Which Way Now! Walton’s Historic Fingerpost Sign

In Walton at the intersection of Shay Lane and The Balk there is a small piece of our local historical heritage that often goes unnoticed – the black and white cast iron finger post.  Wikipedia describes these signs as follows:

“The posts have traditionally been made from cast iron or wood, with poles painted in black, white or grey and fingers with black letters on a white background, often including distance information in miles. In most cases, they are used to give guidance for road users, but examples also exist on the canal network, for instance. They are also used mark the beginning of a footpath, bridleway, or similar public path.” (1)

It appears from the article that these signs are related to an important invention of the early 20th century – the motor car. The car transformed villages like Walton, increasing their size and changing their economic basis.  Before cars the people of Walton were employed on local farms or in the coal mine at the edge of the village. Today, the mine is gone, agriculture is much less labour intensive and Walton is a village in which most of its inhabitants commute many miles to earn their living. To a large extent the car made all this possible. Here is what the article says about the impact of the car and other aspects of our history impacting on the signs:

“The Motor Car Act 1903 passed road sign responsibilities to the relevant highway authority, although no specifications were set. Guidance was given in a 1921 circular that road direction signs should have 2 1⁄2-or-3-inch-high (64 or 76 mm) upper case lettering on a white background and white supporting poles. It also recommended that the name of the highway authority be included somewhere in the design.

Mandatory standards (The Traffic Signs (Size, Colour and Type) Provisional Regulations) were passed in 1933 which required poles to painted with black and white bands and lettering to be of a different typeface. Signposts were removed during World War II, lest enemy forces use them for navigation, and replaced in the late 1940s.” (1)

I’ve not measured the letting on the Walton sign, but it is all upper case, the sign is certainly black and white though the poles do not have alternate black and white bands described – perhaps this has been overlooked in any post war maintenance. The sign does appear to be missing a finger, the one that should point down School Lane. Perhaps they lost this during the second world war while the signs were supposedly in storage – amazing that they did not get melted down!

I am assuming that the highway authority in the case of this sign would be Wakefield RDC (Rural District Council) displayed in the white circle at the top of the sign.

According to another Wikipedia article suggests that were quite unique, though the Walton sign bears no evidence of this:

“Fingerposts erected in the West Riding until the mid-1960s had a distinctive style. At the top of the post was a roundel in the form of a hollow circle with a horizontal line across the middle, displaying “Yorks W.R.”, the name of the fingerpost’s location, and a grid reference.” (2)

There is not “Yorks W.R” and no grid reference on the Walton sign.

At the bottom of the post it says “Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon” which according to Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History (3) was established in 1874 to make signs for Queen Victoria’s Sandringham Estate and later made signs for local authorities across the country. Wakefield Rural District Council was obviously one of its clients. The company survives to this day as Leander Architectural based in Buxton which says the following about the current work of the Royal Label Factory:

“The Royal Label Factory, also based in Buxton, concentrates on traditional signage and retains many of the casting patterns it developed in the 1930s for county and town council signposts and fingerposts. Major elements of the workload also include blue plaques for civic trusts and societies throughout the UK and signs of all kinds for heritage agencies – particularly the National Trust, Historic Scotland and Cadw-Welsh Monuments.” (4)

Royal Labels Factory 2

It is good to see that there is a market for these attractive types of signpost, it would be good to go back to them at least in villages across the county.  They look much better and fit in with their surroundings improving the feel of a place.

Anyway, I’m glad the sign survives as it adds to the character of the village. Here are some more photos of the Walton Fingerpost.

Walton Finger Post Closeup

Crossroads

Walton Finger Post

(1) Fingerpost https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fingerpost

(2) West Riding of Yorkshire https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_Riding_of_Yorkshire

(3) Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History http://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Royal_Label_Factory

(4) Leander Architectural http://www.leanderarchitectural.co.uk/about-us.html

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