The aim of Exmoor National Park Authority’s Historic Signpost Project is to record, refurbish, celebrate and explore the history of Exmoor National Park’s traditional signposts. This is a two-year project funded through the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Exmoor National Park Authority (ENPA) and Somerset County Council.
Much of the motivation for this came from local communities concerned about the state of some signposts in their areas and a desire to preserve and celebrate the distinctive character of the signs that are a much-valued part of the Exmoor landscape. As such, they are an integral part of Exmoor’s history and heritage. During the 1960s, councils were advised to remove existing signposts and replace them with standardised signs. However, Somerset did not do this, particularly on Exmoor, and so the distinctive cast-iron, black-and-white signs remain.
The ENPA is working with the Exmoor Society and volunteers to trace the history of the signposts. Dr Helen Blackman, the Exmoor Society’s archivist, said: “The starting point is the history of individual posts. The kind of questions we would love answers to are: how long have they been there?; do they and the crossroads that they are positioned at have specific names?; is there anything in particular that has happened to them, such as removal during the Second World War and later replacement?”
From this, volunteer researchers are aiming to find out about the importance of routes and locations and so help piece together a wider history of travel around the moor. Dr Blackman continued: “Have you ever wondered why some towns and villages are clearly signposted, whilst other have so little to indicate their whereabouts? For example, to some visitors it may seem odd that many signposts point to Watchet, now a relatively small town. However, the signage reveals something of its previous significance as a port and a major centre for paper manufacture.”
The Exmoor National Park is seeking more volunteers to help uncover this fascinating history. No experience is necessary, as training will be given by Dr Blackman; all that is required is some spare time and enthusiasm for research and detective work.
Routes over Exmoor have also evolved, as roads were tarmacked in the 1930s and some tracks were preferred over others. The signposts and their history can help piece together why this might be. Were some routes considered more direct, or did they cover easier terrain? Did they pass somewhere previously significant, now largely forgotten?
Dr Blackman concluded: “Do you have old photos and slides of Exmoor that include views of the signposts? These could be close-ups, or just photos that happen to include the posts such as the one pictured* or have any stories to tell about why crossroads have particular names? We would love to hear from you if you have information that would help with the project, please email email@example.com.”
- PHOTO: Molly Groves in 1963 standing next to the top of Oare Post, Hookway Hill which is buried in snow. Photo courtesy of Mrs Groves.