A sign of the times

A sign of the times

In any large building open to the public, there are a lot of signs. St George’s is no exception. There are signs welcoming, directing, informing and warning visitors. There are wooden notices, metal notices and plastic notices. There are blue, green, black, gold, and red writing and backgrounds on display.

These signs may seem like a modern phenomenon, but signage in the Chapel goes back to at least 1785, when the Chapter Acts record:

Ordered that the following notice be hung up in two or three conspicuous places in the Church – “It is earnestly requested of all persons to forbear walking and talking aloud in the isle of this church during divine services”.

It is probably because of this Chapter Act that a very similar notice, reading It is desired that no Person walk in the Aisles during Divine Service is still visible in the Chapel.A brass plate on a wooden background reading 'It is desired that no Person walk in the Aisle during Divine Service.' The edges of the plate are scalloped and there are decorative curls next to the text.

At intervals in the latter half of the 19th century, the Dean and Canons paid Henry Hancock, Thomas Adams, and Henry Crook to ‘paint’, ‘write’, ‘make’, and ‘fix’ noticeboards. These were probably showing service times. The wording of one such noticeboard from 1876, which hung outside the South Door, is preserved:

To Visitors

St George’s Chapel may be seen every weekday Wednesdays excepted from half past 12 till 4 o’clock

Entrance at this door.

The Vergers are strictly prohibited from receiving any Fee or Gratuity for shewing the Chapel. Any incivility on their part to be reported to the Dean or Canon in Residence forthwith.

By order of the Dean.

Visitor numbers increased throughout the 19th century, until the service of a policeman in the precincts of the Chapel was requested in 1882. In 1939, enquiries were being made about whether the Police would be able to look after bags and luggage deposited at the entrance. This influx may have led to another politely worded notice, probably from the early 20th century, which reads: The Public are earnestly requested not to deface these walls by writing & it is hoped that they will assist the Officials & the Police in the Protection of the Buildings. This sign is in the Dean’s Cloister, which has copious evidence of visitors ignoring this regulation. The most impressive graffiti, however, is in the Ambulatory. Here it goes beyond the familiar names, initials, and dates, and obeys the injunction not to write on the walls, which instead have drawings of men, flowers and ships.

By 1956, it was decided that more historical notices should be put up to provide visitors with some context. The first was placed in the Porch of Honour, which had recently been restored by the Friends of St George’s Chapel. Since then, other informative notices have appeared.

The proliferation of notices from different periods had become unmanageable by 2003, when an attempt was made to rationalise them. Of the existing notices, some were characterised as ‘charming’ and others as ‘inappropriately placed’. The typefaces were also discussed, as the older wooden signs (gold lettering on a blue background), were in a square, formal typeface which seemed at odds with the ‘Welcome’ message that they were supposed to convey.

The current notices have largely conformed to the ideal set out in 2003. The laminated paper signs have gone, and many of the superfluous notices have been removed, leaving the ‘charming’ signs intact, and the Chapel less cluttered and easier to navigate around.

Anne Courtney, Assistant Archivist

The King's Free Chapel. The Chapel of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. The Chapel of the College of St George.