On a meandering stroll or while waiting at a crosswalk, you look up to find a message has materialized on the building in front of you. Often, the fading words advertise a product long since discontinued, or a brand long since defunct, reminding us of the former glory of buildings we pass every day. Sometimes, in the case of the “Take Courage” sign, you find exactly the words you need to hear at exactly the moment you need to hear them. Keep calm and carry on indeed; the past remains alive all around us, fading but still intact.
A ghost sign is a hand-painted advertising sign that has been preserved on a building. The signs commonly appear on brick buildings and usually advertise a product or brand that no longer exists. Most went up during the 1890s to 1960s, painted by “wall dogs” who specialized in this format before different advertising methods gained popularity. Many were painted using lead paint, which has aided their durability. Ghost signs can be found around the world, though the U.K., the U.S., France and Canada boast the most well-preserved examples. Cities frequently repaint the advertisements to assist in their preservation.
London’s “Take Courage” sign dates back to 1955, and was painted on the side of a former Anchor brewery building (once one of the largest breweries in the world). Anchor later merged with its beer rival Courage. The “Take Courage” tagline was developed during WWII but had the dual effect of also encourage people to drink Courage beer; today, it largely serves as a pick-me-up for London commuters on trains coming out of London Bridge station.