The section on Public Toilets has been moved to App 1 - Water Supply, Sewage Treatment & Household Waste Collection, bus stops are covered in App 1 - Public Service Vehicles - Buses, Trams and Taxis and street lighting is covered in App 1 - Domestic and street lighting systems
The origins of driving on the left date back to the Early Medieval era, when it appears to have been the norm throughout Europe (see also Chariotry and the road systems in the Celtic World a web page by Raimund Karl at the Centre for Advanced Welsh and Celtic Studies, Aberystwyth). Apparently there were too many fights breaking out as the local warriors passed each other on their chariots, the idea of the drive on the left rule was to always present your vulnerable side (opposite to your shield) to a chariot heading the other way to avoid appearing threatening.
A horse is always mounted from the left side and this meant in Britain that you were standing on the pavement when in town but in the ditch when in the country. Driving on the left and the delineation of the road with 'off-side' and 'near-side' was enshrined in a Scottish law of 1772. The Highways Act 1835 required drivers of vehicles to pull in to the 'near side' when approaching or being overtaken by another vehicle. Eighty years later motorists were complaining about the habit of horse drawn and motor delivery lorries to roll down the middle of the road. In Italy however the law stated that in town you drove on the left whilst in the country you drove on the right, this law was only changed in 1923.
With the growth of motor transport wooden posts were set up on the corners of unlit country roads, painted white or (more commonly) in black and white horizontal stripes (these are discussed below), but the increasing use of tarred macadam road surfaces made it possible to add markings in white (concrete based) paint on the road surface.
More important (but still unlit) country roads were marked down the centre with dashed white lines after about 1925 to assist people driving at night. These painted road markings were confined to the major roads in towns until the later 1930s, there was still a lot of horse drawn transport and horses prefer to walk down the centre of the road. Street lighting made a major difference to night driving and in the early years of the 21st century there were still some suburban and country roads in Cheshire with no white line down the middle.
Cats eyes were first introduced in 1936, on a British N model these can be represented using 0.5mm lengths cut from a strip of 10x20 thou plastic strip. The double white lines indicating you are not allowed to cross the line even when overtaking were introduced in 1957, originally in the London area. The yellow cross hatch markings at junctions first appeared in London in 1964.
Parking meters appeared on British streets in the early 1960s, the standard spacing for these was 20ft (about 6m). To keep an eye on people using them 'traffic wardens' were introduced, initially operated as a branch of the police these changed to local authority control in the first years of the 21st century.
Fig ___ Parking meter and traffic wardens
Yellow 'no waiting' markings (in the form of single or double yellow lines on the side of the roads) appeared in London in 1958 along with the first trial parking meters (parking meters had been invented in America in 1933). Where parking meters are installed a single yellow line is used. Traffic wardens appeared in London in 1958 to patrol the parking meters. As the meters were adopted by other cities traffic warden forces were set up to patrol them, this was not a rapid process however, it was 1961 before they reached Manchester.
The 'speed cameras' beside the roads were introduced in 1992, these consist of a yellow box about two feet wide, eighteen inches high by a foot thick with a black rectangle in the upper right corner facing the traffic (this is the lens of the camera). They are accompanied by white markings on the road surface, the camera takes two photographs and the position with regard to the white markings indicate how fast the car or lorry was traveling.
Plain lines are usually painted with a simple machine, originally a man walked along with the machine, by the 1980s the machine was mounted on the rear of a lorry. Lettering is more difficult, the traditional approach of drawing the lettering out with chalk (usually yellow for some reason) and filling this in with paint remains in use in the early 21st century. This is not foolproof however, the photo below was taken on a motoring holiday in the 1950s, the entrance to a car park has been partly re-surfaced (necessitating the re-painting of the 'KEEP CLEAR' sign), the workman has very carefully drawn the letting with chalk and was part way through painting in the lettering when he noticed his mistake. The advantage of this scene from a modelling perspective is that everything has stopped whilst they work out what they are going to do.
Fig___ Markings at a car park exit
Roadside Sign posts and Street Names
British roads were not well sign posted, the Romans had installed mile stones beside their roads indicating the distance to the next settlement and a law of 1697 made provision for erecting 'guide posts' at junctions of the 'London 6 miles' variety. The Turnpike Act of 1773 established a network of toll roads in Britain (the tolls being used to pay for maintenance) and these were required to have both milestones and guidepost signs on them (the milestones were originally made of stone but later changed to of cast iron and painted white).
The turnpikes fell from favour and began to wind themselves up in the early nineteenth century and in 1889 the County Councils were given responsibility for road maintenance. They took pride in this responsibility and erected cast iron sign posts, usually painted black and white, replacing the haphazard system of wooden 'guide posts' erected following the 1697 statute. In 1921 the government issued guidelines on the design of these signs (technically 'finger posts' but sometimes called guide posts) as part of their drive to build up a strategic road network. This laid down that the arms of the post were to be painted white and the lettering was to be three inches (7.5cm) high in black. One common feature of these cast iron signs was a circular plate or ring on the top carrying the council's name. Not all councils used the circle, Somerset County Council adopted a flat pyramid on the top with the letters S C C cast into each face and there may have been other designs. I believe most top marks were circular but it would be best to try and find a signpost or photograph of same in the intended area of the model just to confirm this point. These signposts are often not very tall, some examples (particularly those sitting on a grass 'island' at junctions) were sometimes no more than six feet tall, those mounted on pavements were taller, the actual arms being something over six feet high to allow people to pass safely underneath.
