A couple of week’s ago, a little worse for wear after a late night at The Laundry and an early morning brunch at Dishoom Shoreditch, I boarded a train from Liverpool Street with two partners in crime, Russell and Chris, bound for Walthamstow Central. As we watched out the window, it seemed like we were travelling miles out of London, finally pulling up in leafy green E17. After a ten minute walk through what felt like a sleepy country village, we found ourselves on an industrial estate – a row of warehouses, one of which had a painted cow statue outside, and was emitting a colourful glow from the rolled up door…
As we entered Unit 12, the neon glow and breath-taking sight before us banished all symptoms of a hangover – the contents of the warehouse so totally and utterly consumed all senses, till there was nothing left to feel sorry for yourself.
We had made it to God’s Own Junkyard, and my word, what a treat.
God’s Own Junkyard was created by Mr Bracey Senior in the 1950s, but was reinvented by the late and great Chris Bracey from the 1970s onwards. Chris started making signs for Soho strip clubs, and was the Neon Man for four decades before his death in 2014 due to prostate cancer. He is known for his new and refurbished neon fantasies, salvaged signs, old movie props, and fairground and circus lighting – and this huge Walthamstow warehouse is packed to the rafters with them. Entry is free 🙂
Bracey’s collection includes signs that have appeared behind some of the greatest stars – Tom Cruise in Eyes Wide Shut, Johnny Depp in Charlie & the Chocolate Factory and Jack Nicholson in Batman, to name but a few. When films are wrapped, neon signs are discarded like yesterday’s newspapers, but Bracey collected these icons, as well as salvaging old neons and architectural advertising (lots of signs from the seedy Soho of the past), and repaired and resurrected them. God’s Own Junkyard is where neon never dies. Bracey was also behind the two-tonne DESTINATION CHRISTMAS sign that graced the front of Selfridge’s this winter, and his works have provided backdrops for Vogue fashion shoots.
The cavernous interior glimmers with signs and artworks big and small – Russell, Chris and I walked around the warehouse at least six times each – every lap your attention was drawn to something else, or a new photo opportunity was revealed.
Everything’s for sale too – prices are pretty toppy though. This glowing Sunshine piece took my fancy, for a mere £750…
The current Lighting Director is a Bracey too – he’s super knowledgable and on hand to tell you about the creative processes behind all the signs, even getting scientific in chats about argon and neon.
There’s also a café on site – The Rolling Scones serves afternoon tea, cakes, hot food, beer and wine. I definitely want to visit for a rather mad tea party sometime soon.
My photos can never do God’s Own Junkyard justice, and I wholeheartedly swear that the trip all the way out to Walthamstow is well worth it to experience this unusual sight. For those wanting a taster, hurry down to Lights of Soho on Brewer Street to see a much smaller curated collection of Bracey’s neon (open seven days a week, till January 18th 2015 – I went last week with Richard [below]), or pop into the basement of Selfridge’s where some of his work is for sale. But these shows have nothing on the Walthamstow warehouse – they’re both a tiny fraction of the size.
Bracey described the interior of God’s Own Junkyard as “what the inside of my brain looks like”. Go experience the genius (and the largest collection of neon in Europe) for yourself.
God’s Own Junkyard
Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall Street, Walthamstow, E17 9HQ
Opening hours: Friday 11am-5pm, Saturday 11am-9pm, Sunday 11am-6pm