The Museum of London is looking for iconic London signage for exhibition at its new Smithfields location

Welcome to the ‘Stow, sign from Walthamstow Stadium, c. 1970-1990, previously hung at the entrance to the dog racing track (c) Museum of London

ODEON sign made in 1979 for Wall Hall Odeon Cinema in Eltham, probably removed in 1981 (c) Museum of London

The Museum of London has issued a call-out for ideas and suggestions for signs which could take pride of place as part of Hanging Out, a permanent installation planned for the new London Museum, which is set to open in Smithfield’s General Market building in 2026.

Hanging Out will represent a wide variety of London’s communities, with the intention of giving an overview of the thriving and unique hubs and places which bring people together across the capital. The focus will be on the last 80 years, and signs would need to be a minimum of around 50x50cm to be considered for the installation.

Beatrice Behlen, Senior Curator, Fashion & Decorative Arts at the Museum of London, told Eye on Display how this exciting project came about, “We are moving our location to two buildings at West Smithfield, which is to the west of the big Smithfield meat market. One of the buildings, which hasn’t been used for the last 30 years or so, is a 19th-century market building, and the other is what was the poultry market until very recently. The older market building has two floors, with the lower floor being the more traditional ‘Chronology of London’ gallery. The ground floor is what we call ‘Our Time’, and that’s the area that I am working on. This is where the ‘Hanging Out’ exhibition will be and where the signs will be used when the space opens in 2026.”

Our Time

In its new home in Smithfield, the museum will welcome millions more visitors and every London schoolchild through its doors. It will open early and close late to reflect London’s 24-hour character, and increased gallery space will enable visitors to enjoy more of The London Collection than ever before. 

Hanging Out will be a key part of the Our Time space, which will be dedicated to exploring London through living memory experiences. It will draw from the museum’s collection and utilise all that London has to offer, including sights, sounds and recollections. Inclusive and joyfully dynamic, the space will allow visitors to celebrate and ponder what London means to them, recognising our challenges as well as celebrating our achievements.

The power of signage

Beatrice explains why the Museum of London decided to use signs as a core part of their ‘Hanging Out’ exhibition to represent the community and social times and places in the capital, “We felt that using memorable and iconic signs offers many great opportunities to evoke nostalgia and help people visualise memories that they have of places around London. We all use London very differently. We all go to different places and spaces, and a memorable sign is a great way of identifying a location and inspiring memories.”

She continues, “By focusing on signs, it also allows us to have a wide geographical spread, which is very important when representing an area the size of London, that has so much variety and diversity within its borders. This is also why we’ve made a call out for people to help us identify and find these signs because there is no way we can go around the whole of London to find them. We need help, and we also need those personal memories and stories that go with people ‘Hanging Out’ at the places these signs represent.”

Sign from Dobell’s Record Shop, Charing Cross Road, London, closed in 1980 (c) Museum of London

We are in the early days of this project, and there have already been some interesting signs provided. “There is sure to be a huge mix of signs. We have one in from the Walthamstow greyhound racing track, which looks great and also a lovely smaller metal sign for a Chinese restaurant. I am hoping for illuminated signs, such as neon, to come in and also some lovely hand-painted signs. The final display will depend very much on what comes in, so we are encouraging people to find as much as possible for us so our designers can create something really spectacular that not only represents London’s bustling social communities but also shows how the art of sign-making has been so important to communities and has developed over the years.”

How you can help

The museum is searching for signs from across Greater London and from a range of places, including (but not limited to): 

  • sports venues
  • cinemas and theatres
  • cafes and pubs
  • nightclubs and music venues
  • community centres
  • restaurants and takeaways
  • shops used as social spaces
  • nail bars and barbers
  • independent cinemas
  • theatres

I feel sure there are sign companies in and around London that may have some great signs in storage or that they know of in their area. If you have a relevant sign you would like the museum to consider or information about signs which fit this description, email with as many details as possible.

Beatrice concludes, “Hanging Out is going to be a celebration of the countless communities that exist within London. To tell this multifaceted story, we want to locate signs from places that formed, or still form, the cultural hub for a community within the capital. Whether it’s a music venue, a sports club, a hairdressers, a café, or something else entirely, we’d love to hear from the people of London about which signs they think belong in our museum.”

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