In 1919 the new 'Roads Board' set about classifying the roads, dividing them into three types based on the weight of traffic they would be expected to carry. 'A' roads are main roads, 'B' roads are minor roads and 'C' roads are local roads (sometimes called 'unclassified' roads). The country is divided up into nine zones by the first nine A roads, 1-6 radiating from London in England and 7-9 radiating from Edinburgh in Scotland. The purpose behind the numbering scheme had to do with financing maintenance but it was decided to publicise the numbers as an aid to navigation. The actual job of assigning numbers to all the roads took until 1926 and brought with it the problem of adding the road number to the existing signposts, usually achieved by bolting on a small extension to the arm. The 'A' road numbers were black on white and 'B' road numbers were white on black. Only A and B roads should have the number shown on the signs, 'C' roads are not supposed to me mentioned on signs but now and again a C road number is added to a sign in error. Not all signposts had the road numbers added. There are still a few of these old signs in place, the example shown below has been at a junction in my local village since the 1950s. One point to note is that Styal is a village consisting of half a dozen cottages, a pub, a post office and a railway station but it gets six inch high lettering. Manchester is a city and has the standard three inch lettering.
Fig___ Cast Iron Finger Posts
These old finger posts were progressively replaced from the mid 1960s by flat sheet metal signs (discussed below) however in 2006 I came across one of the original signs, with the B road plate still painted black, on a semi rural road in Cheshire. The example shown below was photographed in 2006 by Ian Mackay at a junction in Urmston near Manchester. Note the metal stay added to the sign, presumably when the road number plate was added. The ring carries the word Stretford, presumably referring to Stretford Urban District Council although the UDC is not cast onto the ring.
Fig___ Finger Post with added road number
Larger signs were set up at the approach to junctions, I am not sure when these appeared. These signs gave precedence to the road number, the local town names were sometimes omitted and were always in smaller lettering than the road number. These signs were again in cast metal with the lettering and markings raised slightly. On these signs the black on white colour scheme was used, early examples had the B roads marked in white on a black patch but at some point (I am not sure when, I believe it was post war) the B roads changed to black markings on a white background. The dashed black and white line at the top indicates that the road in question can be joined a short distance along the indicated route. At some point the background colour changed to yellow, I would guess this was in the early to mid 1960s but I could be completely wrong on that. The sketches below show typical signs of this type, there is an extensive collection at the Manchester Transport Museum (well worth a visit as the staff are knowledgeable)
Fig___ Cast metal junction signs
Warning signs for roads likely to be flooded after heavy rainfall were required by the 1773 Turnpike Act but these were rare in practice. Warning signs, mainly concerning steep hills, were erected in some numbers in the 1860's by a cyclists organisation called the `Bicycle Union'. These were mainly for the benefit of cyclists (who generally had no brakes at this time), early examples used only lettering but symbols were added after the First World War (I am told the symbol for a particularly steep hill was a black skull and crossbones on a white background).
In about 1900 an organisation called The Motor Union made cast metal signs available consisting of a red triangle and warning plates. These were used near schools, at the approaches to level crossings and the like. The Motor Union also produced a cast metal X shape, with 'The Motor Union' cast into one arm and 'concealed entrance' cast into the other, these were set up near cross roads or where a side road joined at a corner. These signs were purchased by local councils and by local branches of the Union (who got a reduced price) and mounted on a (locally sourced) metal or wooden post. The RAC also began offering warning signs, consisting of a red triangle on top of a post with a cast metal warning sign below.
In 1904 the government issued a series of guidelines on warning signs to bring the entire country under a common system. The signs were to be white with black markings and topped by a cast metal shape. Four top shapes were specified - a hollow white ring for speed limits, a solid red disk to indicate an order or prohibition and a hollow red triangle to indicate a caution and a red diamond for all other signs. The discs were to be eighteen inches in diameter (about 45cm) and the triangle was equilateral with 18 inch sides. The diamond shaped top marker seems to have been abandoned quite early on but this shape was retained for instruction plates. There are very few photographs of these signs, only a few hundred were ever set up, so the sketch below is somewhat provisional, the triangle was often seen with no notice on the post, the road user was supposed to pay attention and see why the sign had been set up. Examples of these old signs remained in place into the early 1930s, possibly later in remote areas.
Fig ___ British warning type road signs circa 1904
The use of top marks seems to have been inconsistent, the illustration below is an advertisement from 1934 which suggests the rectangular signs were used with no top marking and confirms that the red triangle and diamond shapes sometimes had no associated instruction plate.
Fig ___ Early 1930s warning signs
In the 1930s a glass reflector was developed, these were circular glass discs about half an inch or 1cm in diameter with facets on the front face. Invented by a chap called Murray they were marketed as 'Mur-Ray' and the first application was on small metal discs about five or six inches (14cm) in diameter with a ring of reflectors and one or more in the centre. These metal reflector discs were also widely used on black and white warning posts set up on the outside of sharp curves on unlit country roads. These were not altogether successful as there was usually a post or two knocked flat or missing. The wooden posts on corners were introduced in the 1930s and remained a common sight in country areas into the 1970s, even where street lighting had been added, but they had all gone by the mid 1980s.
Fig ___ Corner warning posts
The solid red disk had become a red ring by the mid 1930s, but the older solid style was still used on posts indicating the wrong end of a one way street and on posts carrying a black diamond shaped plate bearing instructions, usually prohibitions (such as no heavy lorries allowed). Incidentally the first one-way system was introduced at Hyde Park Corner, London, in 1926. The speed limit sign was later changed to a white disk with a red rim and with the numbers in black in the centre.
