London has Big Ben and Westminster Abbey; Buckingham Palace, Hyde Park, and Oxford Street too. But did you know London is also home to a surprising neon art collection that has decorated Hollywood films, TV shows and theatre sets since 1953?
Known as God’s Own Junkyard, it is the largest collection in the world for hire of Neon signs, Bulb signs and LED signs. After a one and a half hour journey across London to Walthamstow, I finally landed in what some might call a small industrial park.
But don’t let that fool you. Inside is a quirky and kitschy secret slice of London.
The Museum Junkyard
Following along up the yard looking for our destination, there was a sharp flicker of light from our right hand side. The sort of flicker that catches the eye like a cat’s does a laser beam. This is when I knew we had landed at our destination—Gods Own Junkyard.
As you enter this space you instantly feel a rush of energy running through your system as the electric burst of colors and vibrancy fill up your vision. Add to it the epic rock and roll music that’s played throughout the shop, and I am instantly feeling that 80s/90s buzz of Las Vegas or a seedy Red Light District.
Continuing the journey through the neon junkyard it is clear to see the talent of Chris Bracey, aka “The Neon Man.” The array of different lights and colors is blinding and exhillirating. Everywhere you look are new and used neon fantasies, salvaged signs, reclaimed neon signs, old movie props, neon art made from found objects, retrieved and renewed waste and lights, carnival and circus lighting and more.
Chris started his career making neon signs for brothels and strip clubs in the SoHo area in London. He was soon spotted for his incredible talent by music producers in Hollywood, Tim Mertens, Christopher Nolan and Stanley Kubrick.
To get a better understanding of Chris, we sat down with his long-time friend and current shop manager Garry, a humble, soft and well spoken man who welcomed us into the back courtyard.
“Chris got into making Neon signs through his dad who was a Welsh minor from the Bronda Valley but when the war hit he joined the Royal navy as an electrical engineer. When he came out after the war, he was drawn to London because of the lights where he learned the art of neon bending. He later opened up his own shop called electric signs in 1952. Chris and his brother Kurt then soon followed suit and worked for their dad, learning the tricks of the trade. Chris then ventured out into the art side of neon bending and started creating signs for other establishments other than just shopfronts. After producing enough neon lights, he finally put together Gods Own Junkyard.”
Sadly, Chris passed away on the 1st November 2014.
God’s Own Junkyard has been around for more than 10 years. From Monday to Thursday, the shop is closed for filming and shooting purposes.
Neon as far as the eye can see
The Neon artwork is ablaze and overwhelming, so I’ve put through a few notable mentions that you should look our for as you make your way around.
-Look out for the big blue dragon, which was used in the film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott.
-The very recognizable Stark sign used in the Marvel movies representing character Tony Stark.
-See if you can spot the giant rainbow sign from Eyes Wide Shut, starring Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman.
-The unique looking box with a blue neon spiral in the top which featured in the infamous Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, directed by Tim Burton.
-Lest we forget the small but distinct hotel sign which was used in Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie.
-Lastly, there is the famous globe that was used at the Olympics.
These are just some of the famous neon signs we managed to find. See if you can find some of your own.
Although we didn’t eat there, the junkyard does have a small cafe, the Rolling Scones Café, with a small but simple menu.
You can also pick up merchandise such as T-shirts, bracelets and other souvenirs. Replica signs can also be purchased for private use. Also make sure to check their website so they don’t have any specific events on the day you might want to visit.
Gods Own Junkyard
Ravenswood Industrial Estate
God’s Own Junkyard and Rolling Scones Cafe are open to the public
Saturday – 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Sunday – 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.
BeSeeingYou In: London
Good to know: There are lots of other venues to visit in the area such as distillery’s, restaurants and breweries.
WOW! Factor: You’ll see more than 1000 signs, which make up a mere 10 percent of the collection
Tip: Call ahead to make sure they are open