An excellent book on village signs has yet to be written, but there are a small number of reasonably good ones. That said, the history is not particularly complex, and some authors have had a pretty good stab at recording some of the most interesting signs from ‘their patch’.
There are a small number of books that include an author’s personal selection of village signs within a single county, often a volume two, possibly three follows on. Regretably, many images are printed in black and white, thereby denying us the simple pleasure of seeing a sign as it actually appears or appeared. I understand the economies. These books and their subject matter are never going to enjoy large numbers of sales. Small print runs cost money. Colour images cost money. What is doubly regrettable however, is that many of the grey tone images included in some of these books are poorly reproduced- murky, foggy or simply bad photographs in many cases. The first volumes looked at here are Procter and Miller’s three volumes. These led the way and have never been bettered in the four decades that have elapsed since published. Each of the three volumes includes well reproduced, well photographed black and white images, together with line drawings, accompanied by full and informative text. If you have an interest in the subject and can track these volumes down, you will not be disappointed. If a colour image version of these three volumes was ever produced, preferably condensed into a single volume, I would snap it up.
East Anglia volumes…
Every book subsequently published since Procter and Miller’s three volume set has followed the same format. The briefest of histories on the origins of village signs, over one or two pages, followed by an alphabetical listing of signs. Image (or two) plus a little explantory text on what is depicted with perhaps a little more information on the village itself. Some authors have kept the accompanying text to a minimum, others have been a little more expansive. The images of inside pages from each volume shown here give a good indication of what is to be expected of each book.
The series on Suffolk Signs, by enthusiasts Shirley M. Addy and Maureen Long are amongst the best of the slimmer books published on the subject of village signs. The majority of sign images are in colour and these are occasionally accompanied by contemporary images of their construction. The two author’s went on to co-author further volumes covering signs in other parts of the UK. The history on each sign included can be a little thin at times however.
Away from East Anglia there are just a few county volumes…
When a decent volume on village and town signs is published, it will be fully in colour, include as much of the limited history and roots of village and town signs as is available, will include images of contemporary milestones in development (such as the Daily Mail design competition, Coronation, Millennium etc.), will also feature designers and designs of signs, will include references to the sponsoring individuals and organisations, will include detail on some of the manufacturers, such as Signs of the Times, and The Village Sign People, and obviously include important and representative examples of style and type. Sadly, no such volume exists.
More general histories…
Other than Michael Weatherstone’s volume on Norfolk signs, Three Points of the Compass cannot recommend most of the various County titles that have appeared, being far too parochial or poorly produced. If you are visiting one of the few English Counties that has a number of these signs, and they do interest you, why not search out the relevant volume? Most are available second-hand for a reasonable price and will educate over 30-60 minutes reading. Less parochial and a little more deserved of space on the bookshelf are the slim Shire volume and equally small Village Signs of England, Scotland and Wales below, which do at least include some colour images alongside the black and white majority.
While I do not possess, or have not shown every book published on the subject, there are not a great deal many more. Most other books are now quite old, fairly poorly published, or extremely thin, inconsequential and offer little to the subject. I still hold out hope of a really good, wide-ranging volume on Village and Town Signs appearing, one day, but I’m not holding my breath waiting for that.
Online resource is just about as poor as many of the books subsequently published. Even the Village Sign Society, founded in 1999, keeps their online database of images strictly out of bounds- members only! Which doesn’t go far to fascinate and inform the uninformed as to the diversity and local history included on such artisan products. Thankfully, for the curious amongst us, other online resources such as the Waymarking and Geograph sites will frequently offer a little information on that interesting village sign passed when on trail.
Books from my shelves:
Village Signs of England, Scotland and Wales, Shirley M Addy and Maureen Long. A L Publications, 2009. 47pp. ISBN-13: 978-0-9542950-6-6, ISBN-10: 0-9542950-6-4
Suffolk Signs, books 1, 2 and 3. Shirley M Addy and Maureen Long. A L Publications. 1996, book 3 1998. All 50pp. IBN 0 9527293 0 X, 0 95277293 1 8, 0 9527293 3 4
Kent Village Signs, Book 1, Alan Bignell. A L Publications, 2004. 52pp. ISBN 0 9542950 3 X
East Anglian Village and Town Signs (Shire Album 166), Ursula Bourne. Shire Publications Ltd., 1986. 32pp. ISBN 085263 786 1
The Village Signs of Sussex, Brigid Chapman. S B Publications, 2006. 168pp. ISBN 1 85770 321 9
Village Signs of North Cambridgeshire, Ian MacEachern. SB Publications, 1993. 88pp. ISBN 1 85770 020 1
Village and Town Signs in Norfolk [Book One]. Frances Procter and Philippa Miller. Published by the authors, First published 1973, reprinted 1979 and 1981. 101pp
100 More Village Signs in the County of Norfolk [Book Two]. Frances Procter and Philippa Miller. Published by the authors, 1979. 101pp
Village Signs in Norfolk, Book Three. Frances Procter and Philippa Miller. Published by the authors, 1983. 204pp
Norfolk- A History through its Village Signs, Michael Weatherstone. Art2Focus, 2014. 232pp. ISBN 978-0-9572617-1-6
All of us have a few books that we like to rely on, or to which we frequently return. Here are links to some of mine.