As with the 'finger posts' the traditional British signs were often mounted quite low down, the base of the triangle on many signs was no more than six feet above the ground. One thing that may surprise many people is how small the early road signs were, the cast metal plate was no more than a foot (30cm) wide.
By the 1930s there were some changes to the original 1904 designs, the red triangle indicating a warning and red ring indicating an instruction were retained but a new sign with a hollow red ring containing a hollow red triangle had been introduced indicating that the driver would soon have to come to a stop. In the early 1940s the reflectors described above were fitted to the shapes and lettering on some road signs they were quite widely applied to speed limit signs and along the line of the symbols on other signs but they are so small they can be ignored in N.
Fig ___ Examples of pre-1967 British road signs
The AA and RAC were still setting up signs, these were the same standard pattern but had the organisation crest added to the sign. This practice continued into the 1960s and in the early 21st century the AA and RAC were still providing signs for special events.
I remember 'no waiting' signs as being a red ring with a blue centre carrying white writing, the No Waiting instruction above the times to which it applied. I could not find an illustration of one of these but I did find a 1960s sign in an old side street. The sign, shown below left, was bolted directly to a wall in the narrow street. At the Manchester Transport Museum there is a preserved double-sided sign, shown below centre, the sign on the right was photographed at the entrance to the massive Trafford Park industrial estate in about 1960.
Fig ___ Old no waiting signs
In 1962 it was decided that signs on the new motorways should be blue with white markings and lower case lettering (with initial capitals) was adopted for the new motorways. A committee to look into the whole question of road signs was set up chaired by Sir Walter Worboys and in 1963 they delivered their report. The resulting legislation, passed in 1964, saw a shift to using symbols instead of words and the red triangle and circle became the shape of the plate itself rather than an additional item.
As I remember it the change was slow at first and a major change over to the new signs was arranged in 1967. At about this time some European and Scandinavian countries which had been driving on the left changed sides. There was some debate about this in Britain but in the event the British, Japanese, Australians and several other countries have continued to drive on the left.
Dual language signs in Wales appeared in the early 1970s, in the mid 1970s the 'mini roundabout' appeared and from the later 1970s the old circle and triangle 'stop' sign was replaced by the octagonal sign already used in Europe. Road humps (or sleeping policemen) appeared in the 1980s, along with their associated signs, and in the later 1980s the brown signs with white markings appeared directing people to local attractions. Some of the older signs remained in place into the later 1990s (there may well be one or two still out there today on the quieter roads).
For a lot more information on the British road network and the signs used on it see also Chris's British Road Directory, a superb site covering almost every aspect of the British road system.
Along with the new road signs the cast metal finger posts were replaced by a new design using enamelled sheet metal with angle metal strip supports mounted on a plain grey two inch diameter post. he old wooden corner warning posts were replaced by flat metal signs with vertical chevrons.
Fig ___ Examples of sheet metal British road signs
The flat metal finger post signs became increasingly common in the 1970s but by the end of the century the rules were relaxed, allowing the traditional cast finger posts to be reinstated. The new version are different however, in place of cast iron they use a form of steel, but they look like the old signs. The example shown has a 'metropolitan borough' legend on the top ring not the older county branding which identifies it as a modern replica.
Fig ___ Replica metal road sign on the A6
Signs indicating road names pre date the railways, at least in towns (in the country areas people knew the streets by their own local names). Street names were indicated in various ways ranging from names carved into stone blocks set into a wall to simple painted wooden boards. In some places, at various times, they have adopted the Continental practice of making enamelled ceramic tiles, a row of which is used to display the name (a few of these still survive in out of the way places). By the later 19th Century however there was a degree of standardisation with road names being produced as cast iron plates which could be bolted to a wall. In built up areas where there were no gardens these were usually positioned about ten feet up the side of a house, where the houses had substantial gardens they might be bolted to the railings or mounted on the wall beside the pavement. The standard cast iron street sign was painted white with the lettering and raised surround picked out in black. The lettering was quite small, typically about four inches high, additional signs such as cul de sac (indicating a dead end or no-through road) or unadopted (indicating that the local council was not prepared to maintain the road itself, 'unadopted' signs appeared in the 1920s, see also App-1 Roads and Roadworks) had lettering only about three inches high. In the more up-market areas the councils would sometimes add their own coat of arms to signs on the more important roads, the lettering on these signs being slightly larger, perhaps five inches tall. The example below left is from an 'unadopted' road in a typical residential street. Another phenomena was the changing of road names, noticeable in the later 19th century this continued into the early 20th. People moving into the growing suburbs felt that living on 'something road' was much more up market than 'something street' and 'something lane' was for unsophisticated country folk, so lanes and streets were renamed roads, often with that actual name changing as well. The example shown below right was found in Urmston near Manchester, as 'Lilly Street' was an established name the sign has 'late Lilly Street' cast into it, which must have annoyed the 'aspirational' types moving into the area.
Fig ___ Typical Victorian street name plaques
In country areas similar cast metal signs were sometimes posted on the corner of local roads that did not warrant a finger post, these would carry the old name of the road such as 'old meadow road' or 'brick kiln lane'.
