Recently I was lucky enough to experience God’s Own Junkyard. It was a surreal experience, not least because I was witnessing the end of an era.
God’s Own Junkyard is, in short, not of this world. And sadly, after 50 years in Walthamstow, North East London, it is no longer a staple of Vallentin Road, E17.
A slightly longer explanation is that Chris Bracey (the founder) started making neon signs over 45 years ago and hasn’t stopped since. In the early days (1960s) Chris started out lighting up much of London’s red light district of Soho with “Sex shop” neon. Flash forward to today, and his clientele has shifted away from the salubrious Soho-ites and towards the well-heeled end of the spectrum: foreign royalty, movie stars and movie producers, Las Vegas, celebrities, the privately wealthy and corporations and small businesses – all are his patrons and pay handsomely for his product.
Chris is an amazing man to speak with. Wild of hair and likewise in spirit, his eyes sparkle when he talks just like all the blinking creations he brings to life. He creates everything from small, bespoke signs to massive creations that may occupy the Las Vegas strip or a big production film set. Chris truly does not work a day in his life, because he loves what he does and does what he loves.
When I passed by to see Chris on business (getting a sign for my employer), he showed me a large hand brushed aluminum “S” about the size of car. It was destined to become one of the Christmas decorations for Selfridges along Oxford street when it lights up for Christmas. Chris also showed me around “God’s Own Junkyard”, which was a small hangar and outdoor space with lines of his creations – photos below.
And I stood in awe. All around me were physical creations; hand crafted, high quality and made with experience, creativity and pride. It was an island of rarity and genius.
And sadly it was going to have to move. The space Chris had occupied since the 1970s – his wonderland – was presently earmarked by the city council to be demolished in order to erect more low-cost housing. And it all seemed a political contradiction; on one hand the UK government laments the death of the good ‘ol British high street and wants to revive it in a digital age, yet here was a physical business that for over four decades has been doing a roaring trade and become a landmark that brought commercial blood to that high street, yet it was slated to be demolished. It wasn’t being listed or preserved.
And that made me sad. This was a living, breathing fairytale – you could almost imagine Elves hammering out toys for Santa, or in this case creating a great neon sign for God.
On the last weekend God’s Own Junkyard was open I took Claire and our son Milo to visit. We wandered around and looked at all the amazing creations. Milo will of course not remember any of this, and I wonder when he is older what “physical” businesses or crafts will be left, if any? Will he assume that anything can be created using 3D CAD software and 3D printers instead of forging and hand brushing aluminium?
But I digress…
Chris wasn’t going down without a parting shot. And here it is, his last little dig at the council that would shut him down:
From what I understand, after that weekend we visited, God’s Own Junkyard moved to a warehouse not far away until Chris and his team and his neon Elves figure out where to go next.
Let’s face it, in this digital age Chris can’t exactly store all his physical creations “in the Cloud.” God probably does need a junk yard on Earth, after all.
Photos shot on the day:
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