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Old Fingerposts in Ayrshire

Introduction

In Ayrshire Notes No.6 (Spring 1994) I recorded the disappearance of an old fingerpost at a junction near North and South Balloch. By September 1992, a modern road sign had taken its place; all that remains of it is an August 1991 photograph (photo 1 below).

Balloch.jpg (16349 bytes)1. The fingerpost near North and South Balloch in August 1991

Later I searched out and photographed the other old fingerposts to be found in Ayrshire, of which there were 16, or 15 if we exclude one that has no fingers. I finally decided to put their story on record when I noticed that, some time in 1999, work had begun to refurbish them. To some, an interest in these signs may seem perilously close to train spotting (the hobby, not the film - which would be much more exciting). I am comforted however by the terms in which they were described in an East Lothian Council report in 1996: "a distinctive and reassuringly familiar part of East Lothian's character and heritage".

The information summarised in the following table describes the fingerposts before the refurbishment began. For an explanation of the terms please refer to the notes which follow it.

 

Old Fingerposts in Ayrshire

  Roads Grid Ref.

and Map

Location

Photo

Directions

 

1 B7045/B742

NS332120

OS70

  9/92, 7/95 A

Minnyshant 1

Ayr 7

Finial: spherical boss

Base: concealed in earth bank

FP01.jpg (11058 bytes)

B

Maybole 2

C

Kirkmichael 3

Straiton 7

Newton-Stewart 37

D

Dalrymple 2

2 B7045/minor

NS323101

OS70/76

  7/95 A Maybole 1

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP02.jpg (98615 bytes)FP02_base.jpg (84013 bytes)

B

B7045

Ayr 8

C

B7045

Kirkmichael 1

Straiton

3

B7045/minor

NS328093

OS70/76

 

7/95

A

Ayr 9

Finial: spherical boss

Base: [?] Ironworks

FP03.jpg (58033 bytes)

B

Crosshill 2

Dailly 7

Girvan 13

4

B7023/minor

NS325066

OS70/76

Crosshill

6/94 7/95

A

B7023

Maybole 2

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP04.jpg (83160 bytes)

B

Kirkmichael 2

C

B7023

Dailly 5

Girvan 11

5

B741/B7023

NS314054

OS70/76

Knockroon Fm.

10/94

A

B741

Straiton 4

Finial (broken): -- District -- (possibly "Carrick District of Roads")

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP05.jpg (74157 bytes)

B

Crosshill

6

B741/
unmetalled

NS289026

OS76

 

10/94

A

B741

Dailly 1

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP06.jpg (27341 bytes)

7

minor/minor

NX289957

OS76

Milton Fm.

9/92

A

Crosshill 11

Maybole 14

Newton-Stewart 24

Finial: spherical boss

Base: Grangemouth Ironworks

FP07.jpg (24536 bytes)

8

A77/minor

NS246077

OS70/76

nr. Kirkoswald

4/97

A

Maybole 4

Ayr 13

Finial: spherical boss

Base: base buried

FP08.jpg (68569 bytes)

B

Killkerran 6 (sic)

Dailly 6

C

replacement

Kirkoswald

Girvan 8

9

A714/minor

NX203921

OS76

nr. Pinmore Fm.

4/97

A

Tormitchell 2

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP09.jpg (83681 bytes)

10

A714/B7027

NX237820

OS76

Barrhill

4/97

A

A714

Newton Stewart
via Bargrennan 17

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP10.jpg (66388 bytes)

B

B7027

Newton Stewart
via Knowe 17

11

minor/minor

NS297045

OS76

 

4/97

A

Girvan 8

Finial: spherical boss

Base: lettering possibly as no.7, but too heavily overpainted to be sure

FP11.jpg (58835 bytes)

B

Maybole 4

Ayr 13

C

replacement

Kilkerran

Dailly 3/Crosshill 2

12

B741/minor

NS332054

OS70/76

Cloyntie Fm.