In quieter residential areas the street names could be very small indeed, the example below top right is a plaque only some eight inches high. In towns the old cast iron signs began to be replaced by rather larger types from the later 1930s, by the 1950s a new standard was in use using a rather thinner metal plate, still with raised lettering but the letters were perhaps five inches tall. These new signs were generally mounted on the outside of a garden wall or on a precast concrete support or in a metal frame. The sign below top left is typical of the type but shows a more modern version introduced in the 1970s where the words Cul de sac have been replaced by the symbol for no through road. The two signs below are typical of the type in use from the later 1930s.
Fig ___ Typical small Victorian and post war sheet metal street name plaques
Something which is unlikely to matter to most modellers is the fact that street numbers traditionally have the lowest number at the end of the road nearest the associated 'sorting office' where the mail was sorted for delivery, in built up areas this was not always in the same building as the post office itself. This means that the postman, who has sorted his letters out at the sorting office prior to setting off, will have the letters in the right order for delivery along the road.
The use of numbers for houses was a French idea, introduced in Britain (originally in London) in 1764, but they remained unpopular and often unused until the mid 20th century. There are problems with house numbers, for one thing houses tend to get knocked down and rebuilt, not always with the same number of houses on the site. In the towns things were moderately stable and the solution adopted, where two smaller houses had been built on the site of a single larger building, was to add a letter to the house number (Sherlock Holmes lived at 221B Baker Street for example). Even so by the mid nineteenth century things had deteriorated to the point where several official reports did not use the house numbers on streets where the numbering had fallen into disarray.
From the mid 1830s to the later 1930s there was a consistent growth in the suburbs, firstly large detached homes for the wealthy, each of which was given a name, followed (from the 1860s) by semi-detached homes for the new managerial classes and terraced homes for the growing armies of clerks. Addresses that change unpredictably are a problem and the first solution (as well as all larger houses having a name) was to give a block of houses a name, then number the houses in that block. For example a short row of houses might be built beside a country lane, this might be called Georges Terrace and an address would look like '4 Georges Terrace, Meadow Lane, Sale, Cheshire'. Then when the next block of houses was built they would be given another name, perhaps Victoria Terrace, so the postman would be able to deliver to number 4 Victoria Terrace or number 4 Georges Terrace and the numbering would remain consistent. The name plates added to the blocks ranged from the highly ornamental to the starkly functional. Where the block contained shops and or offices it was common to use the name 'buildings', an example is shown below right.
Fig ___ Typical Victorian terraced house block name plaques
House numbers were never a very popular idea in Britain, particularly in country areas, there is a scene in the 1950s film the Titfield Thunderbolt where one of the villagers is complaining that the bureaucrats will soon make them have house numbers in place of names. However from the later 1930s most towns had more or less settled down and the sequential numbers were increasingly in use. The use of letters after the original number continues to this day, in 2005 an old house, number 52 on the road, was knocked down and replaced by four modern mini-homes which are now numbered 52A to D.
I think it was Italy that tried a system where the number of the house was the distance in metres of the front door from the end of the street, although less problematic this approach failed to catch on. In Venice the numbering system evolved into such complexity that the only practical solution was to employ Venetians as postmen, a tradition that remains to this day.
Bollards, Pedestrial Refuges and Cones
One of the oldest items of street furniture still in common use is the bollard erected beside a pavement to offer the pedestrian some protection from road traffic. These have been around segregating people from traffic since the late seventeenth century but they became common at the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. The cannon makers were worried that the captured French cannon would be used by the forces, putting them out of business. Headed by the Scottish firm Carron (after whom ships 'carronade' light guns were named) the gun makers made representations to parliament. The government appreciated that a healthy armaments industry was a national asset and agreed to destroy the French guns, in practice most ended up buried muzzle down beside the road to act as bollards.
When Richard Arkwright built his mill at Cromford he was concerned that it might be attacked and purchased cannon to protect the place, one of which ended up set into the road nearby as a bollard (still there today). This, and many of the more recent bollards are set with the 'barrel' pointing upwards with an iron ball set into the 'muzzle'. The cannon shaped bollard was replicated in cast iron for many years, often with a taper to the 'barrel' and incorporating a traditional spherical top piece. The sizes varied, those on traffic islands in towns took a lot of hammer and could be up to ten inches in diameter, thinner types were also used where heavy traffic was not expected, again mainly in cast iron, often quite decorative with fluting and rings moulded onto the basic pillar. Some were fitted with 'chain rings' to allow a light chain to be strung between them where pedestrians needed to be channeled or access blocked for foot traffic. Stone and wooden bollards were also widely used, often carved to approximate a 'cannon' shape, technically called a 'Cannon form bollard'.
During the later 1950s concrete was a common option for a basic bollard, many were quite stumpy, perhaps eighteen inches or 45cm tall. Where greater protection was required a larger type was used, roughly three feet tall (these were often seen protecting the corners of brick buildings. In the 1990s a cast aluminium tubular type appeared which (in Manchester at least) became very common. These offer only nominal protection to pedestrians but cause less damage to motor cars.
The sketch below shows the most common types, A is a typical 'muzzle up' cannon form bollard, B is a cast iron Victorian 'pedestrian' bollard, C is the stumpy 1960s concrete type (usually seen in rows at four foot spacing, often with one or more pushed over at an angle as shown by a car), D is the heavier concrete type used for protecting the corner of a building and E is the modern tubular metal (but not functional) type.
