Saturday 21 December 2019

The Old Curiosity Blog

As I wander the highways and byways of this fair land I come across many curiosities which do not fit into my regular blogposts. Here are just a few of them.....

A Sign Of Past Times

In the 1920s and 30s the AA (Automobile Association) erected some 30,000 of these distinctive yellow signs to help their members find their way around the country. Most of them were taken down during the Second World War when a Nazi invasion seemed a real possibility (I'm not sure how that would have inconvenienced them to any great extent). Some of these ended up in museums and a few, like this one at Anstey in Hertfordshire have been returned to their original positions.

How To Start Your Aeroplane

This wonderful contraption was seen at the Shuttleworth Collection in Bedfordshire. The first planes had no means of starting other than have a member of groundcrew standing in front of the plane and swinging the propeller by hand: many were injured, or even killed, carrying out this task. This machine solved the problem and was on hand at the annual gathering of Tiger Moth bi-planes.

A Bridge Too Low

This bridge near Ely railway station holds an unenviable place in the record books. It has been involved in more road traffic accidents than any other bridge in the land! One can hardly blame the bridge, it's doing its best, festooned as it is with warning signs and chevrons. Short of jumping in the air it's difficult to see what else a bridge can do. But with tedious regularity drivers of trucks and vans look at the signs and think "Yeah, we can get under there" - and don't.

Ducks Crossing

Lets hope that this sign, painted by schoolchildren, is more effective at preventing unnecessary road accidents.

The Cambridge Oak

Nobody knows the exact origin of this hybrid tree or when it acquired its common name of Cambridge Oak. It's thought to be a cross between an American evergreen oak and a British oak tree. It has the unusual habit of hanging on to its old leaves until next Spring when the new copper-coloured leaves appear along with yellow catkins - I'll try to remember to take some photos next year for you. In the last few years it has begun to be colonised by fungi which may mean it's in decline and a replacement tree has already been planted elsewhere in the Botanic Garden. The fence has been placed around for reasons of safety as the gardeners have decided to let nature take its course without intervening and there's a real danger of falling branches.

Live And Let Live

This sign was included in my collection of pub signs that I showed you a while back, but I didn't know its story then. Here's what it says on the pub's website:

The Live and Let Live has been a pub since the 18th Century. The Bow Street Runners, founded in 1749, were a group of men who would solve petty crime for a fee.  Some 200 years ago landowners in Hexton called on their services to combat large scale poaching in the area. They had a tip-off that these petty criminals were discussing their next deed at the public house in Pegsdon. Finding themselves trapped inside by the Bow Street Runners, a compromise was made. With a promise to give up poaching the 'Runners' allowed the criminals to go free. To mark the occasion the landlord changed the name of his establishment to the 'Live and Let Live'.

In Memory....

This sad memorial stands just inside the churchyard of St Mary's church in Baldock. I doubt that this is the original wooden board, but presumably a replacement paid for by parishioners who still wish to remember the little lad.

A Rare Beast Is Expected!

And with that I'll bid you adieu till next time.

Take care.


  1. The hybrid tree seems to be of particular interest. I am sure this is a phenomenon that rarely happens and I wonder exactly how it did occur in fact. Perhaps it was the deliberate result of a human hybridizer. As for the zebra, one might speculate whether it is of the rare humped variety or whether reference is made to recent activity!

    1. It's almost certainly the result of human intervention as there are at least two other trees like it elsewhere.

  2. Hi John - love the selections ... particularly the 'Duck Crossing' as well as the oak - though am glad they have 'spares' growing. Actually of course the zebra - I'd have been bemused if I'd met one of those in southern Africa ... cheers and have a peaceful, musical and happy festive season - Hilary

  3. Such curiosities of signs. The inn story is fascinating. That memorial to the child is quite something. His story lives on.

  4. I enjoy signs! The duck crossing was adorable. I think New Jersey has a similar bridge sign. The memorial is so sad.

  5. I believe there's an Engish version of zebra which is a cross-walk...and if it has a hump it would doubly slow down traffic. Nice that a sign warns the drivers is is coming. However, I do think of a camel who's been cross-bred to a zebra thus has stripes. Now is it a 2 or 1 hump version?

  6. Interesting signs you have there. These photos make me want to look more carefully at the old and new signs around town here. None will ever be as old as these, but I wonder how old the oldest will be. Mmmm.

  7. we have humped zebras here, too, though I'd never heard them called that!

    California oaks have very shallow root systems, and often suffer when humans walk around them with any regularity. That's what I thought of when I say your oak fenced off, but your explanation makes more sense. It's a beautiful tree. A fence is more sensible that offering hard hats to passers by.

  8. The memorial sign is quite poignant.

  9. The signs are quite unique.

  10. A lovely collection of oddities.Thank you.

  11. An interesting mix...I enjoyed them....that is so sad about the boy. I can never imagine what it would feel like to lose a child.

  12. We have a bridge like that here in Whangarei. I don't know how many times it has been hit but quite a few since we have been here and it, also, is well marked.

  13. I have seen a few of the old AA signs like that around the country one I keep meaning to get a photo of. There is a low bridge on the Botley road in Oxford that is responsible for a few truck getting stuck and taking the roof off some busses as well. Seen it happen many times. Have a good Christmas

  14. A wonderful selection John. I particularly liked the one about the humped zebra. You'd like the sign I saw over a solicitors' office which said, "Criminal lawyers." They probably didn't intend to be that frank. Merry Christmas!

  15. This was an interesting and fun post, John. I also enjoy finding the unusual signs and sightings which many others overlook. Best wishes to you Nd your family for a Merry ­čî▓Christmas and Happy New Year.

  16. What a super collection of unusual signs and other artifacts. How sad for the parents of little Henry George Brown:)

  17. The propellor turning machine is as big as the airplane! I love this collection of curiosities, especially the memorial for the little lad blown off the scaffold.


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