|A plain fingerpost on A460, Wolverhampton|
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A fingerpost is a type of signage which is still commonly found across the length and breadth of the country, despite very few new ones having been installed in the last 30 or more years. Many predate standardisation of signs, or even road numbers and remain resolutely directing road users at junctions in many rural areas, just as they have for decades, indeed some are over a century old. A fingerpost consists of a single pole, and directional signage (fingers) pointing physically at the directions of travel. They can be made of metal or wood, and can range from extremely plain to very ornate. The majority are painted in black and white, with black text and (where used) arrows on a white background, the pole being either wholly one colour, striped, or painted to match the design cast into it. Some areas, Somerset being one, also use gray for the base of the post.
The number of destinations per finger varies greatly, although 1 is perhaps the most common, 2 and 3 are also often found. Fingers for more than three destinations are much less common, with some posts featuring two fingers pointing in the same direction instead. This is also used where additional destinations, such as tourist signage, has been added to an old finger post, the new fingers often being bracketed on as a 'pair' to an existing finger. Finger ends can either just be cut off square, or pointed, sometimes with an arrow depicted on them. They can also be shaped (often loosely) like a pointing finger from an otherwise closed fist, and whilst a few still have such a design picked out in paint, many have been painted out, or were always just an outline shape. It is perhaps from this design that the term finger post derives.
Historically, there were many, many more fingerposts across the country, but in World War 2 many were removed, supposedly to disorientate the Germans should an invasion occur. Whilst the majority were stored and re-erected after the war, there are rumours that some counties sold them as metal for the war effort.
The majority of fingerposts are cast from Iron or Steel, with many first installed before road numbers had been devised, and as such they have had to have some, or all of the fingers replaced with new fingers including the numbers. Some merely had awkward, bracketed extensions fitted. The example on the left has clearly been updated or repaired at some point, as the two arms showing the number use different fonts.
Another feature depicted in the image is the cap at the top which contains the initials SCC for Somerset County Council. Again, this is certainly not a feature on all finger posts, but some became very ornate. Others, such as that to the right, had circular tops containing the name of the county, either in abbreviated or full form. Dorset used a top shaped like the London Transport symbol, with Dorset around the top, the Grid Reference around the bottom, and the name of the junction or village across the central bar (some examples may be found here).
The fingers can be attached in a variety of ways. The Somerset example to the left has collars on the end of each finger which slot over the pole, requiring the sign to be dismantled to repair or replace any fingers. Although not used in this example, one collar could be fitted with two fingers. Elsewhere brackets or straps are used, allowing each finger to be removed individually if necessary.
Fingerposts of all ages have also been made from wood, and indeed this practice is still very common for signing footpaths, bridleways and forest trails. The colour schemes hardly vary from those outlined above, but the overall design is much simpler, with a square post and slots cut in to accept the fingers. Sometimes the fingers will pass right through to sign two opposing directions. An alternative fixing solution is to nail or bolt the fingers to the post, as seen in the example on the left. Wooden fingerposts are, obviously, less suitable at forks or junctions with more than 4 arms as it is difficult to position the diagonal fingers. One benefit of a wooden fingerpost over many of the metal ones is that the square shape makes it much harder for the fingers to get twisted (whether accidentally or maliciously) and so point in the wrong direction.
The term fingerpost perhaps most correctly refers to the older designs described above. However, common usage also includes the many modern equivalents. These consist of a series of Flag Signs mounted on a single post, although many older fingerposts have been updated with some or all of the fingers replaced with modern Flag Signs. Admittedly, the difference between the two is perhaps lost on the general public.