4/97

A

Crosshill 1

Finial missing

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP12.jpg (149759 bytes)

B

B741

Straiton 3

C

Newton Stewart Hill Road 30

D

B741

Girvan 11

13

B741/B7045

NS378050

OS77

Straiton

4/97

A

B741

New Dailly 8

Girvan 14

Finial missing

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP13.jpg (68500 bytes)

B

B7045

Kirkmichael 4

Ayr 14

C

broken

S[traiton]

Da[lmellington]

14

B7045/minor

NS341089

OS70/76

Kirkmichael

4/97

A

Patna 5

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP14.jpg (110474 bytes)

15

B730/minor

NS367342

OS70

Dundonald

8/93

A

B730

Tarbolton 6

Finial: Ayr County Council

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

FP15.jpg (16731 bytes)

B

Symington 2

16

A759/minor

NS328312

OS70

Troon

2/00

-

No fingers

Finial missing

Base: Royal Label Factory Stratford on Avon

 

 

D. McClure, February 2000

 

Notes on the table:

  1. The numbering in column 1 is arbitrary.
  2. Present road numbers are shown in column 2. These do not necessarily appear on the fingerposts - see column 7.
  3. The National Gird Reference and the appropriate Ordnance Survey Landranger Map(s) are shown in column 3.
  4. The entry in column 5 shows the month and year of the author's photographs of the fingerposts.
  5.  Individual fingers (sometimes called 'flags') on each post are designated A, B, etc.
  6. The destinations and distances shown on the fingers are shown in column 7. Where road number appears on a finger it is shown here. The unit of distance, which appears as either miles or mls, has been omitted. Where a replacement finger is indicated, this predates the present refurbishment exercise.
  7. Two types of finial are found. First a spherical boss without lettering; secondly a ring with embossed lettering, the text of which is shown in the table.
  8. In some cases there is embossed lettering on the base of the post, the text of which is shown in the table.

 

The origin of the fingerposts

From the embossed lettering on the base of a number of the posts, it appears that they were made by The Royal Label Factory, Stratford on Avon, which is still engaged in the manufacture of road signs in new premises in Chipping Norton. The RLF manufactured the fingers and not the posts, which were bought in by the company. Until finding one on Warwickshire a few years before 1994, the present manager of the company, Tony Froud, was unaware that any had ever been supplied with the company name stamped on the base. It is probable that although some of the posts bear other names, the fingers were manufactured by the RLF.

The company was founded in 1875 by John Smith, chiefly to manufacture "garden labels in a rustless alloy, the first to be produced by casting process with raised letters".1 They were at first known as "Stratford" labels, but from their use at Windsor and Balmoral, and Queen Victoria's pleasure at their legibility and permanence, the company was renamed The Royal Label Company.

There are two distinct styles of fingerpost in Ayrshire (see illustrations below). In the first case the post is topped by a spherical boss and the fingers have scalloped ends. In the second, the post is topped by an annular finial, bearing in all but one case the words "Ayr County Council", while the ends of the fingers are rounded; the exception is fingerpost number 5 - its finial is broken, leaving a piece bearing the word "District" (possibly "Carrick District of Roads"). Numbers 1, 3, 7, 8, and 11 are of type one, and the remainder are of type 2.

From correspondence with Tony Froud in 1994, the Type 2 fingers were probably manufactured in 1927. [But see Postscript 1 below].  Fingers of similar design appear in a photograph of the RLF stand at an exhibition that year. A memorandum on the standardisation of road direction posts issued by the Ministry of Transport in 1930, specifies that the fingers should have squared ends.2 Mr Froud thinks the Type 1 fingers are an earlier design, though only by a year or two. They predate any he has seen in England.

Both types of fingers were cast in spelter, the most common commercial form of zinc (though the term spelter is also used for a zinc alloy used as solder). They are extremely heavy: Type 1, 22Kg.; Type 2, 20Kg.

It is curious that 14 of the fingerposts surviving in Ayrshire are in Carrick. It might be supposed that they survived because there is less traffic there, and there were fewer road-widening schemes to displace them. But one of them, number 8, is on the busy trunk road A77, and two others, numbers 9 and 10, on the A714, while there are many quiet junctions in other parts of the county where they might have had a greater chance of survival.

