By David Viner
Cirencester has a fascinating series of street names, each one with a story attached, and our Snapshots series will be examining them in more detail soon. There is also strong interest in street signage, the signs themselves, which come in various shapes and sizes, some modern (and very recent) but others of considerable historic interest. This article looks in particular at these earlier signs, in their distinctive blue-and-white livery, design and materials – all indicators of age.
By modern size requirements, these enamelled signs are small, only sixteen inches long and eight inches deep, and they were always positioned some ten to twelve feet above pavement level, fixed to various buildings at road junctions and street corners around the town, stretching from Barton Lane in the north right down to Queen Street in Watermoor in the south. There are nine surviving and still in position, and they represent what’s left of a much larger batch of signs which the town’s local authority of the day determined should be provided at a time when the town had been growing fast.
Although the archival proof remains elusive so far, it seems pretty clear that these signs belong to the period between 1894, when Cirencester Urban District Council began its life, and 1897/8 when old photos show signs in place just before the widening of Castle Steet began. That would make sense, as the Council needed signs for the many new streets springing up, as well as providing permanent signage in its historic streets, perhaps for the first time.
The supplier, as recorded and still visible by the firm’s logo on the majority of plates, was Garnier & Co of London, a company originating in France in the mid-19th century but also established in London from the 1870s/80s. It was long-lived; a company under this name was still manufacturing signs in north London into the 1990s. Specifically related to the specialist role of manufacturing vitreous enamelled steel signs of this type, their process produced a hard, long-lasting finish. The key date-ranges seem to be from 1890 onwards when the ‘Garnier Enamelled Letter and Advertising Sign Co’ was set up, becoming Garnier & Co in 1923. So it all fits.
One sadness is that no less than a dozen of this same set of signs from a single collection, although thankfully rescued from destruction decades ago when being removed and replaced around the town, were not then saved for the town when they came up for auction locally back in 2007. This was truly an opportunity missed, and they are understood to be no longer in the town. However, two others when replaced by the council at the ‘top o’ town’ in another long-ago renewal were not lost and are preserved in the Corinium Museum collections.
But by far the most significant however are the group of surviving signs which are well worthy of preservation as intriguing heritage assets still in place, and as such they are being registered in the Cirencester Neighbourhood Plan, currently in preparation.
Meanwhile, enjoy seeking them out and spotting them all, as there are no further clues as to location given here! It’s all part of the fun of looking afresh at our streetscape, taking the opportunity and (with care) looking up above ground-floor level. One big clue is that they always appear close to the corner of a building and at a junction. It’s fair to say that these nine signs surviving in eight locations are still doing their job and can be spotted with not too much detective work during enjoyable wanderings around our town.
By David Viner: firstname.lastname@example.org
Cirencester Archaeological & Historical Society
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