The Changing Face of ScotWays Signs

A pre-1950 sign. White text on a black background.

There’s an awful lot more regulation surrounding signposting today than there was when ScotWays first started installing signs back in 1885.  Back then the most recent signposting guidance was dated 1835!  Our signs are more correctly known as direction signs as they direct you where to go and it would be 1920 before any real guidance came out about how they should be designed.

Our first signs were rectangular cast iron plates with red letters on a dark background affixed to posts that were often of the wooden telegraph pole type.  The 1920 recommendation was for a fingerpost style with black lettering on a white finger.  Whilst there are examples of this type of sign being used for paths across Scotland, it wasn’t a design that ScotWays took on board.

1922 style local authority footpath sign.

Until the late 1940s, ScotWays signs remained as cast metal rectangle plates with either convex or concave corners with white text on a black background.  Some were still fastened to telegraph posts, but it was becoming more normal for them to be attached to metal T or I beams.  There were some occasional wooden signs but for the majority they were metal.

1944 marked a key change for rights of way signs across the UK.  A review of signposting led by Henry Maybury felt that there should be a clear distinction between direction signs for routes for cars and those for pedestrians or horses.  Both signs would be of the fingerpost design, but those for pedestrians and horses would be white lettering on a green background and the first line would be “Public Footpath” or “Public Bridleway”.

A 1950 design complete with finial.

ScotWays felt that the term “public footpath/bridleway” was not appropriate to Scotland where the legislation surrounding rights of way was very different to south of the Border.  The Ministry of Transport, whilst sympathetic did not agree and ScotWays had to adopt the new footpath sign design standard.  From that moment on all ScotWays signs were fingerposts of white letters on a green background.

Initially, the regulations said signs could only have two lines of text and no distances.  Later distances in miles were required and during the 1950s three lines of text or more could be used.

The ever increasing motor traffic with its faster speeds and the arrival of motorways showed the inadequacy of the sign systems of the time so committees were formed to review and improve the designs.  The changes were radical with major alterations to not just the warning signs, but direction signs too including the humble footpath signs.  One thing that did remain consistent was the colouring, white text on a green background.

The new regulations were called the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Direction a name that remains today and is the present design standard for all roads signs and ScotWays signs, rights of way fall under the definition of a road in the Roads (Scotland) Act 1984.

A 1964 design sign. This is design remains in use to this day.

During the 1970s there was a hiccup in the regulations.  For some reason, footpath/right of way signs disappeared from the regulations something that would not be corrected for 19 years.  During their absence, ScotWays continued to use the old design, but other people used different styles and materials.  Routed wooden fingers were common as were different colours.  When the signs returned to the regulations in 1994 they reflected what had happened in their period of absentia by being much more liberal in the type of colours and wording that could be used and even introduced icons of walking men and horses to make it easier to understand what the sign meant.

ScotWays signs still follow the designs of the TSRGD and we have even embraced dual language, English and Gaelic signs, but one thing that remains unchanged is that the majority of our signs use the white and green colour scheme first created over 60 years ago.

A modern dual-language sign.

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