A local story about the Cley Nature Reserve runs that when it was established in 1926 the Trustees put up a board telling people to keep out. Overnight it vanished, never to be replaced. Some eighty years later the notice was found undamaged at the back of a shed where it had been hidden by a disgruntled villager.
Notices arouse feeling. Ever since I learned to read my eyes have been drawn to any text that’s left lying about. And so much is out there lurking for our attention or set up to keep us in order. How do you react to the notices that abound in public places? Do you regard them with interest, disdain, irritation, gratitude, indifference, amusement, respect or even as a challenge? If you reflect on it they are highly diverse in character, style and intentions. There’s quite a study to be made. Wheel in the anthropologists!
The quirky ones, that might arise in places where a notice warning you to ‘Beware of the Bull’ appears on the gate to a field full of sheep, quite often get brought to the public’s attention. My favourite, seen on a Cornish beach, said ‘No sleeping in parked cars during the hours of darkness’. That came close to poetry. Locally, an open-air café advises patrons against ‘walking on sleepers which are slippery when wet’. Then on one Northumbrian beach an isolated pole carried the bold injunction ‘No worm digging’. Who says? And why?
Raising those questions takes us beyond humour into issues about the way authority is exercised in our society by leaving bits of language standing about. And what do you make of ‘Planning Notices‘?
The National Trust is punctilious about putting up notices to explain why particular work is being undertaken in the grounds of their properties. They accept the need to be accountable to the public for their actions, it’s implied in the concept of trust. Recently they have also started putting up notices encouraging people to do things: ‘Keep on the grass’; ‘ Photographs taken from this spot look fantastic’. Surely that represents a cultural breakthrough. Keep an eye open for them.
Apart from memorials among the most durable forms of notice appeared as advertisements, not on bill-boards but as enamelled sheets. You’ll find them on the North Norfolk Railway stations, e.g. ’Brasso’ at Weybourne. On the corner as you turn into Wells-next-the-Sea a private house displays a wall full of formerly well-known brands. They must be a century old, still bearing up well in all weathers though the products they refer to have now vanished from commerce..
Norwich, of course, is a fine place for notice noticing. Particularly elegant are the circular blue plaques attached to buildings of historic interest of which there are so many (see our Story Icon Image example). A good place to look is in the area known as The Lanes.
There is one type of signage which we see so often that it‘s easy to take for granted, namely road signs. In the early 1950s as motoring was beginning to expand in the UK road signs were an inconsistent muddle. The graphic designer Jock Kinneir (d. 1994) assisted by Margaret Calvert was commissioned to provide a signage system for the new Preston motorway which came into use in 1958. Their work was then extended to cover roads across the country with clear, consistent and above all readable signs. . Not only does their system continue in current use but it has been copied in other countries; that’s some achievement, an understated classic.
Finally, one public statement set in stone that has lasted 400 years is what forms the parapet across the front of Felbrigg Hall: Gloria Deo In Excelsis.
Story submitted by Holt resident Bob Ward.