Ghosts of the Past Abound if You Know Where to Look

Islington is one of the most popular residential districts in London. But there are clues everywhere to a past that was quite different.

Take a stroll along Islington’s Upper Street or Essex Road, and you will see a modern, thriving community. The area is a hotspot for the best restaurants, nightspots and specialist shops, and is popular with both local residents and those who visit from farther afield.

Today, the last thing you would be likely to associate Islington with is the manufacturing industry. But as new residents flock to Islington letting agents, looking to take up residence in its traditional town houses and modern apartment complexes, they only have to cast their eyes upwards to see the clues to Islington’s industrial heritage.

Businesses traditionally used the simple technique of painting signs and advertising slogans on the sides of the brick buildings to let their customers know what was on offer, and many have survived to this day. Here are some examples to keep on the lookout for as you stroll around the bustling streets of modern day Islington.

Cigarette advertising? Surely not!

It seems crazy to the millennial generation, but those of us of a certain age can remember when cigarette advertising on billboards was commonplace, from the artistic but somewhat baffling “Silk Cut” pictures to the famous “Marlboro Man.” Of course, those images are long gone, but one has outlasted them all, and it is there for all to see in Dingley Road, just off the A501 City Road.

On the side of a block of flats, a huge, albeit faded, black cat advertises extra large cigarettes at sixpence for a pack of ten. Sadly, a new development alongside has obscured the image, so you have to know where to look.

Warings Wilton

The beautiful calligraphy of this former textile factory sign to the north of the borough makes it a favourite among ghost sign hunters. Well worth seeking out, it is on the side of a building on Shepperton Road, close to Rosemary Gardens.


Camden Passage is probably the busiest and best known thoroughfare in all of Islington. But next time you are browsing the antique stalls and vintage clothing shops, take a moment to look at the huge Hovis sign – once you see it you can’t miss it, and it is a great example of something that is “hidden in plain sight.”

The sign harks back to the days when Hovis was just a flour manufacturer, and did not make its own bread. It would therefore seek to advertise at the bakery to make sure its name became synonymous with their produce.

Industrial Electric

Offord Street is one of the many roads that criss-crosses between Upper Street and Caledonian Road. Now an oasis of residential calm, it is hard to believe that this was once a hive of manufacturing activity and heavy industry.

But walk slowly and keep your eyes peeled for another clue – the Industrial Electric sign is still legible, but is rapidly becoming as faded as the memories of these long-gone days.