Have you ever been
to God’s Own Junkyard?

A warehouse in Walthamstow is full to the brim of bright, burning neon signs - from sex shops, film sets, nightclubs & bars. A visual experience so unique I have yet to come across anything remotely like it. There is a magic to this place, nestled inconspicuously between garages and warehouses, that even the best photograph could never capture.

The owner, Marcus Bracey is the third generation in this neon business – his grandad set it up nearly seventy years ago, making signs for carnivals and fun fairs. Marcus’s dad, Chris Bracey, came to the fore in the 70’s and 80’s and “brought Vegas to Soho”, helping to shape the visual identity so closely entwined with that area.

“It’s a fantastic thing to be a part of that iconic place. If you consider what it was like in the 80’s – it was on fire with neon light and sex shops. My Dad set it on fire.” He tells me. “He loved it. I love it. I’ve just put the old Paul Raymond review sign back up recently. That’s the biggest sign in Europe – 2 kilometers of glass – the biggest one I’ve worked on in many, many years. There are loads of iconic signs that are still up and working, that we just maintain. It’s fascinating to see that continuing”.

Marcus and his team constantly switch out different pieces, allowing signs that have been locked away for years to once again see the light of day. “I like to mix it up.” Marcus says. “Make it feel a bit downtown-mega-city-Judge-Dredd-Blade-Runner style; it’s always going to have that feeling with neon, you see? It’s really enjoyable for me, pulling out old stuff every week. I’ll go to our unit and bring some old film memorabilia back; something from Batman, the old Chinese signs from Tomb Raider, we’ll bring them in and people will go bleedin’ hell I remember that!”

We discuss some of Marcus’s favourite commissions, favourite clients. Elton John, Kate Moss, Jude Law – they’ve all got a piece. They’ve done signs for the sets of Ridley Scott, Tim Burton, Stanley Kubrick (In previous interviews, Marcus tells a great story of having a curry with Kubrick on the set of Eyes Wide Shut). It sounds incredibly varied; is seems every day someone comes through the door with a unique project for the team. “Just this weekend a guy flew over from Holland. And he’s unrolled a picture of his missus stark naked, laying across their bed. He asked me; “how would you adapt this?” He chuckles, leaning back briefly. “You get all sorts of things and I love it. I love creating. To have your own piece at home – that’s cool, right?”

Marcus studied his craft, and learned a large amount through his dad & grandfather. He recalls watching them bending the neon over burners & pumping the gas. “I was fascinated by how they’d take a straight pane of glass and bend it into something so magical. It really gave me inspiration. So I’d come in from school and start working with them. That’s what really grabbed me. I loved it.” The conversation turns to his daughters, aged 16 & 19. He laughs. “They’ve both got the bug! They work here. My eldest, she’s creating work in a graffiti style. She’s got the taste for it. As a business, we’ve nearly been going for seventy years. I can’t see it being a problem reaching one hundred years in the family, you know?”

“We’re forever changing. I’m looking at a place in Europe, a God’s Own Junkyard over there. My kids, they’re really keen to take over and continue where I’m leaving off. I’m never going to stop making neon – I can’t. It’s in my soul, my blood, my DNA. My daughters’ DNA. The future is bright, there’s never a dull day here. Neon’s only alive when turned on”.

 

Visit God’s Own Junkyard at Unit 12, Ravenswood Industrial Estate, Shernhall St, Walthamstow, E17 9HQ – Open Fridays, Saturdays & Sundays.

Words by William Thompson

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