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EXMOOR HISTORIC SIGNPOSTS RESTORED CELEBRATION

Volunteers and organisations gathered in Porlock last week to celebrate the culmination of a two-year project, led by Exmoor National Park Authority and Somerset County Council, to restore the region’s historic cast iron signposts.

More than 200 signposts have been successfully restored and recorded, with over 100 volunteers together contributing around 2,300 hours of their time through condition surveys, refurbishment work and historic research.

The project, made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund Grant, has led to people coming forward with old photos and even missing bits of the signs, so they may be returned to their rightful place. At £425 for a new finger and £250 for a new ‘finial’ on the tops of signs, this has saved a significant amount of money towards the project.

Retired GP Dr Jeremy Davies from Withypool got involved in the project after reading about it in his local paper. Speaking at the event, he said: “Being out in the sun with the birds, bees and ponies has been a joy and, although I only initially planned to paint my local signs, I couldn’t resist doing a few more. From brambles and bad weather, to stubborn lichen and unruly livestock, there have been a fair few challenges along the way, but seeing gleaming signposts posts all around the National Park makes it all worthwhile.”

The signposts were removed during World War II to avoid the possibility of invading troops using them for navigation, but very little else was known about their history or origins prior to the project. With support from the Exmoor Society, volunteers have worked to source and study old photographs and historic documents, uncovering new evidence as to how the style and construction of individual signs has changed over time, as well as peculiarities in their distribution.

Exmoor National Park’s Charlotte Thomas, who led the project, said: “This project was sparked by a handful of determined volunteers wanting to make a difference in their local community and has culminated in work to save these much loved icons across 35 Parishes in and around Exmoor, with word now spreading to other areas. We’ve also had help from specialist crafts-people, archivists, and much needed extra funding from Somerset County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund. It’s been a real team effort that I hope will leave a lasting legacy for years to come.”

Cllr John Woodman, Somerset County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highways, said: “The Exmoor Historic Signposts Project has been a brilliant success story and it’s fantastic when you drive around West Somerset to see so many fingerposts restored to their former glory.

“The project has also blazed a trail by proving what is possible and inspiring many other communities to come forward and restore the fingerposts in their area. That is a huge compliment to everyone involved and I’d like to thank them all for their efforts.”

Commenting on behalf of Heritage Lottery Fund South West, Sue Minter said: “The Heritage Lottery Fund has been pleased to support the restoration of over 230 historic fingerposts in Exmoor National Park. These posts form a characteristic part of the landscape and are clearly a source of local pride, not least among the many volunteers who have undertaken the work in all weathers.”

The project was also a runner up in the UK National Parks Volunteer Awards, announced earlier this month.

Commenting on the Awards Lord Gardiner, Minister for Rural Affairs and Biosecurity, said: “I would like to congratulate all those nominated, and commend the winners on these well-deserved awards. The dedication and hard work of volunteers is what makes our National Parks the inspiring places they are today.

“National Parks play a key role in conserving exceptional parts of our beautiful countryside and enabling communities, people and businesses to prosper and grow. Through our ongoing designated landscapes review, we want to ensure these vital areas are protected and enhanced for future generations. Volunteers of all generations do so much to make a positive difference, long may that continue.”

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