the prospect of further releases is a delicious one.

But the project needs to raise funds. The £100,000 overall target is a vital yet realistic number in this day and age and we encourage you to make a donation, large or small. Please do so via the Unlock London Maps Page.

We’ve organised a behind the scenes visit of BL’s Maps Collection on 12 June to view some of this treasure. It will be led by Peter himself. All of the £15 ticket money will go towards the fund. Members only, I’m afraid. If that’s you, make your booking here.

Here are a few more lovely examples from K Top.

British Library Maps Collection

Thamesis Descriptio by Robert Adams, the Queen’s architect, in anticipation of Spanish Invasion, 1588. Note South-North orientation. Collection of the British Library.

British Library Maps Collection

Gorgeous pocket map of London published in 1738 by Elizabeth Foster, after her late husband, George Foster. Collection of the British Library.

British Library Maps Collection

Hand-coloured map of the parish of St. Pancras, by J Tompson, 1804. Collection of the British Library.

British Library Maps Collection

T Horner’s plan and view of Kington upon Thames, 1813. Collection of the British Library.


A guest post by LH Member Jane Young.

Dickens and the Workhouse by Ruth Richardson.

dickens and the workhouseThis was first published to coincide with the Dickens bicentenary in 2012 and has now just been released in paperback format. Despite being written to a very tight deadline it pulls off that rare combination of a perfectly and thoroughly executed piece of academic research whilst remaining not only immensely readable but positively compelling.

At the heart of the story, which is a true story but nonetheless contains some genuine fairytale moments, is the campaign to save the Cleveland Street Workhouse. The resulting research grew from an entirely altruistic response to a request for help in preventing demolition of an old hospital building. The discovery this led to was the impetus for Dickens & the Workhouse

Not just for admirers of Charles Dickens, anyone who understands the lure of an archive or has even the merest shred of interest in historical research will find this difficult to put down. The narrative assembles a jigsaw puzzle as it unfolds a detective story bound up in a flawless piece of history writing.

Very much a part of why this is so captivating is the real enthusiasm with which the research was undertaken. This is present on every page and comes through in the narrative, leading you on a journey which begins with a paper written in 1989 and does not really end on the last page but culminates in a new fixture on a wall in Fitzrovia for all of London to see.

If there is any criticism at all, it is that modesty does not allow an explanation of the tireless effort and determination on the part of Dr. Richardson to obtain the essential piece of documented evidence needed to stop the planner’s bulldozers, which in a race against time was extraordinarily unearthed at the eleventh hour. Such time as Dickens & the Workhouse is reprinted in the future; it would be right and fitting with the inclusion of a foreword in acknowledgment of this. Notwithstanding that, this book is wonderful, buy it or borrow it, but do read it.

Dickens and the Workhouse; Oliver Twist and the London Poor by Ruth Richardson

Here are some delightful things we did in the second half of the year.

In August, twelve of us went on an awayday to the Watts Gallery and nearby Memorial Chapel near Guildford, which included a curator-led tour of the fabulous Frank Holl (1845 – 1888) exhibition. And a jolly nice lunch. Unfortunately, I didn’t take any photos until we got to the chapel bit.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Chapel, interior.

Watts Memorial Chapel

Tina, Peter, Caroline and the lovely well.

Max Gill (1884 – 1947) was the lesser known but no less talented sibling of sculptor and typographer Eric Gill. The biggest retrospective of his work to date was held in Ealing during October. We went for a curator-led tour, followed by a tour of John Soane’s Pitzhanger Manor, led by Georgian historian and author Lucy Inglis (LH Member). It was another delightful afternoon out.

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

max gill, pitshanger

The staircase at Pitzhanger Manor. Was it supposed to be for the Bank of England?

I bought some wellies and went mudlarking quite a few times this year. Tremendous. But we went out on an official London Historians outing in the late summer on the Thames shoreline in front of the City of London. It was organised with the excellent folks from Thames Discovery Programme.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

Finally (possibly!), two things with the National Archives (we work closely with their Friends group). First, a dedicated behind-the-scenes tour. I don’t have photos from this year, but see our report from 2012. Same thing.  Second, we co-hosted with TNA a talk during Know Your Archive week during November. LH Member Simon Fowler gave the presentation.

the national archives, kew

We all had a go on The Wall. Describing diagrammatically how archives are used for research.

mudlarking, thames, thames discovery programme

LH Member Simon Fowler

If you’ve got this far and also read my previous three posts, I thank you. If you are not a Member yet, I hope you now have a fairly decent idea of what London Historians is all about. We’d love to welcome you to the group. You can do this at any time here. Or if you’re reading this before Christmas Eve, we’re doing a special £10 discount via our friends at Londonist, here.

Many people – with a little justification, I suppose – think that London Historians spend all their time in the pub. This post focuses on this side of our activities.

We have already covered History in the Pub: Tudor London in Part 1. After that, we did one in partnership with Wellcome Library entitled Sex and the City: the STDs of Old London, presented by Dr Lesley Hall.

wellcome library, history in the pub

Ross MacFarlane introduces the talk.

History in the Pub.

Dr Lesley Hall from the Wellcome Library with Matt Brown of Londonist.

history in the pub

During open mic session, LH Member Caroline Rance introduces her new book The Quack Doctor.

