Wednesday, February 18, 2009

In Search of the Birmingham apostrophe

In the last few weeks, Birmingham City Council has been on the global media when it announced that it was going to maintain the long establish practice of dropping apostrophes from road signs.

In this article, I have tried to establish how many apostrophes remain on Birmingham’s street nameplates and when did they start to dissappear.


The answer to the first question is that few apostrophes now remain on any of Birmingham’s street nameplates. For example, the following roads no longer have their apostrophe: St.Peters Road (Harborne), St.Marys Road (Harborne), Barlows Road (Harborne), Harrisons Road (Edgbaston), Wheeleys Road (Edgbaston), St.Marks Street (Ladywood) and King Edwards Road (Ladywood).


I admit that I have not examined every single road plate that has a road name ending in ‘s’, but I have had a damned good search.


The only roads I have been able to find that still retain the apostrophe on some of their signs (in some cases painted out) are St.Marys Row (Moseley), St.Pauls Square (Jewellery Quarter) and Wheelers Lane (Kings Heath). I did find two roads, that have had an apostrophe added within the last two years to one modern road sign – Queens Road (Aston) and St.Marys Road (Harborne)


So when did the apostrophe dissappear?


Birmingham Nameplates – prior to 1900

The use of the apostrophe in place or road names only started about 1800. Maps prior to this show no apostrophes. Victorian nameplates still exist in Birmingham, dotted about, however I have not been able to find a Victorian nameplate on any road that used to have a apostrophe.


A photo of a Victorian nameplate can be seen at:


This design was used until approximately 1900.


Birmingham Nameplates – 1900 to 1930

The design of Birmingham nameplates changed in 1900 to the following design:


Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath -

St.Pauls Square, Jewellery Quarter -

St.Marys Row, Moseley -


The use of the apostrophe in nameplates during this period was sometimes not consistent. The following photograph shows the apostrophe has already been dropped from St.Peters Road in Harborne.


Birmingham Nameplates – 1930 to 1940


The design of nameplates in Birmingham, slightly changed in the early 1930s with the addition of postal districts identification onto the nameplate. This design would remain until the start of the Second World War in 1939.


Examples can be seen as follows:

Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath -


Birmingham Nameplates – 1945 to 1975

After the Second World War, the design of Birmingham street name plates radicially changed to cast aluminium, with the letters standing proud of the background.


I have tried to identify the exact font used in these signs. The closest font, I have able to find is Gill Sans font, but with a modified letters M, S and W. The Gill Sans font was designed by Eric Gill in 1927


It was at this point that the apostrophe began to be significantly dropped from road nameplates in Birmingham.


The cast aluminium name plate was used until 1975.


Examples can be seen as follows:

Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath -

Wheeleys Road, Edgbaston -

St. Marks Crescent, Ladywood -

St.Marys Road, Harborne -


Birmingham Nameplates – 1975 to 1985

1975 saw the introduction of flat aluminium nameplates with white reflective vinyl used for the background – this meant the sign reflected in car headlights. The design was very similar to the previous cast aluminium sign.


This design was introduced after the incorporation of Sutton Coldfield into the City of Birmingham. Sutton Coldfield had a heat applicator for producing vinyl signs and these signs were significantly cheaper than cast aluminium.


Examples can be seen as follows:

Wheeleys Road, Edgbaston -

Harrisons Road, Edgbaston -


Birmingham Nameplates – 1985 to present

In 1985, the design of Birmingham nameplates was radicially altered, with a new font and inclusion of the Birmingham Coats of Arms. The font used was the Kindesley font


Examples can be seen as follows:

Wheelers Lane, Kings Heath -

Wheeleys Road, Edgbaston -

King Edwards Road, Ladywood -


Birmingham Nameplates – replica cast iron signs – 1995 to present

Since 1995, there has been a number of cast iron signs produced for Conservation Areas made in same design used in the 1930s. None of these retro signs included the apostrophe. These signs were:


St.Marys Row, Moseley -

St.Pauls Square, Jewellery Quarter -

St. Peters Road, Harborne -



Very few apostrophes remain on Birmingham’s road nameplates, with the majority dissappearing between 1945 and 1975. Even replica cast iron nameplates produced in the mid-1990s did not include the apostrophe.


With the annoyance expressed publicly by a number of local politicians about the decision to continue the practice of dropping the apostrophe in road signs, you would think the road signs in their own Wards would be ‘grammatically correct’. They are not and it begs the question – have they been a sleep for the last 50 years? Or maybe, they simply didn’t really care whether the road signs in their Ward had an apostrophe or not.


At 11:12 PM, Blogger podnosh said...

Hi Martin,

When you say "it announced" don't you mean you announced, or have I misunderstood the exact decision making process?


Post a Comment

<< Home