Fig ___ Common Bollards
Another type of bollard was the much smaller type used to protect the corners of building from cart wheels, these pushed the rim of the wheel away from the brick or stone work so the protruding hub of the wheel would not cause damage. They are also seen at the foot of gate posts, such as those at the entrance to railway yards. Some were made of stone, others were of cast iron. A in the illustration below is a stone type, B is a cast iron type formed to 'cup' the corner of the building it was protecting (over the years heavy delivery lorries have compacted the road, causing the bollard to progressively lean outwards away from the wall). C is a very substantial version of B, it stands about five feet high, it is made of cast iron and is bolted to the corner with two very substantial bolts at the top (from the evident damage it was very necessary).
Fig ___ Bollards protecting a gate post and warehouse entrances
The first 'traffic islands' were installed in Liverpool in 1862. In 1860 a local saddler by the name of John Hastings had requested the council to build one in the road outside his shop as traffic was increasing and crossing the road was becoming dangerous. The council did not think much of the idea, but a couple of years later a local dignitary and member of the council was run down whilst crossing the road. This galvanised the council who authorised the building of six 'pedestrian refuges' in the town. Soon after they were installed the first six traffic islands had street lamps erected on them. A retired Colonel in London heard of the traffic islands and traveled to Liverpool to inspect them. Duly impressed he paid to have one installed in the road outside his home (I think it was in Chelsea). Sadly he was rather proud of the thing and when crossing the road one day, looking back at his island over his shoulder, he was run down by a taxi and killed. The publicity surrounding his death spread the word and 'pedestrian refuges' appeared across the land. Some councils painted the kerb stones around the island in alternate black and white but this practice seems to have died out in the 1950s. Up to the 1980s women with prams and people in wheelchairs were expected to bounce up the kerb onto the traffic island when crossing the road, by the mid 1990s it was standard practice to provide a 'drop kerb' and many traffic island had railings added, often requiring people to walk along the island to prevent people stepping into the road without looking first. The traffic 'roundabout', a French invention, did not appear in the UK until 1911.
Both traffic islands and roundabouts were found to require a bollard to help prevent motorists driving right over them and as they were in the traffic flow it was necessary to make them highly visible. In the early years of the twentieth century the bollards were often substantial cast iron types, by the 1920s it was found that adding a light helped reduce accidents. Some early bollards were in the form of a tapering cone with a white illuminated globe on top but quite soon most had a box on top with the illuminated instruction to 'Keep Left'. The original design consisted of a hexagonal tapering base with a square box on top, these remained commonplace into the 1960s. In the 1930's it was found that adding a small traffic island at the approach to a set of arches helped the motorists avoid the supporting sections (street lighting and the lights on road vehicles were pretty poor by modern standards) and most of these soon had a bollard added for good measure. In the later 1960s a new type was introduced consisting of a rectangular plastic box, initially with lights inside but later the lights were fitted into a sunken box so they would not be damaged when someone ran the sign down. In the 1980s the rectangular black and white keep left instruction was replaced by a blue disc carrying a white arrow. In about 2000 the type on the extreme right appeared, having yellow panels set into a white post.
Traffic island and bollards
The 'traffic cone' appeared in Britain in about 1971, the Oxford English Dictionary quotes the first printed reference as being in the Times newspaper in 1972. The same entry notes that an American law was passed in 1953 which mentions the use of 'cones' to control the flow of traffic. These cones are not as simple as they might appear, they have to withstand the draught of vehicles passing close by at high speeds without being moved. I am told that the air passing across the hole in the top of the cone causes a venturi effect producing a drop in pressure inside the cone which holds it down on the road surface.
Traffic Lights and pedestrian Crossings
The first traffic light in the world was set up in December 1868 on the corner of Bridge Street and Palace Yard in London. It was a gas lamp equipped with coloured lenses and mounted on a rotating post. There were two positions, red meant stop, green meant proceed with caution. This device exploded in 1869, injuring the police officer who was operating it. Electric traffic lights appeared in Cleveland Ohio in 1914 and three-colour lights, complete with a bell which rang as they changed, appeared in New York in 1918. Modern style electric traffic lights first appeared in London in 1931 and by the following year were being introduced country wide. These lights used a simple timer mechanism in which a slow revving electric motor operated a set of electrical contacts, the motors and what have you were mounted in a box by the side of the road and a Policeman with a special key could over-ride the system if required. This mechanism was simple and served well enough in towns but caused problems at remote country junctions where people tended to run out of patience and drive across against the light only to be hit by a car on the other route. Another problem was in towns where a minor and little used road joined a busy main road, often the lights would stop traffic on the main road when no traffic was waiting on the minor road.
The solution was to add a sensor to detect approaching traffic and change the lights accordingly. The first vehicle-activated traffic signals were introduced in the UK 1932 (oddly enough the first set also exploded). These had rubber strips set into the road about thirty feet (9m) before the lights which operated an electrical switch. If there was no traffic on the main route a vehicle crossing the strips on the minor route would set the lights in its favour. The rubber strips were about three inches wide and can be represented by thin black line extending half way across the road (they did not monitor traffic leaving the lights). The automatic traffic light became the most common type and the rubber strips were only phased out in the later 1980's, replaced by thin wire sensors set into the road surface. When new these show up as a large diamond pattern of one inch wide black lines but they can safely be ignored in N.
In the late 1970's people started linking traffic lights on main roads together and sequencing them, the system was christened the 'super-cop' by the press. If you drove at the approved speed you would then get all the lights in your favour (not that people did so of course). This idea was expanded when computers became more affordable to control over-all traffic flows in large areas, by the early 1990s about half of London's traffic lights were computer-controlled.
