Heritage signs have been the subject of many past blog entries on Archaeodeath, including comments and critiques of what they say, their maps, images and artist’s reconstructions upon them, discussions of antique signs and their idiosyncracies, also signs protecting monuments and defining their protected status, to discussions of the material culture of health and safety. I’ve also discussed sign theft, as at Woodhenge.
But what of iconic signs of organisations like the National Trust? What do these signs achieve? I thought about this as I encountered sign after sign with the same logo, size, shape, sturdy metal manufacture and colour scheme has I recently navigated the ‘Stonehenge Landscape‘. Then there were NT logos on many of the gates too. What were these signs actually doing?
- Are they really informing the visitor about where they are?
- Are they useful ways of directing visitors to where they are going and to avoid them going the wrong way?
- Perhaps instead are they there to give a sense of ownership and to offer protection against would-be nighthawking metal-detectorists or miscreant landowners?
- Are they about giving the sense of security and assurance that the landscape is under the stewardship and management of a respected organisation?
- Do they promote the sense of a gold standard of heritage and natural conservation quality to the landscape one is encountering?
- Are they there to promote the National Trust itself, including a commemoration of the organisation’s history of management of the site in question?
- Do they operate individually, or is their power in the very fact that they are encountered across the country, and repeatedly in different locales with the same landscapes?
- Just maybe they possess a secret apotropaic function, affording protection against demons, evil warlocks and witches, like the designs found in early modern buildings? NT would deny it, which might be proof enough it is FACT!
For me at least, there is a further (I’m sure unintended) outcome of these signs: they instil intense anxiety.
This is because they tell me nothing, and this makes me wonder what I don’t know. There are no directions, dates, descriptions or explanations of what is being protected and what the site-name means. For example, ‘The Cuckoo Stone’ sign isn’t actually at the Cuckoo Stone, it is at the edge of a large field containing it. So I’m provoked to wonder and worry about what I should be looking at.
More importantly, the anxiety is about what if I miss seeing something crucial. I’ve come all this way, and now I just have a sign with a word on it, a place-name on it, and I don’t know what it is telling me! The signs mock me, they are clean, smart and smug and goad me regarding my lack of inherent appreciation of all that the sign denotes. These signs upset me.
Combine that with this particularly fearsome health and safety sign and I have another anxiety. With (for example) Cadw signs warning of dangers inherent in climbing and traversing masonry structures, at least the health and safety sign is warning me of what might happen should I not take personal choices to be cautious. The same applies to warning signs against death by electric shock: don’t go into the substation and you won’t die. Simple.
But what am I really supposed to do to prevent myself from being hit by a falling tree branch? I’m walking through a wood for crying out loud! How can I avoid it?! How? HOW? I feel so helpless and my fate is inevitable!
I think all this adds up to the fact that I find heritage a great cause of anxiety…
Then there is anxiety leading to rage. Look at this gate: not one, not two, but three NT logos nestled together with a grid reference! This gives me sign-rage. RAGE! Telling me exact coordinates, giving me instructions to close gates, giving me a walk to walk on…..
I think I need to stay at home more…