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Old Road Signs in the UK

Pictures and information on the older-style roadsigns & traffic lights used in the UK

old sign in Whitchurch
old sign in Whitchurch for the A525
old roadside milepost
old finger sign in Cheshire
Before the flat signs with vinyl lettering that appear on our roads today came along, the signposts that were used were of much sturdier and interesting appearance.


In the early days of motoring, many road signs were erected by the AA and RAC, although a great number were pulled down during the second world war, the idea being that invading forces would have their advances seriously disrupted by the lack of roadsigns.

The old black and white signs, of the type that can be seen in any movie from the 1950s showing roadside scenes, were usually a cast iron affair, with raised lettering. Pre-war types also had small circular reflectors incorporated within their lettering.

Many of the old style finger post signs (such as that shown on the left of this page), can still be found, usually in rural areas across the UK. Some are looked after by people who live close by, whereas others remain unloved, corroding, and often missing their direction signs with just the central post remaining.

Roadside milestones can still be found too, their styles varying as you travel across the country. The one shown here has been stripped and restored, essential for its long term survival. Being so close to the road, these and all other rare signs and road markers really suffer thanks to passing traffic, and road spray. When salt is mixed in to the road spray during the winter, the corrosion problem is exacerbated. If there is an unusual roadside sign near where you live or work, keep an eye on it and splash a bucket of water over it if it becomes caked in salty sludge or mud. They are made of sturdy cast iron, but will not last forever if neglected for too long.

Many people collect road signs (it is illegal to remove them yourself from the side of the road, this includes milestones!!). Those that have been collected have usually been replaced by more modern types, the old ones either being scrapped or making their way out into preservation. As well as road signs, many other forms of road furniture are eagerly collected by enthusiastic collectors. Some people specialise in sourcing village name signs, others look for local authority signs, and those with a large garden (and understanding 'other half' !!) might seek to preserve old-style traffic lights and lamps.
old road signs   old road signs
old road signs   old road signs
old road signs   Shown here are some examples of roadsigns that could often be seen in 1950s Britain. The top pair of images initially look to be the same, however one is from 1953 and the other from 1955. Slight differences will be noted between the two, primarily the change to the Schools sign. Gone is the flaming torch, and in its place is the more appropriate image of two children walking to school.

By 1955 the Signals Ahead street sign has also been updated, and now comes in glorious technicolour.

Neither publication from the 50s mentions the motorway system, that would rise into prominence at the end of that decade and into the 1960s as the M6 and M1 set the ball rolling.

I'd like to feature photographs of surviving period signs such as these, so please email them over if you can. Below are links to some websites that provide in-depth detail on this subject:

More old road sign pics at cbrd.co.uk
My Crazy Hobby (USA)
Traffic Signal Museum (USA)
SignalFan.com (USA)
Old signs in California (USA)
Milestone Society
Milestonesweb
New signs - Highway Code site

Added April 2007.
Thanks to Ray, who sent in these photographs from the Isle of Wight. Are these the oldest traffic lights still in use??
traffic light on the Isle of Wight
old traffic lights
road sign

Added December 2007.
Ray has been busy with his camera again, photographing this amazing road sign in Bury St Edmunds, which it is believed dates to the 1930s, and has a look of a lighthouse about it!!
Unusual road sign in Suffolk
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