One final point concerning the posts is the spelling of Minnyshant (no.1) and Killkerran (no.8). Did these variants reflect the deliberate use of older spellings, or clerical errors by those producing the lists to be sent to the RLF?

FP01.jpg (11058 bytes)2. Type I fingerpost number 1.

 

 

 

Pennyglen.jpg (42138 bytes)2a.  Type 1 fingerpost at Pennyglen, Ayrshire Post 16/3/1956 (p.3).  A poor copy from a poor microfilm.  The fingerpost and AA phonebox have gone, but the milestone remains and there is still a bench beside it.

 

The 1999-2000 refurbishment

This exercise, which was initiated by the Rural Affairs Committee of South Ayrshire Council, is part of a wider programme which includes the repainting of milestones, of which there are many in the district. Some work is outstanding, so the comments below may be overtaken by events.

All surviving fingers have been repainted. Apart from this, the present condition of the fingerposts is as follows:

No.1. No change.

No.2. No change.

No.3. Finger A ("Ayr 9 miles") survives.
Finger B had been lost and has been replaced.
Finger C was absent at the time of the author's survey and has been replaced.

No.4. No change.

No.5 The fragment of finial bearing the word "District" has been lost.
Otherwise no change.

No.6. There was only one finger at the time of the author's survey.
Finger B has been added ("Kilkerran; Crosshill 2 miles").

FP06.jpg (27341 bytes)3. Type 2 fingerpost no.6, October 1994.

 

 

 

No.7. There was only one finger at the time of the author's survey.
Two fingers have been added:
Finger B: "Barr 1 miles"; Finger C: "Dailly 6 miles".

No.8. Finger A had been lost and has been replaced.
Finger B had been damaged and has been replaced, though now the text is "Kilkerran" (previously "Killkerran 6 miles; Dailly 6 miles").

No.9. The only finger, "Tormitchell 2", was repainted under the refurbishment programme. Unfortunately the post has recently been struck by a vehicle, resulting in damage to the finger and to the top of the post. A replacement has been made and will be fitted shortly. The original was type 2, but the replacement is similar to type 1.

No.10. No change.

No.11. No change.

No.12. No change.

No.13. The broken finger C has been replaced in approximately the same style (type 2) except that it has squared corners.

No.14. Finger A was found to be damaged and has been replaced. It was type 2 but the replacement is similar to type 1. Two new fingers have been fitted, again similar to type 1. B: "Ayr 11 miles"; C: "Straiton 4 miles".

No.15. No change.

No.16. No change.

FP03new.jpg (20621 bytes)4. The refurbished fingerpost no.3, showing two new fingers similar in style to type 1.

 

 

Manufacturing the replacement fingers.

The work of making replacement fingers for the posts has been undertaken by David Ogilvie Engineering Ltd. of Kilmarnock, under contract to South Ayrshire Council. David Ogilvie took a close interest in the job, and a great deal of care was taken to produce work in the style of the originals.

It was impracticable to have new fingers cast with the heavily embossed lettering found in the old ones. Instead the effect was recreated by cutting new fingers from mild steel and spot-welding in place individual letters and hands, plasma cut by Nichol McKay, Prestwick Airport. The fingers were then galvanised and painted.

If illustrations (2) and (4) are compared, it will be seen that the new fingers are certainly different from the old, but that they are sufficiently similar to pass for contemporary work of a somewhat higher quality than the originals.

In conclusion, South Ayrshire Council must be complimented for undertaking the refurbishment of these old fingerposts. One small plea might be entered: if the necessity arises to replace any more of the old fingers, let type 1 fingers be replaced in the style of type 1, and type 2 in the style of type 2, and the text of the originals be retained. "Patna 5" has already become "Patna 5" (fingerpost no.14); let us retain "Crosshill 11; Maybole 14; Newton-Stewart 24" (no.7) as a reminder of an age when the precision of such distances mattered.

