Issue 196
Winter 2016


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Aug 20, 2017
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    Hidden in Plain Sight


    SCATTERED on buildings across the city are the remnants of hand-painted signs of times gone by. On buildings, in doorways, on window sills, are traces of Edinburgh's past commercial life. There's watchmakers, hosiers, hatters and tailors. Photographer and ArtWork contributor Frances Anderson has been documenting these signs for the past several years.

    "I've been documenting these old signs around the city for several years. They're fascinating as they give us a direct link to the Edinburgh of old, telling us of professions past, from tailors to chimney sweeps and hatters.

    "They're all over the city, yet people probably don't even notice them."

    While many are clearly visible, some are sadly now illegible, while some bear only the faintest trace of what they once advertised.

    "Many have faded with time, which only adds to their sense of 'other worldliness.'"

    These signs provide a social commentary and a direct insight into the city's past.

    "All the signs have a story to tell, of the city's past commercial life and of the craft and the people involved.

    "There are some beautiful signs, which would all have been hand-painted and were works of art in their own right.

    "Quite a few signs have been painted over since I photographed them, which is so sad. I don't think people realise they're wiping out both a piece of social history and the cities cultural heritage, in a few seconds, with the simple swipe of a paintbrush. Paint over them and a piece of the city's history vanishes in an instant.


    "It always breaks my heart to find yet another beautiful old sign simply painted over and gone forever, whereas they could, and should be preserved. They tell a story and give us a glimpse into a world now long gone and forgotten.

    "These signs are an important part of the cities cultural heritage, giving us information about the past.

    "I've deliberately chosen not to disclose the location of many of the signs as I believe that part of their charm lies in people discovering them for themselves, in suddenly turning a corner and stumbling upon one – discovering a long forgotten watchmaker, or chimney sweep.

    "The past is always with us, it's whether we notice it or not."

    Frances is now producing a series of postcards of the signs entitled – 'Hidden in Plain Sight'.

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