Tiffany Wardle Memorial Liveblogging™ of a presentation at ATypI Brighton 2007 (q.v.)

(First several minutes untranscribed because of the crash of the piece-of-shit software I’m using, namely BBEdit, CopyPaste, Safari, and Mac OS X Tiger. The full title of the presentation is “From the Motor Car Act to motorways: British road signs from 1903–58.”)

Current British signs came about after a report and date back to 1960. (Shows many slides from 1938 and earlier. Mentions that one designer wanted to follow the British model of enumerating roads.)

Assumed everyone would have patent letters that are suitable for the purpose. All the memorandum specifies is that lettering has to be raised block letters on a white ground, three inches tall with half-inch linespacing. Route numbers are four inches, with different white/black combinations for A and B roads. Post has to be white. Highway authority responsible should be indicated on them.

What this resulted in is a wonderful variety of signs that more or less met the requirements of the memorandum. (Shows examples.) (And he’s using actual slides, not a computer. The sound of a slide projector is rather unaccustomed.) (Ashdown Forest has a logo on the top.) Most of the posts have a maker’s mark on them, like the Royal Label Factory in Stratford. (Shows sign to Truro aligned with turf all.) Gradually the undergrowth engulfed the sign. Then some sad act like me comes along and clears it away to take a photograph. Some of them have anti-bird spikes on the top in Cornwall. Another maker’s mark: Visick. So many of these are actually very local (also Charleston).

(Shows complex example with “quite nutty” boards pointing hither and yon. Shows “unusually, upper and lower case – quite nonregulation.”) This is quite a lot of them preserved at Dingwalls (shows about 15 on a single brick wall). Though they start in 1921, they are allowable in the legislation right up to 1964. (Shows stacked vulgar fractions where the dividing line looks like a dumbbell.)

Local authority was supposed to be indicated, usually by a ring at the top (shows slide of many). Dingwalls has one from every old county. (Shows how a mistake was repeated over and over again, though he doesn’t explain what the mistake is or point to the exact sign out of a dozen on his slides that is the mistake.)

(Sign reading ROUND

(Lists a few memoranda concerning signs), but these did little than to support the status quo. An old report explained the introduction of traffic lights in Wolverhampton in 1926. Highway code appeared in 1931. On road signs, it acknowledges their usefulness but deplores their lack of uniformity. Road signs should be uniform in design and no more numerous than is necessary. That’s appeared in every report since then, and has been ignored ever since, too.

A brief excursion into France now. Earliest examples are cast iron, simply screwed fairly high onto the sides of buildings. Then the Michelin brothers get interested, especially in infrastructure. Glazed ceramic on concrete. Through the 1920s, they work on their most distinctive signs (1928). (They’re little concrete cubes with a pyramidal top on a two-foot-tall thick post. 1.75 m, 380 kg, glazed ceramic on 15 mil rock from Volvic, placed on concrete in huge moulds. Date and location of siting are emblazoned.) (He’s seen one two-dimensional version.) Ono the back of each of these, is a little picture of the vendor and the year, sometimes different from the one on the panel.

Back in Britain, common practice was generally regarded as satisfactory, but the need was felt for actual statutory legislation. So we set up a committee. Report: 1933, generally referred to as the Maybury Report after its chairman. They try to balance practicality, existing practice, and forward thinking, I suppose. Warning signs are allowed to continue as before, but notes that words help symbols. Their use in this country was established, therefore should continue; more might be needed in the future. On prohibition signs, 1931 adopted the red disc, which we’d used since 1920. Mandatory signs (keep left) would be blue with a red ring; informational, square. Very specific signs are allowed to be different sizes or shapes, such as HALT.

There are difficulties with overcrowding of information on signposts. Some word-based direction signs have been tried. This is the first time in this country that you might need a side before a juncture. They also make much more of route numbers, which get priority; destinations are secondary.

Other organizations could produce signs in accordance with the regulations. The AAs tended not to conform to ministry standards, but they seemed somehow powerless to stop this. For the first time, there are specifications about lettering. A caps-only alphabet in normal and condensed was shown an described with pedantic verbal explanation.

The alphabet is described later as having been on the advice of Smith and West. Edward Johnston was claimed to have been involved, which would be understandable given his experience with London Underground, but so far I’ve found no actual evidence to support this.

(Given how shitty my morning has been going, and the dirty looks of the chick next to me, and the pitch-black auditorium that makes typing difficult even for a 90-wpm touch-typist, scribe gave up at 2007.09.15 12:05. You’re welcome.)

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.15 13:22. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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