Writing on the wall

Sign of the times: John Gelder and Paul Boardman in front of Alfred Beckett & Sons
Sign of the times: John Gelder and Paul Boardman in front of Alfred Beckett & Sons
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IT is a brand new guide to Sheffield - but you might say that for this sightseeing map the writing is already on the wall. Literally.

The just-published tourist trail points readers to the best signs and typography across the city.

Shop fronts, steel work signs, pub names, graffiti and a, er, ladies toilets are all included in the booklet which explains the history and artistry of 34 different bits of city writing. Stone carvings, metal-made markings and neon lightings get recommendations.

“Is it a bit niche?” wonders John Gelder, the chap behind the project. “Perhaps. Not everyone gets geeky about typography like we do. But I think it will have a wider appeal.

“These signs are not only beautiful in their own right, they also offer a glimpse into the history of the city.”

So, for example, did you know the ‘Welcome To Sheffield’ sign, in Western Bank, is based on a typeface invented in the 19th century by city company Stephenson Blake and used by much of Fleet Street? Or did you realise the nearby ‘Township’ boundary marker is thought to be the oldest of its kind in the city dating back to the 1848? Or were you aware designers were so keen to make Park Hill visually attractive they even made the public lav signs from a stunning mosaic? No? Well, you know all that now.

“How did we chose which signs?” ponders John, who lives in Broom, Rotherham. “The ones included all come with an interesting tale and are aesthetically pleasing.”

You may or may not agree aesthetically pleasing is an apt description for the neon Chick King takeaway sign in London Road. But, either way, John insists the garish is just as valid as the more regal(e) likes of the ‘Don Brewery’ sign in Green Lane, Kelham Island.

The idea for the map came after he produced a mini tourist guide to Sheffield in 2010 called Our Favourite Places. That book featured 50 things to do which were off the beaten track, and it inspired a website of the same name. The site now showcases new material and friend Paul Boardman, 28, of Walkley, suggested an online guide to Sheffield’s best signs.

“But it seemed such a great idea we wanted to do it as a map,” explains John, a partner in graphic design company Eleven, based at Globe Works (in Penistone Road, and home to a pretty tasty sign itself).

Now, if it proves a hit, they’ll be doing a sequel.

“This one focuses mainly on the city centre and Neepsend,” explains Paul. “But if you go out to Attercliffe, for example, there’s some stunning typography out there too. There’s definitely enough writing for a follow up.”

Buy A Typographic Tour Of Sheffield from www.ourfaveplaces.co.uk