A few months ago I visited Kidwelly Castle. In previous posts I have talked about its memorial and artistic dimensions: the memorial to Gwenllian and its art installations. I’ve also commented on the experience of taking an autistic child there.
Here I want to round off my commentary by mentioning another dimension to the recent history and heritage of the castle. I have written about the ‘archaeology of health and safety’ at Cadw castles like Beaumaris and Dinefwr where a series of figure warn visitors of the hazards they might face from uneven and slippery surfaces, low roofs and so on. Yet at Kidwelly there are the predecessors to these symbols: the early history of modern health-and-safety signs. Metal, painted white-on-green, sturdy and raised by a no-longer-extant body, I refer of course to Ministry of Works signs.
These signs hark back to a halcyon era before one could be patronised with postured androgynous stick-figures about the hazards of ruins. Instead, they take us back to an era where literacy in English only was the assured medium for patronising visitors about the hazards of ruins.
I do like the precise phrasing; it would be so much easier to say more abruptly. The fatherly (but perhaps motherly) tone is impossible to avoid if you say outloud: ‘please take special care’.
I also like the pairing of signs above: the way that the climbing of ruins are not linked causally to ‘taking every care’ but they are instead juxtaposed spatially as a way of making them speak to each other. No explanation is thus given, only the warning and the order.
I also like the graffiti: apposite for the colour scheme someone has appended ‘Ivor the Engine’ and ‘Ivor’.
Of course what you cannot see from these signs is that one is positioned halfway up (or down) steps into the first-floor of the gatehouse. If you actually did stop to read this it might make you slip and fall!
The three above are from within the castle and speak to visitors. However, a different kind of message is found on the sign appended to Kidwelly town walls’ gatehouse. Here the assertion is aimed at the general public, not visitors exploring within the ruins. So this sign reflects the opposite dimension; not the early history of protecting visitors, the early history of protecting monuments!
So here’s to historic signs, and their role as a reminder of the deep history of monument and visitor protection at modern heritage signs they reveal. Long may they remain!