Exmoor’s Traditional Roadside Fingerposts

Signpost in centre of Wheddon Cross.

The traditional signposts on Exmoor have become a familiar and cherished part of our landscape. In 2015 prompted by community concern at their dilapidated state a project was set up between a local steering group, Exmoor National Park Authority and Somerset County Council. With the help of match-funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund in 2017-2018 and the hard graft of many volunteers over 200 historic signposts were carefully researched, recorded, restored, cleaned and painted.

Signpost at Dulverton Heritage Centre

The research explored the history of signposts on Exmoor and the gradual regional and national standardization of signing as roads and travel developed. Exmoor’s earliest signpost is found at Wheddon Cross, where two direction arms are distinctive large blades dating to the late 19th or early 20th century (above). They are similar to some arms in South Petherton probably made by Bishop Brothers of Wellington. The arms of another signpost of a similar date found in a garden in Dulverton, probably originated from a signpost near Luckwell Bridge or Oldrey Cross. These are now on display in the Dulverton Heritage Centre (See image, left).

These both predate a standard model for Somerset County Council introduced from 1907. Sadly none of this type survive on Exmoor although a few may be visible in old postcards such as at Allerford. New regulations introduced in 1921 prescribed that the posts had to include the name of the authority responsible for their maintenance, giving the earliest likely date for those embossed SOMERSET, DEVON or SCC / DCC. In 1933 the posts became painted with the black and white bands familiar from old postcards and still used on some of Exmoor’s wooden posts in Devon today.

From the evidence available it seems that the majority of signposts on Exmoor were wooden prior to World War II, with some cast iron posts at key junctions. In 1940, the ministry of Transport ordered the removal of direction signs in case they aided enemy invasion, but as the threat of invasion eased signposts were gradually reinstated. By the 1950s there was a proliferation of cast-iron signposts on the Somerset side of Exmoor, probably as part of a post-war programme. These were cast at the Sheldon Foundry in Wells, which employed 3 men full time making signposts in the mid-1950s for all over Somerset, and the foundry name is often visible on the post.

Chibbet Post

In 1964 the new direction signs designed by Kinneir and Calvert, and familiar on our roads today, became the standard across the country as being more suited to faster traffic. Their introduction on Exmoor was resisted as there was ‘concern at the likely effect on amenity if the new very large type of road traffic sign is erected in the National Park’. Indeed, the replacement of the old signs was resisted across Somerset, and possibly aided by restricted finances, many survive in the county today.

A number of signposts feature a triangular name collar. These were designed by Roger Hagley of Somerset County Council Architectural and Historic Heritage Group in 1997, and added to the posts in 1999. One new collar was installed at Sminhays Corner in 2018, paid for by a local resident.

Local community volunteers continue to care for the signposts and you can support their work by donating to the appeal CareMoor for Historic Signposts.

Shirley Blaylock

Further Reading

The above is taken from ‘A Field Guide to Exmoor’s Traditional Roadside Fingerposts’ published in 2019 and available in National Park Centres in Dulverton, Dunster and Lynton. It is priced at £2.00 and all revenue goes to support the Signpost Project.

A Field Guide to Exmoor's Traditional Roadside Fingerposts booklet

Image credits

Banner image: Signpost at Wheddon Cross, © N. Wall

Signpost at Dulverton Heritage Centre © ENPA

Chibbet Post, Exford Parish, S. Blaylock, 2019 © ENPA