Bid to map UK's hidden 'Ghost' advertising signs

People are being encouraged to spot and map the fading remains of hand-painted advertising on walls.

Swindon-based Historic England has asked people to look out for the "ghost signs" and add them on their website.

They described them as "typically historic hand-painted or old shop signs preserved on buildings which have since changed use."

Rosie Ryder from the organisation said: "They're there to be found - if we can look up."

Speaking to BBC Radio Wiltshire, she explained that "ghost signs are usually hand-painted, usually in lead-based paint, so they stuck well to the wall.

"Often they're faded, which gives them the whimsical name of 'ghost signs'."

She added that there is not much protection for them except on listed buildings.

"We're trying to get people to engage with the heritage that's around us.

"There is a map we're asking people to pin their ghost signs to."

One place with a lot of ghost signs is the Wiltshire town of Chippenham.

Local museum director Mel Barnett is a fan of them: "I'm quite passionate about it myself because nobody ever looks up. Chippenham has an awful lot above the shop level.

"They're generally something Edwardian or late Victorian. It's what was important to them at the time."

Museum staff have done their own research into some of the signs and discovered one very faded sign would once have been for mustard, after going through old photos in the archives.

Fading ghost signs - on the left, one that looks like the background was once red with white lettering and on the right one that had a white background
Two of Chippenham's fading ghost signs

It is on one of the walls of Digiprint in the town.

Alex Sykes is from the business: "It fits in perfectly with who we are - we create modern signage."

The shop was once a grocers, hence the old yellow mustard sign.

There is a big one high up at the side too which they had a closer look at when they were doing repairs and decided not to plaster over.

Mr Sykes said he thinks it is about nostalgia: "I think now that we look back at these ghost signs - you think why didn't they preserve it?

"We look back on that art form and it captures us."


Historic England has a map on their website which the public can pin the locations to and add information, pictures and memories.

The organisation's CEO Duncan Wilson said they are often "hidden in plain sight, tucked away down alleyways or hiding among rooftops.

"These mysterious pieces of secret history are a special reminder of the people who came before us." he added.

Follow BBC West on Facebook, X and Instagram. Send your story ideas to: