Now, here's something that will light up your life. I haven't been to Walthamstow before. I imagined it was somewhere far out in East London, verging on the Essex cusp with not a lot to report. But how wrong I am, cos E17 is where it's at! God's Own Junkyard has been on my radar for quite a while now, so my friend and I ventured there last week to check it out. It was the best Friday ever!
Full of curiosity and intrigue, we found our way to the industrial estate and entered the world of God's Own Junkyard. Nothing prepares you for the neon hit that engulfs you as you walk through that door. It's one of those real 'Wow!' 'Gasp!' moments. It's totally bonkers, crazy, mesmerising and off-the-wall. All at once. It's like an adult's Santa's Grotto, only waaaay better.
Chris Bracey is the Head Honcho of God's Own Junkyard. He's a neon artist/designer extraordinaire, and there is nothing that this Neon Man and his team can't create with the art of illumination. He has a cult following in London and LA, and every piece is totally iconic. His family have had a sign-making factory in Walthamstow since the 1950's and Chris himself has been making signs for almost 40 years, including all the original Soho peep-show signs, fairground lighting, movie props and shop fronts. You name it, and Chris and his family probably made it. In fact, they made the original sign for the 'Raymond Revue Bar' in Soho in 1958, which they're currently sprucing up back to its former glory, so keep an eye out for that towards the end of the year. Soho will be shining again! I met Chris' son, Marcus who runs the place with his brilliant sidekick, John, and they couldn't have been more helpful, friendly and informative.
God's Own Junkyard is a huge warehouse literally stuffed to the brim with every kind of neon creation you can possibly imagine. Lightbulbs (custom-made) in every shape, colour and wattage possible; vintage letters; restored retro signage; valuable kitsch; collectors 'junk'; old shop fronts; custom-made art; original peep show signs; stuffed herons; Jesus in a Shed; a Louis Vuitton & Chanel-clad Virgin Mary; a dog-eating shark; a giant stiletto and a Dr Who Tardis. It is an oasis of exhilarating colour. A neon heaven. Oh, and not forgetting the most enormous glitter balls you ever did see, weighing a hefty 250kg a piece! There's even a terrific little cafe called.. wait for it... 'The Rolling Scones' where you can grab a cuppa or a beer and something nice to eat whilst you sit at one of the tables surrounded by non-stop neon. Or if you want a break from neon, there's a great garden outside, full of more quirky signs and objets d'art.
Now, I have to be honest about the prices, as these iconic pieces don't come cheap and are more targeted for those with money to burn, although I imagine it probably just about covers the Junkyard's scary electricity bill! Not forgetting it is original art, you can expect to see price tags in the high thousands, although there are several pieces in the low hundreds too. And even less if you have a good rummage. But there are other ways to enjoy these illuminating beauties without owning them. As well as admiring them at the Junkyard, all the pieces are available to hire as props for a party or event which is a great idea if you're having a themed bash. They also take commissions so you can take one of your own random objects from home and have it personalised to your own neon spec.
Once we had finished tripping the light fantastic, we made our way into the abruptly less-colourful real world and wiggled our way around the corner to Orford Street in the heart of Walthamstow Village. Well, that was another lovely unexpected surprise - a pretty village straight out of the 1950's with old street lights donning colourful flower baskets, a cafe with the original Hovis sign above it (I'm sure that'll end up at God's Own Junkyard one day...), a couple of nice-looking pubs, a Sausage Shop (of course), and the pretty excellent Eat 17 where we stopped for a great lunch.
God's Own Junkyard is open to the public on Friday - Sunday, and I can't recommend it enough. Especially on one of those gloomy, dark winter days, this will get your heart and soul aglow in no time! (Probably a good remedy for anyone who suffers from that lack of daylight thingy too). In Chris' words, 'God's Own Junkyard - where neon never dies'.
Unit 12 Ravenswood Ind Estate
London E17 9HQ
020 8521 8066
Open to the public: Fri, Sat & Sun 11am - 5pm
Nearest stations: Wood Street and Walthamstow Central (approx 10 mins walk)
There is a 'God's Own Junkyard' concession in the basement at Selfridges on Oxford Street