Ghost Signs of World War Two

On the wall next to the Hay Lane entrance to the Golden Cross Pub is a wall painted black. It was painted 75 years ago to cover a war time sign done by Coventry Firefighter. Over the past years the rain has slowly washed this black paint off to reveal a mysterious yellow and black circle with the letters EWS in the middle. It stands for – Emergency Water Supplies.

During the November Blitz of 1940, the bombing was so intense that most of the central area mains water supplies got ruptured by bombs. Obviously with water cut off this hampered the efforts of the fire-fighters and fires were able to burn out of control. Due to this large fires burned buildings such as St. Michael’s Cathedral, Owen-Owen and St Michael’s Baptist Church plus many other business and residential properties were burnt out and lost. To prevent this catastrophic loss of water resource in future raids Emergency Water Supplies (EWS) were set up around the city, some in the central area with others at locations such as Whitley, Gulson and Coventry & Warwickshire Hospitals.

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Markings such as those in Hay Lane were put in place to direct the fire-fighters to the water supply. Normally these signs comprised of a large black and yellow circle with the letters EWS painted on it. In Hay Lane below the circle you can just make out black arrows pointing in different directions with the words, “Broadgate”, “Cow Lane”, “Hay Lane”, “Little Park Street” and either distances or capacities. This is for when this supply of water runs out where to find more and not all the fire fighter were from Coventry on big raids many other fire fighter would come from other towns and cities to help in the fight.


The cellars of bombed buildings everywhere were utilised as water storage tanks, the walls were coated in bitumen and made water-tight, firefighters would drop their suction hoses into this water supply and pump it out to use on fires. The shell of St. Michael’s Baptist Church, which stood on the corner of Hay Lane and Bayley Lane opposite to the Golden Cross, was one of them.

Sadly over the next few years the rain will slowly wash the sign away and there will be no ‘Ghost Sign’ any more. The sign is noted in the Hill Top Conservation Area report but there are no plans to save it or conserve it and the Conservation Report is slowly running out too!

Another well preserved EWS sign is, on a brick pillar on London Road adjacent to the pedestrian crossing by Asda. It is currently being preserved by a layer of ivy covering it.

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As a young lad I can remember another water storage tank in the cellar of the bombed out building on the corner of Jordan Well and Much Park Street, now built on and known as the site of the Lady Godiva Pub.

EWS, emergency water supplies, popped up all over the country during the blitz due to the bombing cutting water mains. Signs usually painted on houses at the end of a road with a arrow pointing which way. They were never used for drinking so being open to the air was not a problem.

There are few signs still about, have you noticed one? If so, let us know.

Phil Consadine adds “Around the city, there were many emergency water supplies. Factories filled basements and installed the rubber and canvas reservoirs. You may also remember gates in canal bridges. These gates in the bridge walls were locked and a key was kept on the fire appliances; there was enough room to pass a suction hose through the gate hole. Only recently were the holes bricked up. Swimming pools such as Gosford Green could also be used and do not forget the big dams on the Sherbourne! In Corporation Street there are some metal covers and below these water wells can be found.”

Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942 by Charles Ginner 1878-1952
Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942 Charles Ginner 1878-1952 Presented by the War Artists Advisory Committee 1946

In the TATE collection is a painting by Charles Ginner called Emergency Water Storage Tank 1942, the caption reads – “The City of London is shown in ruins after prolonged Nazi bombardment. In response to the bombing, the National Fire Service had established emergency water supply tanks across the city.” As one writer remembered, ‘the sun sparkling on the surface often lent a new charm to the drab urban scene’. This tank was situated on Upper Thames Street, and the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral can be seen in the background. Ginner was an admirer of the Italian artist Canaletto, whose paintings of Venice may have influenced this work.

Paul Maddocks, Deputy Chair of the Coventry Society

Special thanks to Phil Consadine for pointing out the EWS sign and providing the information about it.

2 thoughts on “Ghost Signs of World War Two

  1. Brilliant Paul. When I was a kid, I am sure the remains of the one by the Cross was still there. We always wondered what it was.


  2. What was the clothes shop on corner of Earl St and Little Park St. opposite council house.?


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