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Finial Countdown

For some time I have been visiting Dorset, probably even more in the future as coronavirus restricts our ability to travel.

Much of the county remains much like that described in the Thomas Hardy novels, and one rather quaint find recently was the signposts, which seem to be topped by a roundel much like that used by Transport for London.

This rather intrigued me, and so I contacted the excellent preservation group (England seems to specialise in these quasi-historical societies), Dorset Fingerposts.

My question to them was: “What came first Frank Pick’s London Transport roundel logo, or their finial”. To my surprise James, a Dorset AONB Fingerposts Volunteer Administrator sent me a comprehensive history of these delightful aids to navigation.

Well, apparently I wasn’t the first to ask the question, the London Transport Museum had also enquired as to their provenance.

London has lost its traditional signposts which were mounted on a pole. The only similar signs today are bus stops, which just happen to have a roundel surmounting them. But first the parts of a bus stop.

Obviously, the indicator is supported by a post, the information board is called the flag. Above that might be a ‘point’ letter showing a letter of the bus stop and below the information board is the timetable cluster. The information board is broken down into four constituent parts. The roundel, location name, towards information and the bus routes servicing that stop. Officially, only the top is the flag, this surmounts the boat, which gives the destination and routes.

Unlike London’s ubiquitous bus stops the Dorset Fingerposts are in decline. The roundel design (circle with horizontal bar costing £2 in 1961) was introduced for signs in Dorset immediately post-war, requested by the County Surveyor, a Mr J. J. Leeming who took up the post in 1946 but to a design from the Royal Label Factory. This would post-date the London Underground usage. There is uncertainty about how many fingerpost roundels there were in existence at their peak – many were lost in the years after the 1963 Worboys Committee, which led to the new system of road signing and typeface called ‘Transport’ we use today. Today there is in the region of 200 surviving fingerposts with the numbers of roundels starting to rise again as the Dorset Fingerposts project, working with Bridport Foundry and Coles Casting, to manufacture new ones. Coles Casting has created new templates based on the originals and with the Ministry of Transport typeface.

At the last count, 188 fingerposts have been restored across the county, which means 25 per cent of the remaining fingerpost stock have been completed.

Winterborne Tomson, Red Post by Mike Faherty (CC BY-SA 2.0) On A31T, and memorable enough to be shown on OS. Two suggestions have been mooted for it; either it pointed the way (towards Bloxworth) for illiterate prison warders moving prisoners for overnight shelter in a barn; or it marks the site of a gibbet. The finial gives location – Red Post, and NGR – 883 970.

Anderson: detail of Red Post by Chris Downer (CC BY-SA 2.0) A close-up of the finial of the finger-post, giving location and grid reference details. It looks, from the bolts below the ‘R’ and ‘T’, that the top has been snapped off at some point and re-affixed.

Leigh: detail of The Holm Bushes signpost by by Chris Downer (CC BY-SA 2.0) A close-up of ST6310 : Leigh: signpost at The Holm Bushes showing the finial on which is given the location and six-figure grid reference. This is a replica of the old-fashioned Dorset signpost which survives in reasonable numbers; the legend would be embossed on a genuine one, like the word DORSET here, and the modern-day typeface (Trebuchet) and the hyphen are other telltale signs.

Thanks to DiamondGeezer for the detailed information about London’s bus stops, should this be your thing more can be found here.

The last post

Have you noticed the preponderance of pubs named the Blue Posts? A simple tally shows at least five plus, as is inevitable in London nowadays, there are others which have closed to allow yet more ’executive apartments’ to be built.

For many years it was thought that while barber/surgeons sported a red and white striped pole outside their premises, a pair of blue posts denoted that this was a sedan rank.

So how many blue posts pubs are, or were, in London?

Cowcross Street (now called Jacomo’s); Berwick Street; Rupert Street; Kingly Street (now a gastropub); Hanway Street (closed); Old Bond Street (called Two Blue Posts, now closed); Cork Street (called Old Blue Posts, a famous dining room, closed in 1911); Newman Street and Shoe Lane. The Blue Posts in Bennet Street has the following sign hanging above this St James hostelry featuring a sedan chair and two brilliant-blue bollards:

Although the existing ’Blue Posts‘ replaces the one which was destroyed during World War II, a pub of this name, on this site, was mentioned by the Restoration dramatist George Etheredge as early as 1667. The poet Lord Byron lived next door in 1813. The ‘Blue Posts’ (two azure painted poles) once stood in the tavern’s forecourt and served as an advertisement for a fleet of sedan chairs which used to ply for hire in Bennet Street.

In 1634 the first rank for horse-drawn cabs was the brainchild of Captain John Baily, situated on the Strand near Somerset House. Unlike the old sedan ranks with their tiny blue posts this nascent rank was next to a 100ft maypole, no wonder they usurped the sedan chairs.

Horse-drawn vehicles for private hire had been around in one form or another since medieval times. But no one had attempted to operate from a designated waiting place, or rank, until the 17th century, pioneer Captain John Baily, was a veteran of one of Sir Walter Raleigh’s expeditions.

He managed a rank of four horse-drawn carriages, Baily’s cabmen wore a distinctive livery and charged customers a fixed tariff depending on the distance. The rank was positioned close to the Strand maypole, a prominent medieval landmark. This towered 100ft high, making it one of the tallest structures in London at the time. It must have made the cab rank very easy to find.

Baily’s cab rank scheme appears to have worked well, and others soon appeared. The cab profession was given official approval in 1654 when one of the first Acts of Parliament under Oliver Cromwell set up the Fellowship of Master Hackney Carriages, under the control of a court of aldermen in the City of London, and initially restricted to 200 cabbies.

Featured image: The Blue Posts on Eastcastle Street by Ian S (CC BY-SA 2.0)(CC BY-SA 2.0)