The four red fingerposts of Dorset

Travelling around rural Britain you will see variety of traditional fingerpost signs. These signposts are generally white with black lettering but there are variations. Dotted among these are a number of distinctive ‘Red Posts’. Here in Dorset we have four of these red finger posts. Below you will find details of each.

So why are these fingerposts red?

There are various theories bandied about. One common one is they were the sites of hangman’s gallows, although this seems to have no evidence to back it up. A more plausible explanation says they were markers on routes used for moving prisoners.

The four Dorset red fingerposts

A31 near Anderson and Bloxworth


This red fingerpost is on the A31 east of Bere Regis where the Anderson to Bloxworth road crosses. When I took the picture in the autumn of 2016 it was in a sorry state with arms missing and distressed red paint. Looking at the roundel on the top there is evidence of it having been repaired with small plates and rivets.

This red post seems to support the theory of stop off points for guards moving prisoners on foot. I have read that there is the remains of a barn nearby which still has the shackles on the wall. Convicts would be attached to these to prevent them absconding.

The site is said to be on the route from Dorchester prison to Portsmouth. From there they would be transported to Australia. The fact that the barn is on Botany Bay Farm lends authority to this theory.

A little further along the A31 is the Botany Bay Inne at Winterborne Zelston, a Hall & Woodhouse pub.

Horsey Knap lane, Benville Bridge

 

This red fingerpost is in West Dorset between the village of Evershot and the hamlet of Benville. I visited it and took the photograph shown here in the summer of 2016. It had been recently painted and looked very striking.

Just along from this red signpost towards Benville is another Dorset curiosity. This is a sign attached to a bridge warning of the consequences that will befall those who cause damage. I have previously written about these notices which can be seen around the county.

Hewood

 

Hewood is a small settlement in the very far west of Dorset. The red post here has only one arm pointing off the through road towards Hewood.

I took the photograph in the summer of 2016. The post had been recently painted. There is a fair amount of post above the finger which is unusual, I wonder if there used to be other arms?

B3145 Poyntington


The fourth Dorset red post can is to be found on the B3145 north of Sherborne close to the village of Poyntington. Here the road splits. Go one way to Charlton Horethorne and then on to Wincanton. Take the other fork to head towards Corton Denham.

The photograph shown here was taken by me in April 2017.

This sign post looks quite different to the other three. It has pointed ends on its three fingers rather than the rounded ends seen on the others. Travel around Dorset and you will see both types of arm end, I have seen both on one post.

The four Dorset Red Posts mapped, and an interesting observation

I plotted the locations of the four Dorset red posts on a map. Looking at this got me thinking and wondering.

As I mentioned it is said the red post on the A31 marked a resting place for prisoners and their guards. I decided to see how far they would have traveled from Dorchester Gaol to get there.

This is where modern technology comes into its own. Google maps told me it was a journey of about thirteen and a half miles on foot. It estimated this would take around four and a half hours to walk.

So, I thought, how far from the middle of Dorchester to the Benville red post? Google reported that walking via Maiden Newton and Cattistock it is just under fourteen miles. The time to walk this is similar too. A coincidence?

Hewood is pretty much due west of Benville. On the map it looked a similar distance as Benville to Dorchester. Again Google confirmed this. A little under fourteen miles and just over four and a half hours by foot.

This was forming a pattern, but what about the final red fingerpost north of Sherborne? Google says the walking distance from that one to the post at Benville is just over fourteen miles.

To me this does not look likely to be a random coincidence. Could it be that these red posts were on set routes for those moving on foot? Did they all mark resting places? If so who for? Were they solely there to mark the route taken moving prisoners, or did others use them too?

I would love to know the answer. If you can throw any light on this please comment below.

Knobby:

View Comments (15)

  • According to the info sign in Winterbourne Zelston The red post indicates Botany bay farm or is a hangman's site.

  • Although there is no evidence apparently, i have always believed that gifted (classed as witches ) people were burned there, i was sure I heard this as a young child , but now I'm not sure I was told or if it's something I know it's always been a place I connect to x

  • I was always told the signposts were painted red was because the militia escorting prisoners to Portsmouth were usually illiterate and so knew where resting stops were situated. Presumably illiterate travellers were also able to find rest.

  • Until the Border changes of 1896, the Red Post near Chard was in Dorset and the one at Heywood would have been in Devon.

  • A note regarding the last, Poyntington, post: the fingers are pointed as the post used to be within the borders of Somerset, not Dorset. Somerset uses pointed fingers (Dorset uses round, and Cornwall squares theirs) and it wouldn't have been changed when the border was moved in the 1800s. :)

  • There is another Red post near Chard,Somerset.
    50.869450,-2.987306 on Google maps.
    This was in Dorset in the 1800s. Not sure when county bounderies moved.
    Guess we might have stolen this one.

  • Just passed the Benville post today and it is a very sad sight. Two arms are missing leaving only the Evershot arm.

  • Many thanks for excellent photos and your thoughts on the red signposts. On Saturday we discovered the Wincanton-Sherborne one by chance, were intrigued so started looking it up. If you look up the Anderson-Bloxworth sign on Google Streetview it shows the sign with four fingers - from the screen capture dates it's clear that the two missing fingers were removed between Sep 2011 and July 2016. If you want to email me I'll be happy to send you the picture from it. Sounds like it's worth chasing up DCC to see what's happening. That said, villagers like us here in Somerset are having to repair and repaint our old finger posts to stop the council from having a pretext for replacing them with modern rubbish.

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