Rue de la Rouselle, which connects cours d’Alsace-et-Lorraine and cours Victor-Hugo, is one of the prettiest little side-streets of old...

The real and fake ghost signs of rue de la Rousselle

Rue de la Rouselle, which connects cours d’Alsace-et-Lorraine and cours Victor-Hugo, is one of the prettiest little side-streets of old Bordeaux. In fact, it is so picturesque that it has provided the setting for a number of films made in the city, including recent offerings such as 2 Automnes 3 Hivers (released in 2013), Compte tes blessures (2016) and Le vice caché des Navajos (also 2016).

Rue de la Rousselle also happens to boast one of the highest concentrations of ghost signs, those faded hand-painted signs and advertisements that have been a favourite recurring subject on the Invisible Bordeaux blog. But how many of the signs are the real thing, and how many are leftovers from period film sets?

The starting point behind this enigma was after spotting the painted sign for “Steenvoorde” above what appears to be a garage. With a little help from correspondents on social media, it was quickly established that Steenvoorde was a real-world firm (as well as being a town in northern France), more precisely a dairy company founded in 1911, which changed its name to Stenval in the 1960s ahead of being taken over by the Gervais/Danone conglomerate. Although most of the company’s activities gradually merged into Danone’s output, the original facility has gone on to produce baby milk under the Blédina brand. 

Thanks to a chance encounter on site, it was confirmed to me by the owner of the building himself that the sign was very much the real thing, and that when he acquired the building a number of years ago, the ground floor area was in fact a milk and cheese storage depot. He also mentioned that visitors from northern France were usually delighted to spot the Steenvoorde name above the door, as it reminded them “of home and of a bygone era”. 

My new friend was confident that one of Bordeaux’s most famous ghost signs, announcing “Dépôt des biscuits Léon” was also genuine, while believing the sign had been restored in recent years. (Cross-referencing with a previous appearance on the blog confirms this.) Running “Biscuits Léon” through Google failed to throw up any results whatsoever, but once again social media correspondents were on hand to clear things up. Biscuits Léon was indeed a real-world company, proclaiming to be from Paris but in fact operating out of Maisons-Alfort, a suburb to the south-east of France's capital city, and was apparently renowned for its "petits-beurres" and its "gaufrettes vanille". And this would therefore have been the company's Bordeaux storage depot. 

Punctuation pedants may have noticed that inverted commas have been positioned before the word Léon, but are missing after it.
Upon closer inspection, the paint job does appear to be relatively recent.
A Biscuits Leon advertisement, source: (thank you Rosine)

A little further up the street, there is every chance that this next ghost sign is very much the real thing, given how worn and lived-in it all looks. The faded letters above the windows read “Entrepôts J-E Bonnel & Cie” while two vertical signs refer to “Transit” and “Camionnage”, suggesting Bonnel & Co. provided transport and haulage services.

The following two traders definitely appear to be fictional film set material. The first is a shoemaker who also advertises as a “specialist in laces”, operating under the delightful name of “Aux Galoches Réunies”, which I would love to loosely translate as “Shoes United”, although the word galoche does have a double meaning: it is a type of shoe or clog, but also a French kiss! The second is the hairdresser Antonio Martinez, where the adhesive paper sign has seen better days. Although it has made it through to 2019 more or less in one piece, it does look as if the sign will soon be a thing of the past. 

Then comes the most photogenic of all, an establishment labelled as “Café Cardinal” which also sold firewood and coal, and was owned by one E. Vaton. My Steenvoorde correspondent believes that this really was a café in a past life but that the painted sign is a recent addition. Again this is all very difficult to verify. Whatever, there are two certainties: today the “café” is very much a private residence and, as a plaque on the wall recalls, it is located on the very spot where Michel Montaigne, the renowned and influential 16th-century thinker and mayor of Bordeaux, lived with his family. 

Finally, to the side of a small square where rue de la Rousselle meets rue du Puits-Descazeaux, it would be great to think this faux marble sign advertising “Service départemental, Architecture” did in fact date back to Gallo-Roman times. It is of course a much more recent addition, but was a bona fide banner above the door of what was an architects’ bureau. The architects have reportedly moved on though, and now that part of the building is a company crèche! 

So there you have it. A few open questions and unsolved mysteries, and some genuine signs of the past. But this might just be one of those articles that evolves over time on the basis of feedback and information that comes in from readers. Do let me know if you know something about those various sights that has been missed here, whether you’ve spotted any of them in films, whether you used to enjoy your morning cup of coffee at Café Cardinal, and if you can help to categorically tell which signs are real, and which have been left over from the movies! To be continued?

> Find it on the Invisible Bordeaux map: rue de la Rousselle, Bordeaux
> Big thanks to writer Sophie Poirier who alerted me to rue de la Rousselle’s film set credentials and the existence of “fake” ghost signs, to Tobye over on Instagram who provided the essential initial information about Steenvoorde, to Rosine Duet for information about Biscuits Léon, and to Jérôme Mabon of the États Critiques website (heavily recommended for Bordeaux-based cinema buffs!) who identified and viewed the films shot on the street, even though the mysteries remain!