Up to the 1960s traffic lights were painted black and white horizontal bands as shown in the sketch below, from the later 1960s on the colours changed to a gray post with black painted light box, the box has a rectangular plate fitted to the front painted black with a white border.
Fig ___ Traffic Lights
The Highway Code was first introduced in 1931 and driving tests began in 1935 when a 30mph speed limit was introduced for built-up areas. The tests were suspended during the war but reintroduced in 1947.
In 1934 special 'pedestrian crossings' with 'Belisha Beacons' were introduced in London, these latter marked an approved pedestrian crossing point and consisted of a black and white pole topped by a large orange coloured glass sphere with a light inside. The Belisha beacon, named after Leslie Hoar-Belisha the Minister of Transport, was initially accompanied by a striped white line pattern on the road. The original beacons with a light mounted inside a glass orange sphere proved too tempting for vandals and the spheres were then changed for painted aluminium. These beacons spread quite slowly, it was the early 1940's before they arrived in Wigan, and by that time the white lines marking the walkway had been dropped in favour of two lines of silver metal studs set into the road surface. In 1942 the Kerb Drill for children was launched to help them cross the road where a crossing was not available (look right, look left, look right again and if all is clear walk ahead). The 'Zebra Crossing' with black and white stripes on the road was not introduced until 1951 and in 1952 the Belisha beacons were fitted with plastic orange spheres with a flashing light inside, one odd variant seen in built up areas has a head to prevent the flashing light annoying nearby households. The push-button operated traffic light type of pedestrian crossing was first trialed in Croyden in the early 1930s (prior to the Belisha beacon) but the modern 'pelican crossings' appeared in 1969. Zig zag lines indicating 'no parking' were added to either side of the zebra crossings in 1971, they were added to Pelican Crossings only on the later 1980s.
Fig ___ Pedestrian crossings
Non road related street furniture
The streets are also home to a number of structures and features not directly associated with the roads and pavements.
One regular feature of British roads was the stone cross mounted on a stone plinth, usually set up at a cross roads or at important places in a village or town. Some of these date back to the early Christian era, others are more recent.
King Edward 1st erected a number of stone crosses in the South of the country, known as Eleanor crosses, in memory of his wife who died in 1290. The most famous of these is probably Charring Cross (the monument at the station is a Victorian replica of another stone cross from Whitehall). A lot were torn down under Cromwell, the famous cross at Banbury is actually a Victorian example dating back to 1858.
After World War One several of the monuments erected to commemorate the dead were in the form of stone crosses, very similar to the older Christian monuments but with a rather more modern iconography in the carving, and of course a plaque listing the names of local men who had died in the war. In larger towns rather larger memorials were set up. Most of the war memorials were set up at the road side rather than in the centre of the road (with some exceptions, there is a stone cross type at a country crossroads near where I now live, and of course the cenotaph in London). The illustration below shows the simple cross at Aberdaron, in the country these were sometimes set up at a cross roads where people would regularly see it. The very tall monument is in the much larger town of Llandudno.
Fig___ Simple 'cross' type and large town war memorials
In between the simple cross and the large public monument came the 'figure on a plinth' type of memorial. These vary in style but consist of a figure, either life size or larger than life size, atop a rectangular plinth bearing the names of the dead. In many towns they were be placed outside the town hall (as below left) but especially in the suburbs many were set up in a small 'remembrance garden' equipped with bench seats where relatives could sit (as below right). After the second world war an additional plaque was usually added to commemorate the names of those killed in that war.
Fig___ Town and suburban war memorials
Prior to the mid 19th century most people drank water from wells, most of these were not the 'hole in the ground and bucket on a rope type' but had a hand operated pump. These pumps were about five feet high and had a long handle fitted to the top and a spout for the water about half way up. They remained in use in some places into the early twentieth century but in the 1870s the Government ordered the local councils to appoint 'Public Health' inspectors and 'Medical Officers of Health', tasked with sorting out the arrangements for dealing with fresh water, sewage and industrial waste. The old pumps were often retained, especially in country areas, mainly for supplying horse troughs (discussed below).
The public drinking fountain, introduced from the 1850s to offer safe drinking water for passers by, was a major manifestation of civic pride and they were soon quite common in town squares. The example below left is a drinking fountain and gas light which was set up in the centre of a cross roads (as they were often positioned in this way they often had the gas light added). The example on the right dates from 1909 and was set up in the centre of a village as a memorial to a wealthy local person.
Fig___ Drinking fountains
There was often a horse trough associated with both hand pumps and drinking fountains, horses had to drink as well, but these are now very rare. These troughs were set up by businesses (where horses were involved), private individuals and by organisations, in a world where horse power was widely used they were as common in the later 19th century as petrol stations were in the late 20th Century. In 1859 the Metropolitan Drinking Fountain and Cattle Trough Association was established, as the metropolitan area grew and open country became unavailable. This organisation set up drinking fountains for people and water troughs for animals and also provided advice to others, one lady in Audenshaw near Manchester sought their advice and purchased a Cornish granite trough with two levels, the upper for horses and cattle, the lower for dogs and sheep. Carved into the side of this trough is the inscription 'A Righteous Man Regardeth The Life Of His Beast', typical of the kind of social concern in the Victorian era. These troughs were set up all over the country where working horses might be found, close by station yards and in the centre of villages and towns. The typical horse trough would be about five feet long, two feet wide and two feet high. Most were hewn out of stone, others (dating from the Victorian era) were made of cast iron, the wooden type as seen in 'western' films seem to have been very uncommon in Britain. Farms often had one in a field to supply cattle, the ones I remember as a child were light grey galvanised metal with rounded ends similar to those on the non-tap end of a bath. The sketches below are based on photographs, the example on the left is a typical trough with a hand pump, that on the right is from a park, note there is a small trough at the base for dogs (having a lower trough for sheep and dogs was quite common on the larger troughs as well).
