Road signs are some of the most ubiquitious and prominent features in the English landscape.  The signs we now use, designed by Kinneir and Calvert, were adopted on the 1 January 1965 following a Parliamentary enquiry (the Warboys Committee) which sat to consider the issue of signage and produced the 1964 Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions.  Kinneir and Calvert were responsible for designing a new, easy-to-read font, known as Transport, and the now iconic pictograms (many derived from Calvert’s own life).  The modern motorway sign, featuring a twin carriage way running under an overarching bridge dates from this period.  Its introduction meant that the original motorway sign, which featured on the signage for Britain’s earliest motorways, was consigned to history and long forgotten.

Original motorway sign

Equally simple in its design, this was known in the vernacular as ‘the tuning fork in a circle’.  Here the white twin carriageways, lacking perspective, were used to form a letter ‘M’ in negative.  It is a pleasure to bring the old sign back to life.

Once on the motorway, early drivers were faced by a new set of signs, particularly those relating to junctions.  The design rationale behind the new signs was laid out in The Motor in 1958:

‘The motorway is engineered for 70 m.p.h. cruising speeds and road signs meet this requirement too.  Before the junction, motorists receive three warnings: one mile in advance, the departing road number on the sign 8 ft high with 1 ft lettering; more detail [place-names] at half a mile on a 20 ft-high board; and the final warning (15 ft 6 in high) by which time the vehicle should be entering the deceleration lane.’

The Motor 144 no. 2958 (3 Dec. 1958), p. 689-91.


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