Lockdown cyclist covers 1,000 miles to catalogue county’s remaining Festival of Britain signs

Festival of Britain signs
A fine example of one of the signs commissioned by Bedfordshire County Council in 1951

A Bedfordshire man has cycled well over 1,000 miles since April as part of a lockdown project to photograph unique signs in the county’s villages.

Marian Biskupski began working from home as lockdown struck at the end of March.

“I usually commute to London, so working from home gave me some extra time on my hands,” he told the Bedford Independent from his Luton home.

“I thought I may as well do something to keep fit, so decided to do some cycling.

“I’d seen the Festival of Britain village signs throughout Bedfordshire all my life, so I thought I’d try and cycle to all of the signs nearby…”

What started as fairly small-scale soon escalated and Marian decided to cycle to and chronicle all 134 signs commissioned by Bedfordshire County Council in 1951 as part of the local celebration of the Festival of Britain.

The furthest Marian cycled from home was to visit the signs in Upper Dean and Nether Dean in the north of the county.

The original signs were wooden, erected between two concrete posts with die-cast metal disks at either end – one featuring the Festival of Britain logo designed by Abram Games and the other the county coat of arms.

Stephen Coleman, historic environment information officer at Central Bedfordshire Council, shared some of his research on the signs.

“As part of the Festival of Britain celebrations, Bedford County Council – as was – wanted to fund five projects and the village signs was one of them.

“In addition, the council created a new county coat of arms, they bought Moot Hall and the village green in Elstow, bought and restored Stevington Windmill and planted 1,951 roadside trees across the county.”

The signs were offered to villages at a subsidised cost of £10 (roughly £316 in today’s money) and were manufactured in the county council’s own workshop.

138 were initially made, although some are in better repair than others. Some have an additional ‘hump’ feature to accommodate ‘best kept village’ badges.

“The Cotton End sign has been beautifully maintained by the local community,” said Marian.

“One sign in a village in Central Beds was removed some years ago and was recently discovered in a shed where it’s been for over 10 years.”

Marian is now trying to find out what happened to the missing signs and is in touch with Stephen Coleman to help catalogue the photographs he’s taken.

Stephen would also like to hear from anyone with information or photographs of their own village’s Festival of Britain sign. You can email him stephen.coleman@centralbedfordshire.gov.uk

To coincide with the 70th anniversary of the Festival of Britain in 2021, Marian is aiming to create a Facebook page and website to share his project more widely.

“What started as a small-scale project to keep fit has definitely turned into a labour of love.”

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