Yesterday evening, on getting in from a meeting of the Bridgend History Society, I caught the last half of a BBC2 documentary entitled Collectaholics; I was enthralled by the replica railway station and huge collection of enamel signs that one collector had displayed in his back garden. I too, once had a large collection of signs, but nothing nearly as comprehensive as that shown on the old goggle box last evening.
My sign collection started in a small way in the early 1980s with a single sign that I had discovered in our own back garden in Southerndown. It was a circular steel disc and had been hammered onto a post through the top upside down to make a garden table; this had arrived at out property some while before with one of the residents who had come to live with us at our residential home for the elderly, but that’s another story for another time. When the lady passed away we removed the table and it was then I discovered it was an enamel road sign for Ogmore-by-Sea. And so began the quest for other signs and quickly the collection grew to around a hundred of all sizes from tiny 3 or 4 inches up to the largest which were 8ft x 4ft and I had a number of that size.
In the grounds of the residential home I set up a small museum where the largest signs were displayed permanently with some of my vintage machinery and the photo here shows a corner of the museum building with a Woods & Cocksedge roller mill in the foreground, behind that a cattle-cake breaker and in the corner a 1919 Lister Type “L” stationary engine. The Lister was sold in the 1990s but the corn mill remains in my garage and will shortly be moved to the garden museum when it is re-instated. The cake breaker is now a garden feature alongside my front door.
In the 1980s I also had what I called my “travelling museum”. This was set up in the awning of my caravan and could be transported to any show that was interested in showing my collection. For this I usually took along the smaller enamel signs along with loads of other vintage miscellania and in this picture we can see some of my signs as well as the collection of cast-iron implement seats I also had at that time. The photo was taken at one of the “Yesterday’s Farming” events held on the show ground at Shepton Mallet, not sure of the year though as I have scanned this from a print.
In the mid 1990s we made a decision to close the residential home and consequently the future of my collection was uncertain. The stationary engines were the first items to leave and my treasured collection of many rare models was dispersed. The signs went a bit later when I needed the cash to survive, I got a good price for them but a week later I was offered a temporary job which negated the need to sell, a temporary job which lasted sixteen years until I retired as it happened! I still regret having to sell my signs, I can just see them now displayed along the fence in my back garden. I kept the “Ogmore-by-Sea” sign, it was probably the most valuable one in my collection, indeed, in the 1980s I was offered many hundreds of pounds for it; soon it will be on display in my newly re-constructed garden museum.