Welsh miner’s neon signs still illuminating Soho +VIDEO

To this day, the streets of London bask in the glow of a Welsh miner’s determination to escape the darkness. Richard Bracey, hailing from Mountain Ash, Rhondda Cynon Taf, toiled in the depths of Tredegar mines during the 1940s. Disenchanted with the coal-streaked shadows, he embarked on a journey to London by horse and cart, where his passion for illumination ignited a neon revolution, illuminating the once-seedy corners of Soho.

Today, his legacy thrives in the hands of his grandson, Matthew Bracey, stewarding what Richard forged seven decades ago. As the custodian of God’s Own Junkyard, Matthew reflects on his grandfather’s disdain for the subterranean gloom that engulfed miners.

“Pretty much we are neon sign specialists, it’s our bread and butter,” said Matthew Bracey, who runs God’s Own Junkyard.

“My grandad Richard – grandad Dick we called him – he pretty much hated working in the mines, which I think everyone did.

“[He] wanted to work with light – he wanted to go from dark to light.”

Richard’s odyssey led him from the depths of the mines to the vast expanse of the Royal Navy during World War Two, eventually finding solace amidst the buzzing hum of neon at Power Neon. It was there that he honed his craft, mastering the intricacies of bending glass and electrifying it with life. “It’s quite a gruelling, difficult job,” Matthew remarks, recounting the scorching summers and the crackle of 100,000 volts that defined the trade.

Armed with expertise and determination, Richard embarked on his own venture in the 1950s, birthing God’s Own Junkyard, a beacon of creativity amidst London’s twilight. His neon spectacles adorned the cityscape, from the tantalizing marquees of Soho’s Raymond Revuebar to the grandeur of Walthamstow Stadium’s listed neon masterpiece.

In the ensuing decades, Richard’s son, Chris, joined the luminous legacy, earning the moniker of the “neon man” as he crafted iconic signs for cinema and nightlife alike. Together, father and son illuminated the alleys of Soho, infusing the district with a vibrant energy that transcended mere signage.

From humble beginnings in a family garage, God’s Own Junkyard burgeoned into a global powerhouse, its neon emblems adorning city skylines from Las Vegas to Dubai. Matthew reminisces on the journey, from childhood memories of helping his father in the workshop to overseeing a team of artisans who have dedicated decades to the craft.

Today, the God’s Own Junkyard warehouse stands as a testament to Richard’s vision, housing the largest collection of neon signs and sculptures outside the United States. As Matthew reflects on the company’s evolution, he marvels at the enduring legacy of his grandfather’s quest for light, from the dim confines of a Welsh mine to the dazzling heights of neon artistry.

Richard Bracey (right), pictured here with his grandson Matthew, died in 2012, aged 87

source: bbc.co.uk

Related Articles