Signs of Old Lombard Street – London, England - Atlas Obscura
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London, England

Signs of Old Lombard Street

The last four extravagant street signs of London's historic banking street. 

London’s version of Wall Street has a long, historic past. Alexander Pope was born there. Karl Marx name-drops it in “Das Kapital.” And an old-fashioned idiom, “Lombard-street to a China orange,” remarks on heavily weighted odds. But one of it’s most notable characteristics is its distinct street signs, which wound up influencing the logos of modern corporations.

In its early years Lombard Street amassed about 138 signs. Business owners steadily built their signs bigger and farther out over the street in attempts to garner more attention. The striking signs featured images rather than words because most people couldn’t read at the time they originally went up. As time went on, the companies based on the street incorporated the images into their own logos; the Barclays spread eagle is a prime example.

Eventually, the signs posed real threats to passersby—several of the signs were so heavy they pulled their respective building’s facade down into the street. After the Great Fire in 1666, which destroyed the street, owners who were rebuilding their businesses opted to make signs out of stone, which also posed weight-related issues.

By the 1800s the extravagant signs were all but gone from Lombard Street. In 1902, Frederick George Hilton Price, a banker on Lombard, and the author of The Signs of Old Lombard Street, helped resurrect 23 of the signs to correspond with the coronation of King Edward VII. Among them were a grasshopper, an anchor, a cat playing a fiddle, and a crown above a head. They’re the only four that remain today.

The signs have been moved on numerous occasions, switching from one side of the street to the other. But among all the changing of hands, they helped to shape the businesses on what’s thought of as London’s Wall Street. The four remaining signs are all on or near 68 Lombard Street. The emblems that helped give meaning to the street double as its history markers.