Fig___ Horse and cattle troughs
The 'municipal clock' was a regular feature of Victorian towns, supplementing the clocks on church towers and town halls. In an era when time mattered but clocks and watches were expensive, they were seen as a useful example of civic pride. The railways, obviously, had an interest in clocks and most town stations had a very visible clock facing the street as well as the clocks above every platform. In the illustration below the tower on the left was once on the boundary of Altrincham railway station, the area occupied by the present bus station was a large paved yard for carriages dropping off passengers and also provided access to the two track carriage shoot for the station. The wall mounted clock is above the entrance to the former magistrates courts in Manchester. The elaborate clock, complete with figures that ring the bells is on the front of a pub in Stockport but I believe this was originally a watch and clock makers shop. Jewelers also often offered watch repair services and often had a clock mounted outside their shop, some were supported on brackets as the elaborate design mentioned, others were mounted flat on the wall as shown in the picture below. The shopping centres built from the 1960s on also often featured a municipal clock, a tradition which has continued to the present day (well 2006), the picture on the extreme right is a fairly modern municipal clock, set up in a shopping centre during a refurbishment in the later 1990s.
Fig___ Railway, municipal and commercial public clocks
Although an Act of 1774 required each parish to maintain their own fire-fighting appliance, to be used by the local citizens when required, fire fighting was largely the responsibility of the insurance companies. By the mid 19th century the police were charged with providing a fire fighting service and wore distinctive uniforms (usually styled on naval practice). Water supplies for fire fighting were something of a problem but from the 1830's on most towns included bye-laws to force the water supply company (whether private or owned by the town) to fit hydrants to the water mains. From about the 1890's the hydrants were usually marked by a cast metal plate mounted high up (typically at the hight of a second floor window) on a nearby wall. Early examples were white with black markings, usually the letters F H or F P and a number such as 7 0 indicating the distance in feet between the hydrant and the plate. During the second world war any suitable water supply was marked by the letter E.W.S. painted in white or yellow in letters about two feet (60cm) high on a suitable nearby wall. This marking was still seen into the 1960s on bridges over rivers and on walls close by ponds and the like. After the second world war a national standard was introduced consisting of a cast metal plate about ten inches (25 cm) high by six inches 15 cm) wide. This plate is yellow with a large letter H in black and the distance to the hydrant in smaller black numbers between the lower legs of the H. In some cases the older F P plates have been painted yellow with the lettering picked out in black, however as they are often hard to reach many remain in the original black and white. The post war hydrant plates are often seen mounted on stubby concrete posts set into the pavement as shown in the photograph below, although some are mounted on the walls of buildings. The gas pipeline marker seen in the photograph is a rather rare beast, this is the only example I have so far seen and I am not certain as to its intended purpose.
Fig ___ Hydrant signs
To go with the hydrants there were also fire bells, up to the 1960s the most common type was a large red circular bell mounted on the outside of a building, some had the work FIRE painted across them in white. The example shown below left is an early type, the bell is externally mounted, the ringer revolves and is powered by an electric motor on the inside of the building. In the picture on the left a smaller, more modern, bell can also be seen which has the ringer inside the bell itself. Bells of this general type were also used as burglar alarms, although these were usually only fitted to large ware houses and shops carrying expensive goods such as jewelers. On the right is a slightly more modern bell, dating I believe from the 1940s (possibly a lot earlier) which has the bell and ringer mounted on the outside of the building. I believe this was actually a burglar alarm but it may have been a fire bell.
Fig ___ Alarm bells
Telephone and electricity junction boxes
Something else often seen at the side of the pavement, usually at the end of a road or at a junction, is the telephone junction box where all the local lines are connected to the cable leading to the exchange. Until the later 1990s telephone lines were almost always suspended from insulators mounted on the outside of the building, reaching out to a local 'telegraph pole' often there was a box of this type at the base of the pole. In built-up areas the box is often separate from any poles, connected to them via underground cables, as in the examples shown below. The boxes were originally maintained by the General Post Office Telegraph Department (and some are still so marked) and later Post Office Telephones who painted them green. Since separation of the telephone system from the post office, and its subsequent privatisation, there have been very occasional examples of light gray boxes but most remain in GPO green. The boxes are between two feet (60cm) and three feet (1m) high, typically four feet (1m 30cm) wide and about 10 inches (25cm) deep. The type with the 'peaked roof' shown on the right below has been standard since the 1930s, the cast metal type shown centre dates from the 1970s. The examples shown are all located within 50 yards (40m) of the railway level crossing and there are no telegraph poles in the immediate vicinity.
