North Wales and beyond.
For the inquisitive cyclist, our British countryside is overflowing with a wealth of clues to our history and heritage. In addition to our rich flora and fauna, each town and hamlet bears witness to lifestyles long since past.
Consider the situation in the late 19th century, when the majority of country roads in this country were composed of unbound stone surfaces and presented a considerable hazard to the emerging breed of cyclists on their high centre of gravity machines with primitive braking systems. Sign posting was haphazard and consisted of milestones and finger posts found only on the busiest highways. Disaster awaited the unwary cyclist if a steep hill was encountered in unfamiliar territory.
CTC ‘Danger’ boards
Faced with these conditions, J George Jnr wrote to the newly formed Bicycle Touring Club in 1878 on the need for signs to warn cyclists of hazardous conditions ahead. It was later through the efforts of the Earl of Albemarle, who became President of the National Cyclists’ Union (NCU), that a start was made in erecting a definitive system of warning boards. A rare example may be found at North Rode, Congleton, Cheshire.
In 1883 the Cyclists’ Touring Club (CTC) agreed to share the cost equally with the NCU of purchasing a stock of Danger boards. These remained the common property of both bodies, with local enthusiasts assuming responsibility for their erection and maintenance. The boards read ‘To Cyclists this hill is Dangerous. National Cyclists’ Union, Cyclists’ Touring Club’. Rare examples still exist.
Ten years later the NCU found itself unable to meet its share of the costs, so that in 1894 CTC assumed full responsibility and all new signs thereafter bore only the subtitle ‘Cyclists’ Touring Club’
These signs were originally white lettering on a red background. In 1897, on less severe hills, boards with ‘To Cyclists ride with Caution – Cyclists’ Touring Club’ were brought into use and had black letters on a yellow background. Other forms of danger signs were later proposed but never saw the light of day.
In 1902 smaller stamped steel plate signs were introduced. They were of two kinds: ‘Danger – Cyclists’ Touring Club’ (White letter on a red ground) and ‘Caution – Cyclists’ Touring Club’ (white letters on blue ground). Examples were to be seen at Dial on the Cape Wrath road, and in Richmond Park, Surrey. The latter still exists and local CTC guidance has recently been sought on its original colouring. The writer also has a transparency of a badly corroded one near Tremadoc in the 50s – he wonders what happened to that one. A survey in 1902 revealed that 2,331 Danger and 1,989 Caution boards were in existence.
County Responsible for Signs -1903.
With the Motor Car Act of 1903 the demanding work of erecting warning notices was transferred to county councils, but completion of this process did not take place until 1909. Even after that time applications were being received from local officials for new signs, replacements, or repair. New standard road signs were introduced with the Road Traffic Act of 1930; the CTC still provided a few new style signs with an inlaid club badge below a warning triangle.
Erected throughout the country during the 1930s One such sign was at Tattle Bank, Claverton, Warwickshire, and was replaced with a modern triangular sign. CTC member Bob Kemp of Coventry recovered one from a local corporation tip. Another ingenious move was made by some Lothian DA members who replaced a rusted ‘Caution’ board with a facsimile in aluminium. This may be seen on the south side of Holyrood Park, Edinburgh.
In 1956 the CTC did not contest the removal of its name from the list of organisations permitted to erect road signs. In 1981 the concession was restored, since when new signs have been used on several occasions. Permission has been gained to erect a sign at London’s Albert Gate crossing.
Entering into agreement with hotel proprietors for fixed and moderate charges was not one of the CTC’s original objectives, but was suggested in Stanley Cotterell’s letter of August 1878 to those signifying their intention to join the Club. It was a great attraction to join the club as no list existed of recommended hostelries.
By the issue of the Monthly Circular of February 1879, it had been decided to list what were termed ‘headquarters hotels’ in important towns in ‘England and elsewhere’. Within two years 785 hotels were under contract with set tariffs such as bed (two shillings) and breakfast with eggs (one shilling and sixpence); some even provided special day rooms for the exclusive use of Club members. Indeed some private signs were erected, some of which were misleading. Until the CTC became incorporated in 1887 little could be done to stop this infringement of the Club uniform and badge.
Probably the most elaborate private sign, shown in the book ‘The Romance of the Cyclists’ Touring Club’, was at the King’s Head, Kirkby Stephen, Cumbria. It is believed this was possibly lost in the 1930s.
Cast Iron signs
In 1883 large iron signs based on the club’s winged wheel badge were first issued. These were supplied on payment of a deposit and therefore remained the property of the Club. In 1889 two distinct classes were introduced: ‘Headquarters’, and at more moderate charges, ‘Quarters’. Signs were supplied with these descriptions added above the badge. Repairers’ signs were also issued. There is a register of these being compiled by Keith Mathews on http://www.wingedwheels.info/
In 1895, because of the disapproval of some proprietors, discrimination between caterers was abolished but was not completely removed until 1899, when existing contracts expired. New signs were issued without the type of establishment being marked.
Between the World Wars.
Between the two World Wars 20” square embossed CTC plate signs were provided. Interestingly, during this period, which saw the growth in importance of the motorcar, motoring organisations also began to install road signs. Indeed in the 1920s the Royal Scottish Automobile Club erected signs, made of wood for economy, which aimed to remind motorists to warn of their approach. It comprised the word TOOT, cut out from a board, and reading the same from either side. This meant that only one sign was necessary for each location. But unlike CTC signs, few, if any of these, are likely to have survived – certainly none exposed to weathering..
After the Second World War, CTC continued to use enamel signs. Self-adhesive plastic signs for windows began to be introduced, however; but as late as the 1970s a 16” diameter circular enameled metal sign was still replacing the square one.
In later years the official CTC logo has changed, although such is the affection for the old ‘Winged Wheels’, it continues to be used in special circumstances. The original cast iron signs were made to last, but surely there can be few towns or villages where two original cast iron signs may be seen a few paces apart, as is the case at Rhuddlan, Denbighshire. Here you will see one on the New Inn, and across the road the former Mariner Inn, now a private residence. The latter has been skewed at some time, but realigning would risk doing irreparable damage. Each sign is over a century old.
Below you will see examples of both past and present cycling signage. News of any omitted North Wales sightings would be warmly welcomed, For a list of signs UK wide visit the CTC Winged Wheel website
Roy Spilsbury. February 2016
The author gratefully acknowledges source material which includes an article by the late Karl Briggs, published in the former CTC journal ‘Cycletouring’ in June/July 1983.