Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Pointing to The Past

More letters from the country. These old signs are the very last vestiges of a simple direction system that pointed the right way with characterful style. Screw-on letters were once the preserve of rural signposts, black on dazzling white at crossroads and junctions, white on green for footpaths. We once carefully spaced them out on our garden gates or selected just a set of numbers for the front door. Who can forget Ronnie Barker trying to buy a couple of 'O's' from Mr.Corbett the ironmonger? Out in Rutland they still send out men on summer days to re-paint the signposts, and apparently there's still a chap in Leicester who turns out the metal letters for them. I hope he does it with a Woodbine hanging on his lower lip. Now it's all to often computer-generated on reflective material. And of course the letters peel off. One near me has lost an 'n' so that it now reads 'Sha gton' which has a curiously appropriate ring to it. So look out for these signs, leaning like an old village codger pointing out the way with a knarled stick. All too soon the soulless clinical sign with a long distance footpath name made-up in a council office, reassuring the SatNav Rambler of the way downhill. Or in these days of not wanting to offend anyone who can't speak English, just a silhouette of a trainer sole.

8 comments:

Fred Fibonacci said...

I remember these signs well Peter. They were dotted all over our village too; perhaps they are still. Certainly, they managed to convey promise, either of walks across freshly mown fields in summer, or to iced-over ponds in winter, on which we'd make dangerous slides and whizz, freely.

Peter Ashley said...

Oh that's lovely Fred. One of my major grievances is that the new footpath signs don't tell you where you're going. No sense of place anymore.

Philip Wilkinson said...

Yes. Footpath signs used to be full of information. In a place you didn't know very well, you looked at one and learned where it led, perhaps surprised that Little Sodbury was only two miles by foot whereas the distance by road was four. In this way you built up a mental picture of the area even before you set out to follow one of the green signposts.

Jon Dudley said...

Or else, like my wife and her brother in a quiet Hampshire village in the 50s you would routinely swivel the signs around in order to confuse. Morris Eights would swerve into farm yards whilst their more rotund brothers The Oxfords would become lodged in the narrowest of lanes in a sort of horror vision of a satnav future. Ah, the good old days!

Peter Ashley said...

Your comment Jon brings to mind one of those full page picture puzzles in Rupert Annuals. I was so pleased (at eight years old I hasten to add) to solve the mystery of a crossroads signpost that had been uprooted and turned round. Rupert quickly saw what they had to do to find the road they needed.

histman said...

Great post. I am lucky to live in South Derbyshire where they also still care about these old signs. When one collapsed a few weeks back it was taken to the council's workshop and refurbished and repainted and now looks splendid.

A few shots can be found here:
http://www.23hq.com/histman/album/2836636

Peter Ashley said...

Thankyou Histman. I went into my local ironmongers today to see if they still did individual metal letters, with the thought of constructing my own footpath sign, to point to the kitchen or somewhere. Got thrown out into the street and told not to come back. But at least I tried.

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