Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Bridgnorth, Shropshire

Getting the point

A couple of years ago I did a post about a sign in London with one of those wonderful pointing hands, the index finger straight and the wrist delineated with a cuff (both jacket and cuff-linked shirt visible). Although my London example was probably 20th century, the post provoked several interesting conversations (online and off) about the earlier history of graphic pointers, both fingers and arrows, and the ways they’ve been used. I was reminded of this when I came across this winning combination of old signs in Bridgnorth.

The street sign is a lovely cast-iron job, presumably Victorian. It has nice clear Clarendon letters that exhibit a pleasant balance of thick and thin strokes, but what makes it stand out is the pointing hand. From a frilly cuff emerges a long, elegant hand with a slender pointing index finger. I’m not sure the way the little finger bends backwards is very accurate – or even anatomically possible: I can’t seem to make my own finger do this. But the effect is pleasing and sends the pedestrian in the right direction.

Below are much later signs, aimed at the motorist, of a kind I remember from my youth. Clarendon letters have been replaced by the sans serif capitals popular in the mid-20th century and a big black arrow indicates the direction. Signs along these lines came in during the 1930s. There were slight revisions in 1944 and 1957, the latter featuring an improved alphabet designed by David Kindersley. As far as I can see these Bridgnorth signs are pre-1957. There was a major change after 1963, when British road signs were completely redesigned and the style still used today was adopted.

But a few of the old signs remain, like these in Bridgnorth. They still do their job, although, when one looks closely, it’s clear that these examples have not been helped by a rather hasty white paint job on the surrounding wall. The wall paint has messed up the black edges of both the street sign and the directional signs slightly, but all three signs still manage to stand out.

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Succinct information on the history of British road signs is available in Phil Baines and Catherine Dixon, Signs: Lettering in the Environment (Lawrence King Publishing, 2003); the 192 highly illustrated pages of this book comprise the best visual presentation of signs that I know.


Peter Ashley said...

Great black and white photograph! Some good signs (including road signs) can also be seen in my Letters from England, an English Heritage Pocket Book.

The Greenockian said...

Lovely! So much nicer than today's efforts!

Philip Wilkinson said...

Peter: Thank you! Yes: for the benefit of anyone reading this who doesn't know, Peter's Letters From England book is worth looking out for.

Joseph Biddulph (Publisher) said...

I wonder if some of the effectiveness of this photo comes from the way the names STOURBRIDGE and KIDDERMINSTER seem to complement one another, particularly if said with a West Midlands accent! There's something poetic there.

Philip Wilkinson said...

James: Gosh! I'd not thought of that! Now I'll be mumbling at all the road signs I see while attempting (and no doubt failing) to imitate local accents...