Monday, July 15, 2019

Bovey Tracey, Devon


Something for the weakened

I do like bits of traditional signage. Today's high streets are too full of ephemeral plastic signs, designed by computers with the help of committees, plonked on facades with one thought only: to shout loudest at passers-by. Many high street businesses have either given up or seem to be trying too hard, buses drive around swamped in graceless advertisements like walking billboards, and round my way the Co-op screams at me in a sign of bilious green.*

There are, though, quite a few places where an effort has been made to stop this rot. Bath is a haven of decent, discreet signage; so is Chipping Campden; towns like Ludlow have some terrific examples of traditional shop signs; in Upton on Severn they have even revealed a number of beautiful old ghost signs and have found ways to keep these visible while creating new signs that work among and around them. More often, it's a mixed picture, with lacklustre stuff interspersed with signs in which someone has been allowed to get out his brush and mahl stick and do his best.

My eyes having been rendered bloodshot by poor signage recently, and my spirits weakened by the sheer oafishness of some of it, it was good to come across one or two modest gems. Like this barber's in Bovey Tracey. It could hardly be simpler. Just a small square window, without anything much to display in it. And a sign which, though simple, shows that someone has paused, and thought, and cared. Plain, sans serif capitals, hand painted; a colour scheme that reflects the traditional barber's pole†, and a frame for the sign in the same red as the window frame.

Screw the sign firmly to the wall and you're done. Locals are reminded where a chap can get a haircut and visitors are shown the way too. The simple purposefulness of the sign suggests a good old-fashioned barber's shop, where a man will ply his scissors with skill and a cut-throat razor will be on hand to smarten you up around the edges. Will there by Brylcreem? Maybe.§ Vitalis? Possibly.¶ Will the barber ask quietly under his breath if the customer would like 'Something for the weekend'? Perhaps. But whatever the answers to these nostalgic questions, the appreciative passer-by will be pleased with the look of the shop and its sign, and will proceed with his jaded spirits uplifted. For surely such things are indeed something for the weakened.

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* That's enough bile from me for now. I do try to restrain myself when writing my posts, and I steer clear of commenting about some of the bad architecture around us. Others do that better than I could, and I'm happy that they do. My role in general is to share what I appreciate and like.

† The traditional sign, the red of which is sometimes said represent the blood let during the barber-surgeon's work. Curiously from a modern perspective, the two 'trades' of barbering and surgery were combined in the Middle Ages and early modern period.

§ Brylcreem, fashionable in during World War II and the post-war period, certainly still exists as a range that includes the 'traditional' hair cream. As can be seen from my photograph, the barber's wasn't open on the day I was there, so I was unable to investigate the interior, its contents, or what might be offered to customers.

¶ Vitalis, something on my barber's shelf when I was a boy, is marketed as a 'hair tonic' that makes your hair more 'manageable'.

4 comments:

David said...

Lovely! I am sure that styptic pencils and Bay Rum and/or Eau de Portugal are to be had there.

Joe Treasure said...

Before I'd reached your apologetic footnote, Philip, I had it in mind to agree with you on shouty corporate shopfronts and other kinds of 'oafish' signage. So, yes, this is me agreeing. But I'm also with you on emphasising the delightful and the praiseworthy, which is one of the qualities that makes your blog so consistently enjoyable. Meanwhile, just this once, I don't think the Co-op will take it personally.

bazza said...

I agree about poor signage. As a designer and sometime supplier of shop signage I was often saddened by customers requests. When they asked for a hand-painted new sign I was overjoyed but I could rarely find a sign-writer available! Of course cost is a major factor; computer generated plastic is the budget option but I often managed to insert some better ideas!
It's a classic battle of form over function.....
CLICK HERE for Bazza’s seemingly shining Blog ‘To Discover Ice’

TomC said...

Thankfully, the Co-ops near me have had the new style signs - a return to the blue 'cloverleaf', also rendered in a cut-out version to hang over the pavement, and a restrained grey background. Far classier than the green.