– – – Exploring The Countryside and Lanes of Dorset – – –
Dorset is well known for its traditional fingerposts and around 700 still remain in place. Many date back to the 18th century when the General Turnpike Act of 1773 made it compulsory for signposts to be erected at road junctions. All bar four are white with black lettering, but the four that don’t comply with the black/white format have been painted red with white lettering and the reason for this has long puzzled people.
Over the years, many theories have been put forward as to the reason these few are red and not white. Some say that it is because they have been erected at junctions where gallows or gibbets once stood. Others say that they were erected on routes that were taken by convicts who were being taken to the coast to be transported. Still others suggest that they were erected specifically for illiterate travellers who could be given instructions such as, ‘Turn right at the red post’. Some say that it is just county practice but in fact one of the posts was actually in Somerset until the county boundary changed in 1896. Some say that there were more but that they were repainted white to make them easier to read. Finally, it is said that suicides were buried at crossroads so another theory is that they were connected in some way with that.
The most famous Red Post stands at a cross roads on the A31 near Bloxworth and it is partly this post that gives rise to the theory that the practice was connected with the transporting of convicts. At the times of Judge Jeffreys and his Bloody Assizes, convicts would be taken from Dorchester and would turn off the road at that Red Post to reach Botany Bay Farm where they would be kept overnight, being shackled to the barn wall, before continuing their fateful journey the next day. Their guards would often be illiterate so that theory seems plausible……but it still doesn’t explain the other three!
Other Red Posts are at Benville Bridge near Evershot, pictured above, at Poyntington north of Sherborne, and at Hewood Corner near Chard. Thus, there are two west of Dorchester, one north of the county town, and one to the east, so no real correlation in terms of any particular journey. There are a number of pubs which bear the name of Red Post Inn or White Post Inn, but none of these adds anything to the quest to understand why these Red Posts exist.
Despite all the theorising and debating, the truth is that we may never know why, out of 700 fingerposts, just four are painted red. This must be seen as another bit of quirkiness in this lovely county that just seems to be full of quirky things. But isn’t that what makes this county so great!
Thanks for stopping by.
Until next time,
Your friend The Dorset Rambler
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