When in London next, do visit Europe’s biggest collection of neon signs. See pics
Whether it is a search for a glowing skull or a bright red heart, God’s Own Junkyard in London is a maze of multicoloured neon of all shapes and sizes which is thriving on its retro reputation.Updated: Jul 24, 2017 14:45 IST
In a vast warehouse in the east of the British capital sits Europe’s biggest collection of neon signs.
“In here we’ve got 1,400 pieces,” said the creative director of God’s Own Junkyard, Marcus Bracey, walking through the treasure trove of brightly-illuminated tubes.
Most are for sale – a heart with the British flag emblazoned with “God Save the Queen” across it, for instance, or an enormous pair of bright red lips with a tongue reaching out to the top of an ice cream cone. “We’ve got a mixture of sex, contemporary art, everything,” said Bracey. “From love through lust, everything’s here.”
Some of the signs date back to the 1950s, while others can cost thousands of pounds, such as a cowboy-like Jesus Christ clutching two blue revolvers, which has been sold but never picked up by its new owner.
From seedy Soho to Hollywood
The hip, disco-like space has evolved from suitably colourful origins through several generations of Bracey’s family. The collection of neon was begun by Bracey’s grandfather, a former coal miner, in the 1950s.
Bracey, 43, jokes that his grandfather “came up from the dark to the light” and found his passion after leaving the mines to work for a lighting company. It was the next generation that developed the business, now based in the up-and-coming east London neighbourhood, Walthamstow.
Bracey’s late father, Chris, became a major supplier of neon signs to the sex shops of London’s Soho district.
But, as the neighbourhood started to shed its seedy reputation, signs such as the neon-lit shapely figure of a woman, began finding their way to God’s Own Junkyard.
The family has also produced signs for film shoots, such as the flashing dragon sign used in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner in 1982 – Bracey vows he will never sell it.
A rainbow sign was also crafted for Stanley Kubrick’s 1999 film Eyes Wide Shut starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
Neon ‘in our blood’
While the buyers have changed, the technology has hardly evolved.
Neon technology was first developed in 1910 by Georges Claude, a French chemist who was looking for a cheaper way to produce oxygen for hospitals.
Since his remarkable finding that different gases produced an array of vivid colours, neon has gone on to conquer the world of advertising. From Paris to New York, it remains “one of the great symbols of the 20th century, signifying in turn the utilitarian conquest of the night” and “electric globalisation”, wrote philosopher Luis de Miranda in his essay Being and Neon on the cultural history of neon signs.
But despite a boom in the bright lights, the industry has faced tough times. “In the 1980s, there was a big shrink in demand and neon workshops were all closing. We thought almost it was the end of neon,” Bracey said.
“But it has come back,” he said, with the help of individual buyers in search of retro designs, which make up 50% of his clients. And the future looks bright for God’s Own Junkyard.
Bracey’s two children say the yard provides an exciting and colourful playground and that they are aware of its importance in their family history. “It’s always been in our blood, in our DNA!” one of them said.
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First Published: Jul 24, 2017 14:44 IST