Our next History in the Pub addressed the topic of the London Street Poor and featured Professor Tim Hitchcock from University of Sussex, plus Simon Fowler (latterly National Archives) and David Thomas (National Archives).

history in the pub

Tim Hitchcock

History in the Pub

David Thomas

The Coroner’s Inquest and the Petty Sessions.

Probably the best pub-based event we’ve done to date were historic re-enactments of the Georgian magistrate’s court. They were held upstairs at the George in the Strand. We presented actual cases from history, researched and scripted by historians from the University of Hertfordshire, led by Professor Owen Davies, and then presented by professional actors. A triumph! Our report, but here are a few pictures. I’m especially proud of this project.

The Petty Sessions

Picture: Patrick Loftus.

The Petty Sessions

Picture: Patrick Loftus


This is entirely my fault, but some people get confused between History in the Pub – an evening of talks normally held in Spitalfields – and Monthly Pub Meet, which happens every first Wednesday of every month in Victoria (at time of writing). The latter is simply a social occasion at which Members and non-Members alike are welcome. A lot of networking, collaboration, friend-making and drinking goes on. Typically, we’ll get up to 40 folks turn up for that. The full schedule for 2014 is here, although note, we’ll be doing January 8th rather than 1st, for commonsense reasons.

Here are some pictures.

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

History in the Pub

Young Americans. History students from the USA visiting London with their Prof.

These are some guided walks we organised led by Members and friends of London Historians. We have about 30 London Guides among our Membership, some of whom are listed here.

First, Up the Cally. The Caledonian Road and environs with Rob Smith.

caledonian road, london

caledonian road, london

A fabulous walk one Summer Sunday of the Jewish East End, led by Clive Bettington of the Jewish East End Celebration Society (JEECS).

bevis marks, london

Outside Bevis Marks Synagogue.

jewish east london

jewsish east end, london

How many streets are there in Soho? Just 119, and one fine Saturday we walked all of them with specialist tour specialist Peter Berthoud, one of our long-standing Members. It took about seven hours with a break for lunch and was amazing.

so ho, london

soho, london

soho, london

Academic and City of London Guide Dr Will Pettigrew specialises in – among other things – London’s early overseas trading companies, including the Africa Company, responsible for the trans-Atlantic African slave trade. But that’s just part of the story. Will took us on a walk of the City that started with notorious slave-keepers: the Romans. Fascinating.

city of london, slavery

city of london, slavery

I had forgotten, but while preparing this post I quickly realised quite how much we did this year. A  lot. So I’ll break this up into two, maybe three bits.

The idea is for Members to look back at what went on, for non-Members to get a better idea of what we get up to, and if they like what they see, to join us. If that’s you and you’re reading this before Christmas Eve, may I suggest you first visit our good friends at Londonist. <taps nose>

Tube 150. We kicked off the year with our panel talk at London Transport Museum on 10 January, the actual anniversary. Review. Later in the year, in August, we went on a behind-the-scenes at the museum’s storage warehouse at Acton Depot, led by LH Member and London Transport Museum volunteer David Burnell.

London Historians, Tube 150

Full House. Picture: Paul Davey

Tube150, London Historians

Mark Mason, Christian Wolmar, Matt Brown, Annie Mole, Gareth Edwards. Picture: Paul Davey

London Transport Museum, Acton Depot, London Historians

London Transport Museum, Acton Depot.

Our Old Bailey tour in March, conducted by  the magnificently-titled Charles Henty (Secondary of London and Under Sheriff, High Bailiff of Southwark), was tremendous. A complete sell-out, that one. Review.

Old Bailey Tour, London Historians

Old Bailey Tour, London Historians

Picture: Matt Brown / Londonist

History in the Pub: Tudor London.

Mathew Lyons

Speaker Mathew Lyons, LH Member, author of The Favourite (about Ralegh).

Andy Maginley

Andrew Maginley, LH Member, playing his lute.

Tudor London

Our final speaker was Tudor academic Dr Suzannah Lipscomb, here talking to Matt Brown of Londonist, who compered the evening.

history in the pub

A full house, as usual.

Behind the Scenes: Tower Bridge. Review.

tower bridge

London Historians group on an upper walkway.

tower bridge

…and the very opposite: in a bascule chamber.

Behind the Scenes: The Government Art Collection. There was a 15 month waiting list for this! Review.
N.B. We’re doing this again on 13 August 2014, likely to be Members only.

government art collection

Where the art is checked in, checked out, cleaned and restored.

government art collection

Deputy Director Julie Toppolo gave us a wonderful tour.

HMP Wandsworth. One of our Members is a serving prison officer who is also the honorary curator of the prison museum. He has organised three tours of the prison for London Historians so far. Photography extremely restricted, but here is one of our groups. We’ll plan do at least one of these in 2014.

hmp wandsworth

Behind the scenes at Middle Temple. We had a wonderful tour of the Middle Temple, one of the ancient four Inns of Court. Afterwards we had a superb lunch in the Tudor Great Hall. Lord Leveson was at high table. Review.

middle temple

middle temple

Coming Soon: Our Year in Review, Part Two.


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