David McClure

This article was first published in Ayrshire Notes No. 18 (2000).

1. A Brief Historical Sketch of the Royal Label Factory (April 1949). Photocopies of part of this publication were supplied to me by the library of The Shakespeare's Birthplace Trust, labelled with the following: "Records Office, Class P.87.3 ROY, Acc. No. 4903".

2. Ministry of Transport; Memorandum No.291 (Roads), 14th April 1930.

Sources

Information on the Royal Label Factory was provided by Miss C. James, Information Officer, Warwickshire County Council Department of Libraries and Heritage; by Robert Bearman, Senior Archivist, The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust; and by A. A. Froud, Manager, The Royal Label Factory, Chipping Norton, Oxon. Stewart Hands of the Devon Roads Museum provided photographs of annular finials and gave me a contact at East Lothian. B. Aspinall, Transportation Development Manager, East Lothian Council, provided information on the council's policy on 'Rural Fingerpost Signing'. Stuart Hamilton at the Charlotte Street, Ayr offices of South Ayrshire Council talked to me about the present refurbishment programme for fingerposts and milestones. David Ogilvie of David Ogilvie Engineering Ltd., Kilmarnock, gave me a tour of his works and showed me work in progress on new fingers for Ayrshire fingerposts.

Postscript 1:  Minutes of Carrick District Committee

The following entries from the minute books of the Carrick District Committee were transcribed by Rob Close.  The minute books are in Ayrshire Archives.

CO3/12/2/7, minute book 1919-1921, no entries related to fingerposts (or direction posts).
CO3/12/2/8, minute book 1922-1924:

6/11/1922 (p.99):  Road Surveyor J M McGregor 's Report dated 25/10/1922.  "Direction Posts would also be of considerable assistance to travellers at the following points:-  Hogg's Corner near Cassillis Station, Turnberry at junction of Maidens Road, Crosshill Village, Kilkerran south of the station, Redburn at junction of Corseclays Road, and Barrhill at junction of Duisk and Corwar Roads.  Several of these position may seem unnecessary to regular users of these various roads but to outsiders they are very necessary."  The report was adopted, but with regard to additional 'direction posts', posts at junctions at Rowanstone, Ballochbroe and below Kilkerran Station added to list.  "It was resolved to remit to the Finance Sub Committee to erect the posts gradually - the expenditure in any one year not to exceed 30."

7/5/1923 (p.151):  Road Surveyor's Report, dated 25/4/1923.  "Several direction posts and danger signals are now to hand and shall be erected during the month."

1/6/1923 (p.165) (Sub Committee on Finance):  Agreed to erect direction post at Seabank, Maidens, and to improve the corner there.

3/11/1924 (p.335):  Road Surveyor's Report, dated 23/10/1924:  "I have been in communication with the Scottish Secretary of the Automobile Association re the posting of direction notices throughout the Carrick district, and expect to meet him next week.  He has suggested that the Association provide all the direction arms free of cost if the District Committee provide the posts and do the erection."

CO3/12/2/9, minute book 1925-1927:

4/1/1926 (p.122):  "Mr Lambie [John C Lambie, Ballantrae] pointed out that there was great need for the erection of direction posts at the junction of the Corseclays Road with the Shore Road at Redburn, Ballantrae, and also at the junction of the Glenapp Castle road with the main road from Ballantrae to Stranraer, and the Road Surveyor was instructed to have posts erected."

There were no other relevant entries in these three minute books.

Postscript 2:  The Old Toll House on the Moors (at Howrat)

HowratToll.jpg (86650 bytes)

The sketch above is taken from the book by J. Thomson Gunn, The Spell and the Glory of Largs (n. d.), p.15.  It shows Howrat Toll on the old turnpike road from Largs by Haillie to Dalry and Kilbirnie.  The Howrat tollbar is marked on Aitken's map of 1829, and was located at National Grid Reference NS 283544.  The sketch depicts a type 1 fingerpost at the junction.

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