The curious world of England's street furniture
- 23 July 2014
- From the section England
As well as breaking the flat grey monotony of the average pavement, street furniture offers somewhere to sit, somewhere to take shelter and, at times, something to prevent us from getting run over. On occasion, it also has a story to tell.
Take the humble bollard.
These short vertical posts with a maritime past can be found up and down the country protecting pedestrians and property from rogue drivers, guiding traffic or simply looking decorative.
In the "Lanes" area of central Norwich they convey a slice of the city's history.
Oliver Creed, the sculptor commissioned by Norwich City Council to come up with 11 designs for finials to sit on top of steel bollards, said they had given this area of the city a "visual identity".
The posts are painted "madder red", after the dye used in the area's weaving trade in the 17th Century.
The finials either reference the name of the street they sit in (a swan for Swan Street) or something of the area's history (a ram's head in the former horn working area).
"I think people who walk through the lanes every day really relate to them and like them," said Mr Creed.
Benches too can defy convention. If horse shoes are considered lucky, then Osmaston in Derbyshire might be the luckiest place in Britain.
After all, it can boast a bench made almost entirely of horse shoes.
But this is small fry compared to one in Littlehampton, West Sussex, which looks out over the sea.
The 1,062ft (324m) bench - apparently the UK's longest - twists along the coastal resort's promenade and interweaves reclaimed hardwood and colourful metal slats.
Louise Gleeson, of Arun District Council, said the idea for the bench came from children at one of the town's junior schools who suggested a brightly coloured "friendship" bench and shelters.
"It has proved very popular which is apparent when you look at the number of engraved slats on the bench," said Gleeson. "More than 200 have been engraved with personal messages by local residents and businesses."
One of these messages even includes a wedding proposal. Next to it is a reply, which says "Always, forever and more! Yes. I love you."
The Littlehampton bench takes us into an interesting area of street furniture - where benches are combined with cover.
It is most commonly seen in bus shelters.
Now, you could be forgiven for thinking thatched bus stops are incredibly unusual. You would, however, be wrong.
The Surrey village of Westcott pushes this thatch-topped envelope by adding a thatched dovecote bearing a weather vane on top to the mix.
The mock Tudor/Elizabethan pair, separated by a green bench and black dustbin, sit beside the A25.
A character appraisal carried out on the 800-home village describes the dovecote and weather vane (which has a T replacing the N to spell West) as a "local landmark".
The bus shelter and dovecote were built in the 1920s to commemorate the end of the First World War and were given to the village by a resident who had lost a son in the conflict.
In Stockport, Greater Manchester, there are a number of Portland stone bus stop shelters which have been built into the boundary wall of the War Memorial Art Gallery.
Described as "important surviving historic features", these shelters in Wellington Road form part of the Town Hall Conservation Area.
And they sit beside a road which itself has historical importance.
According to the local council, it was built in 1826 after the Turnpike Act was passed.
It was a new road which bypassed the historic centre of Stockport. In so doing, the council says, it was "in essence an early forerunner of the late 20th Century road bypass scheme".
Blackpool has come up with a novel way of making its public spaces more interesting - by jazzing up the floor itself.
The town's "comedy carpet" at the foot of Blackpool Tower features 160,000 individually cut letters spelling out the catchphrases, names and jokes of more than 1,000 comedians.
Officially unveiled by Ken Dodd in 2011, the centre of the "carpet" features five sections devoted to Dodd, Les Dawson, Morecambe and Wise, Frankie Howerd and Tommy Cooper.
Designer Gordon Young told the BBC at the time: "I'd been looking at photographs of stars and the Blackpool Tower was a recurring backdrop to the photos - Eric and Ernie in deck chairs, Ken Dodd, Les Dawson.
"It soon became obvious that Blackpool had been a magnetic chuckle point for the nation. From Mae West to modern maestros like Peter Kay, the sheer breadth of comedians who've performed in the town over the decades is amazing."
Red telephone kiosks, rather like their red post box siblings, were once a mainstay of English street furniture. Not any more.
In recent years, many have been declared surplus to requirements by BT.
Today, a red telephone box in the street might be a mini-library - such as those in Essex, Little Eaton and London - or as a storage point for a defibrillator, a device used by emergency crews to treat people suffering heart attacks.
In Kingston upon Thames, 12 red phone boxes were used to make a grand piece of public art.
Sculptor David Mach's Out of Order is now one of the town's best-known landmarks.
The red-theme continues up north in Halifax, which is home to a (non-working) replica of a gibbet.
No, it's not red. But the blood which once ran in Gibbet Street most certainly was. The original gibbet axe in Halifax delivered a grisly end to more than 50 people between 1541 and 1650.
The replica stands just off Gibbet Street and at the other end of the street is Rolls Head Lane.
Generations of school children across Halifax are taught the history of its gibbet but a few years ago it fell over due to rot.
Lawyer Chris Haddock, who helped restore the replica, said he felt he owed it to his local community.
"It fell down, I was nearby and I felt it was important," said Mr Haddock, whose offices sit opposite the gibbet site.
"I keep a fatherly eye on it."