diamond geezer

 Friday, January 25, 2019

In 1963 the Worboys Committee was convened to agree a new standardised system for Britain's hotchpotch of road signs. We see the resulting designs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert all around us, their pictograms and typefaces much admired. Officially every UK road sign should have been replaced, but some slipped through, and a few Pre-Worboys signs linger on more than fifty years later. Here's one I stumbled upon in Stoke Newington.

They don't make 'em like this any more. You can almost see how it was put together, with black type on a white board pinned to a blue board, plus a separate white arrow pinned to one side. It's a bit rusty now, but still being looked after, and still perfectly legible.

I found it at the bottom of Manor Road, approaching the junction with Stamford Hill, outside the former Bismillah Kebab House. I didn't find any other examples close by, but I wondered where else in London there might be some.

I tried searching on Flickr. (Now is a good time to look because after 5th February anyone without a current subscription will be limited to 1000 photos, and every stored image above the limit will be deleted). I found a few potential pre-Worboys survivors, mostly in north London, and went out to see if they were still there.

This one was still there. But only just.

This is on Theobalds Road between Holborn and Clerkenwell, just before the junction with Grays Inn Road. The sign's constructed the same way as before, but hasn't lasted so well. The white panels are grubby, the writing's faded and the lower nameplate has been removed. Ten years ago it was cleaner, but still only two-thirds intact. Holborn was probably mentioned off to the right, and maybe the City. It's amazing, and delightful, that Camden council have left it up.

Here's another poorly-maintained sign, this time in Bowes Park.

It's at the top end of Brownlow Road, fractionally inside the borough of Enfield, approaching the junction with the North Circular. Again the bottom panel on the sign has disappeared (perhaps because it's the easiest to stretch up and reach) - it used to point towards Edmonton and Woodford. This time a chunk of the top panel has disappeared too.

What you can't see in my photo is the big Worboys sign a few yards in front which lists all the modern destinations inside green panels, including N. Circular, Brent Cross, (M1) and (M11). Normally its appearance would have meant removal of the old, but here the obsolete sign has survived.

While I was in the area, I also popped up to Southgate.

This is a very different kind of pre-Worboys sign, a cast iron fingerpost located where Waterfall Road meets Cannon Hill at the heart of the Southgate Green conservation area. It would once have stood at the centre of the junction, but was shunted off to one side when a mini-roundabout was built.

The craftsmanship is both splendid and functional, with immaculate raised lettering and bolts to attach each finger to the post. Road numbers were deemed more important in those days, hence A1003 and A1004 appear more prominently that potential destinations. This was Middlesex at the time, hence it's London which appears rather than Central London, eight miles distant.

But this is the finest pre-Worboys sign I found, in Muswell Hill.

It's on Muswell Hill Broadway, on a pole just outside Le Creuset on the approach to St James' Church. And if it looks in tip-top condition that's because Haringey council took it away a few years ago, touched it up and put in back. Well done to them.

Ahhh those fractions and those beautiful raised letters, all from an era when everything was hand-drawn. Perhaps this sign works so well because it's simple, clear and regular - every place name mentioned has eight letters, and also there are only two ways you can go.

I was pleased that all the pre-Worboys signs I went in search of were still there. But there must be more in London, actually definitely still present and not recently lost. Quick, while stocks last.

» Flickr Group - Pre-Worboys signs (currently contains 5.9K photos)
» Pre-Worboys preservation campaign (1564 forum posts)
» The current Traffic Signs Manual (several pdfs)

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