Fig ___ Telephone junction boxes
Similar cast metal boxes to these were used for a range of purposes associated with electricity supplies, they are often seen near the routes of former tram services and come in a range of sizes and designs, some with crest of the tram company or local corporation cast into the door in bas relief. The technical term for these is 'service pillars' and they were widely used for isolating switches on tram and trolley bus networks and similar duties. As the trams and trolley buses passed from use these useful boxes were (in the main) taken over by the local electricity board, some were taken over by the GPO for telephone work. They would usually be painted in the standard colour for electricity board equipment (light green seems to have been a common choice) or of the tram or trolley bus company (dark red or dark green would be likely candidates). Some are the same size as the older style box shown above, another common design is about three feet (1m) high, 18 inches (45cm) deep and two feet (60cm) wide and retaining the pyramid form roof. Many remain in use today (although they are often painted black by the council to match other street furniture in the vicinity. The smaller junction or switch boxes used by the electricity companies were always clearly marked, as they contained dangerous high voltages, the marking was usually an enameled metal plate in white with a warning in red and contact details (in case a car or lorry damaged the box). The pictures below show a North Western Electricity Board box on the left and a tram company switch box on the right.
Fig ___ Tram power switch and electricity board boxes
The advantage of having one of these boxes on a model layout is that it can be modeled 'open' with an engineer, usually sitting on his tool box, working on the innards. Parked close by would be the associated company vehicle, hand cart, motorcycle combination or small horse drawn or motor van. This provides something interesting to look at and offers a plausible excuse for a stationary road vehicle in a scene. The innards of the telephone junction box consists of a series of vertical bars carrying connectors into which a lot of coloured spaghetti wiring is connected, on modern systems most of the wiring seems to be hanging forward, obscuring the bars, and connected using plastic 'chock-block' connectors, on older boxes the wires were terminated on the bars, secured with small brass screws. Up to the 1970s a standard bit of kit for the engineer was the Avo 8 multi-meter, a black box about nine inches square and four inches deep with a slightly curved panel on the front for the dial and terminals for the leads.
Fig ___ Telephone junction box being worked on in 2007
The isolating switches for trams and trolley buses would be a box with a lever of some kind however I have not yet found a photo or drawing to confirm the appearance.
Litter was not much of a problem in the days before packaging became so prolific, in the 1930s circular wire mesh baskets perhaps three feet high by eighteen inches across were seen in parks but that was about the only provision made. Litter bins on streets first appeared in the late 1940's but dropping litter only became a legal offense with the Litter Act of 1959 as the quantity of packaging increased. Many bus companies added small litter bins to either their bus stop sign posts or to a nearby lamp post, intended to avoid people dropping bus tickets as they got off the bus, these were fairly prolific and served for the occasional sweet wrapper or empty cigarette packet deposited by passers by. The small bins in my local area, set up I believe by the Crossville bus company, were usually small metal bins with a curved hood or cowl, painted green (the company livery) and usually seen attached to lamp posts or the posts supporting bus stop signs. Other designs were used, in Ipswitch they had green rectangular open topped bins mounted on the stop sign post, these had holes punched in them so they would not collect rainwater. Some of these small bins had an inner bin of light coloured galvanised metal that could be removed for emptying (the Crossville hooded type certainly did).
The small bins lasted into the early 1970's but the cost of vandalism and the sheer quantity of rubbish being dumped on the streets lead to a re-think and the introduction of larger free-standing bins. The most widespread design appeared in the late 1960s or early 1970s and consisted of a number of wooden staves riveted to two metal rings with a metal bucket inside. The wood was a light grey colour and all metal parts were painted dark red. Modeling these would be tedious rather than difficult but it might be worth it as they were so characteristic of the period.
There were other designs, one in my local village appears to be a converted telephone junction box with a large slot in the upper side and a light metal inner bin inside, I believe that dates from the 1960's and remains in use today. By the later 1960's one occasionally saw advertising on litter bins (the idea originated in Norway I believe).
By the end of the 1970's the wood and metal type were failing due to repeated vandal attacks and a new design was introduced consisting of a tapering concrete or metal bucket sitting on the pavement, usually actually set into the pavement surface to prevent it being moved and with a secondary metal bucket inside. Variations on this have included bins with a top, which allowed people to stub out cigarettes before throwing them in the bin. In the years since the 1960s litter has increased by about 500%, so the bins themselves have tended to get larger.
Fig ___ Litter bins
Concerns about IRA terrorists putting bombs in the cast metal or concrete bins saw most of them removed in the 1990s but by 2002 they were starting to appear on the streets again, saving a small fortune in street cleaning costs.
Rock salt bins
From the early 1980s councils began placing plastic bins of rock salt beside the roads, typically close by car park exits and other locations where a local application of the de-icing salt would be useful. The most common bins used are made from fiberglass and (all that I have seen) coloured yellow.
Fig ___ Salt bins
Skips and skip lorries
The ubiquitous 'skip' and the lifting frame to handle it was invented in France in about 1956 by a company called Bennes Marrel. The British firm Broughton was already building something similar to handle pipelines in the desert. They teamed up with the French and by 1960 Bedford lorries were being fitted with the Broughton-Marrel equipment and skips started to appear on building sites around the country.
Fig___ Bedford lorry carrying a skip
By the later 1970s the skip sitting on the road where a house was being worked on was a common sight. At night they had one or two rectangular red oil lamps hanging on the road side of the skip and these were often left in place during the day (see also App 1 - Roads and road traffic - Roads and Road Works). The later yellow flashing lamps were more difficult to hang so they tended to end up on the road beside the skip. By the mid 1990s lights seem to have been dispensed with and a few plastic traffic cones were deemed sufficient. Most skips I have seen have been painted yellow and most have had the details of the hiring firm emblazoned on the sides in large black lettering, however not all are like this, the example below had no visible markings of any kind.