Pointing the Way - Fingerposts

Fingerposts, aka Signposts, are found at almost every junction along the narrowest country lanes, no matter how rural.  Fingerposts have existed for over 300 years since legislation enacted in England in 1697 enabled magistrates to place ‘direction pillars at cross-highways’.  

Fposts 1
The oldest known site of a fingerpost is believed to be at the junction of the A44 and B4081 SW of Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire (Ref a).  It was erected by Joseph Izod in 1669 and points to Oxford, Warwick, Gloster (Gloucester) and Woster (Worcester).   The height of the arms enabled stage-coach drivers to read it without difficulty.  The existing post is a replica (Photo 1).

 

 

The Highways Act 1766 and Turnpike Roads Act 1773 made the use of fingerposts on turnpike roads compulsory (b) which then became widespread across the whole country.  As the placement of fingerposts was under local direction the designs vary greatly between, and within, neighbouring parishes throughout Cornwall.

 

Fposts 2

 

Fingerposts have intrigue and a local identity, each being a ‘one-off’, some are very distinctive.  Wood fingerposts, which have square columns with the arms fixed by a pegged mortise and tenon joint (2) with a pyramid shaped top, survive on Bodmin Moor in the parishes of Mount and Cardinham. 

 

 

Fposts 3

 

 

The area also has a number of distinctive granite columns with ornate ironwork supporting wood arms, the one at Treslea being a good example (3).  

 

 

 

 

The majority of fingerposts across the County are cast iron (4).  At the top of the column is a finial and several shapes including a cone, ring & ball, single ball and double ball which are painted either black or white (5) are seen in Cornwall.

Fposts 4Fposts 5

 

The arms are attached to the column with a bolted sleeve (6), or the arm flange bolted to a horizontal collar (7), a fitting unique to Cornwall (c).   

Fposts 6       Fposts 7

These either fit square to the column (6) or have a curve below the inner end of the arm (8).

Fposts 8Fposts 9

Fposts 10Fposts 11

 

The distal end of the arm is usually square-ended (6), with some chamfered straight (8) or curved (9), but there are also a few examples of button (3), rounded (7) and pointed (10) ends.  The arm legend is raised black lettering on a white background, naming the village(s) in each direction, frequently giving the distance to the nearest quarter mile with fractions.  Fingerposts on main routes may have the road number on the arm but at the next junction, in another parish, the style may be different again.  

Fposts 12Fposts 13

 

A granite column stands at High Cross, east of Constantine and shows gloved hands with lace at the wrist pointing the ways (11).  An iron post at Crill Corner, near Budock, has an arrow on the remaining rounded arm (12).  A finger shaped arm can be seen near Cardinham (13).  

 

Fposts 14

A rare, red painted, post stands at the small hamlet of Red Post, three miles east of Stratton on the A3072 (14).  Red Post is possibly the only place in England named after a fingerpost.  There are also four red fingerposts in Dorset and two in Somerset but there is no information as to why they exist.  

 

 

 

Made in Cornwall
All Cornish fingerposts were made in the County and most have survived (c).  Ferguson (d) details the foundries which made fingerposts; T. Bartle & Sons, Carn Brea; N Holman & Sons Ltd., St Just; Charlestown Foundry Ironworks Co. Ltd., St Austell; Oatey & Martin, Wadebridge; Sara & Burgess, Penryn; Toy Foundry, Helston; W Visick & Sons Ltd., Devoran, and later Visick Engineering Ltd.   

Fposts 15
The column bears the maker’s name or mark; its shape, the arms and finial bear the features of the foundry.  The post on the A3083 Helston to Lizard road (15) was made by Toy of Helston before the Great War and two new arms were cast at Wadebridge, funded by Mawgan-in-Meneage PC (c).  The pointing hand on the arms has a better shape than the similar ‘pointing hand’ posts near St Erth, made by N Holman & Sons. Ltd, and the posts around St Ewe, made by the Charlestown Foundry. 

 

Fposts 16The Charlestown column has a fluted lower section, and twist to the upper part, with the top edge of each arm usually crenelated (16).  However, all the arms of the fingerpost at Polmassick (16), restored in 2015, are slightly different (c).   Plain columns with a vertical legend ‘Cornwall CC’ (4) and eg. ‘St Austell RDC’ were made by the Visick foundries and many are post-WW2, probably to replace those taken for scrap iron in 1941.  Alloys of aluminium have resistance to corrosion and are now used in restoration.  

 

Preserving our heritage
Some County Councils will not continue with routine maintenance, or restoration, due to budget constraints and suggest that fingerposts are now ‘obsolete’ due to the use of sat-navs (e).  However, most County Councils, including Cornwall CC (f), value the importance of historic fingerposts and are supporting projects, and encouraging volunteer groups, by providing materials and facilities, to help restore and preserve them.  The Dept for Transport, with English Heritage & others, has published a leaflet with advice on how to do the work (g).  

Cornwall CC does not have a complete list of fingerposts in the county so the enormity of their upkeep is unknown (h), and future funding is unlikely (c).  Several Parish Councils around the County are paying for the restoration of fingerposts which are deemed to be of local historical significance (h).  A privately funded project in St Ewe Parish was assisted by Cormac removing six posts from sites and volunteers did the cleaning and repainting off-site before Cormac re-erected them (i).   

Fposts 17

 

Hopefully, more parishes in Cornwall might be persuaded, by local residents and volunteer groups, to restore and save these relics of our transport heritage and not leave them to rust and fall into the hedgerows as the fingerpost near Mullion (17), until it was repaired and repainted in 2018.  

 

 

 

 

 

Acknowledgement:  My thanks to Ian Thompson, member of the Milestone Society, for providing photos 14 &16 and for ‘pointing me in the right direction’ with much useful information.

 

References:

a.   Joseph Izod’s fingerpost.  http://chippingcampdenhistory.org.uk/page_id__104_path__0p25p39p.aspx  

b.   Fingerposts.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fingerposts  

 c.   Exchange of emails from Ian Thompson, The Milestone Society – Cornwall, 5 & 10 October 2016  

d.   Forged and Founded in Cornwall.  John Ferguson.  Pub. Cornish Hillside Publications, St Austell.  Chap. 8 ‘Street Furniture’ and Appendix 2 ‘Cornish Manufactured Street Furniture’.  

e   Somerset’s Heritage Fingerposts.   http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-somerset-35380074

f.   Cornwall Rural Highways Best Practice, Section 4.5.7 ‘Signs’.  April 2013.

g.  Traditional Direction Signs – Traffic Advisory Leaflet 6/05.  Dept. for Transport. https://content.historicengland.org.uk/images-books/publications/traffic-advisory-leaflet-605-traditional-direction-signs/trafficadvisoryleaflet6-05.pdf/  

h.  Fingerposts/signposts in Cornwall's Lanes.  Exchange of emails with Jane Davies, Development Officer, Cornwall AONB team, Cornwall CC, Jan – Feb 2016.  

i.   Fingerpost Facelift for St Ewe Parish.  http://roselandonline.co.uk/fingerpost-facelift-for-st-ewe-parish/  



This article, written by Doug Castle, appeared in CA7C Seven Focus in November 2016 pp10-15.


See also:

Guidestones and Milestones marking the way



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