Saturday, January 12, 2019

Bridgwater, Somerset


A small triumph of design

While I was in Bridgwater a few weeks ago, I spotted this rather good shopfront that I’d never noticed before. How could I have missed it? Perhaps because on my previous trips to the town I was on the look out for what I was ’supposed’ to be looking at – the town’s outstanding early Georgian houses, say, or Castle House, the surprising early concrete building of 1851 that I wrote about in my previous post. But on this occasion I devoted part of my visit to aimless wandering, and was pleased with what I found.

This is a late-Victorian or early-20th century shop front with a deep entrance lobby and a very attractive sign. You’d have to go a fair way to find as good an example of a gilded shop sign of this sort – the bold, chunky lettering is attractively proportioned, highly legible, and well laid-out. When you look closely, the panels on either end are also very decorative. It’s not just the filigree ornament around the panels; the words ‘Silk mercer & draper’ reveal flared uprights and frilly terminations to virtually every letter and the two words on the top line are separated by a tiny star, as if to compensate for the rather tight word spacing. None of this compromises the legibility of the letters – the sign is easy to read from some distance away.
Shops signs like this, better by far than the majority of modern signs in terms of craftsmanship, clarity, visual quality and durability, are small triumphs of design. The ones that survive should be cherished, and I take off my hat to any shopkeeper (like several of those in the Worcestershire town of Upton on Severn) who keep the old sign while displaying their own business name elsewhere, in the window itself, perhaps. I hope when a new business takes on this empty building they’ll do likewise. 

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