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Fingerposts: Dorset Icons

Refurbished fingerpost in Farnham taken by Gail Sadd Refurbished fingerpost in Farnham taken by Gail Sadd

5th October 2021

One iconic image that is unique to Dorset are its fingerposts, the old road signs featuring a white or occasionally red metal roundel or finial.

They are a common feature of the Dorset countryside, and are a legacy of the early road system. In 1773 the General Turnpike Act made it mandatory for trustees to put up signs informing the traveller of the distance to the closest town. The four red fingerposts are a source of some debate. Were they the locations of gibbets? The Red Post fingerpost on the A31 was more likely painted red to help prison guards find the local lock-up at the nearby Botany Bay Farm, when accompanying prisoners marching from the Dorchester assizes to the ships at Portsmouth which would convey them to Australia.

Of the 1300 or so fingerposts thought to exist in the 1950s, less than half survive today. Many were lost in WWII as they were removed in 1940 to deny guidance to an invading army, and not replaced. Some of the originals have been repaired using non-traditional materials or lettering, and others are in need of attention. Now the Local Authority no longer has a remit to repair them, both the Dorset Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) and Dorset CPRE are keen to support local ‘Fingerpost Champions’ to save these signs from extinction and restore them back to their former glory. Hundreds of signs are being renewed by community groups, and individuals.

Roger Bond (Normtec) co-ordinates the Dorset AONB Fingerpost restoration project, working from his home workshop. Normtec are restoring existing lettering and numbers to their former glory whilst Coles Castings provide new stock ready for painting. If cost is an issue then Dorset AONB are delighted to offer the services of the Dorchester and Blandford Mens’ Sheds, and HMP Guys Marsh and Youth Offenders Institute on Portland.

Dorset CPRE offer a small grants scheme for people wanting to restore fingerposts using the correct materials as set out by the Dorset AONB. Match funding is not required and there is no application form, but the CPRE ask that requests come from a Parish Council representative (or similar), with a summary of the fingerposts that need repairing, their location(s) and details of who the cheque needs to be made payable to or bank accounts details for online payments. Dorset CPRE are covering all of Dorset, and are prepared to award up to £200 per post. Currently we have spent £15,352 on grants for 105 fingerposts with a further 16 that have been approved but not paid for with many in North and West Dorset. These include Melbury Abbas, Winterborne Stickland, East Stour, Yetminster, Mappowder and Broadwindsor to name a few. To find out more contact us. It is so important that we preserve these Dorset icons!

Rupert Hardy, Chairman, North Dorset CPRE


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