Anger as Union Street ‘ghost sign’ is “obliterated from history”

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Union Street Ghost sign before & after
Before and after. (Credit: Paul Gardner/Facebook)

Bedfordians have reacted angrily after property developers painted over a historic ‘ghost sign’ that has been in place on Union Street since the c1920s.

The faded sign, on the side of 11 Union Street, inside a conservation area, advertised ‘C Phypers & Sons General Contractors Decorating Plumbing Painting’. It has now been painted over and replaced by a sign from Totum Property Developers.

Ghost sign Union Street
C Phypers & Sons is listed in the telephone book at 11 Union Street from 1928 until 1962. Between 1964 and 1974 they are listed at 13 Union Street.

Until 2012, the sign was completely obscured by a tree. It was recently revealed when redevelopment work began on the adjacent Georgian terrace in September 2014.

At the weekend, local resident Paul Gardner shared photos of the recently painted wall in the We Are Bedford Facebook group, causing many group members to express their anger and disappointment.

Liz Hale wrote: “I noticed this a couple of weeks ago think it’s disgusting… was part of British heritage.”

Daniel Woodcraft, added: “Can’t believe they’ve done that. History wiped out.”

However, there was some praise for the renovations. Group member, Laura Holmes posted: “I understand your comments on losing the artwork (I love old sign-writing too) but it seems like it’s been hidden behind a tree for a long time!

“And just look at what they’ve done to bring this building back to its former glory! I’ve heard it was completely inhabitable, needles everywhere and absolutely filth ridden.

“Surely a company who have improved a building (that’s been a previous drugs den for years) don’t deserve to be called vandals?!”

Union Street before renovations
How the building looked before the renovations, with the ghost sign hidden behind a tree. (Credit: Laura Holmes/We Are Bedford/Facebook)

Cllr Colleen Atkins, councillor for Harpur Ward, isn’t convinced: “I am gutted, absolutely gutted, that this lovely, hand-painted, old advertising sign has been painted over with no thought to the heritage value it had. It’s vandalism of a historic feature.

“For years the mural was hidden behind a massive tree and when the adjoining building (9-11 Albert Terrace) in Union Street was renovated in 2014 and the tree removed, this piece of delicate artwork was exposed. It was a lovely surprise and I was delighted to see it.

“Sadly, this unique artwork is now gone forever, and it’s a loss to our town.

“I had no idea this ‘ghost sign’ was in any danger. I shall be making enquiries now to make sure similar works are protected.”

David Fowler, local historian and Bedford tour guide said: “It’s a great shame to obliterate a piece of Bedford’s history.”

A Borough Council spokesperson said: “It is very sad that this historic sign has been painted over. Unfortunately, the Council has no powers to enforce against its removal and permission was not necessary for this action to be carried out.”

Totum describe themselves on their website as ‘specialists in the restoration of period properties and listed building [sic]’. They declined the invitation to comment.

Other ‘ghost signs’ in Bedford can be seen on Midland Road, above old Bedfordshire on Sunday Offices on Mill Street and at the Higgins Bedford on Castle Road.

Ghost sign Midland Road
Two ghost signs on Western Street, off Midland Road