Old street signs in the city of Oxford

The oldest surviving street signs of Oxford are easy to identify, as almost all of them have hyphens (with BLUE-BOAR-STREET having two). The sixteen signs below were photographed by David Ludlow in 2004 and probably date from the 1840s to the 1860s.

Street names

St Giles's Terrace

The apostrophe is not used in QUEENS-LANE, and in order to fit had to be turned sideways in ST. GILES’S-TERRACE (right)

Why apostrophes in street names are not recommended today

That street sign for St Giles's Terrace on the Woodstock Road was removed in 2011/12. It can still be seen on Google StreetView in earlier years, for instance here in 2009.

The images above include an old street sign with a hyphen at each end of Broad Street, but the second one has been repositioned on a stone fence pillar outside the Clarendon Building and had to be cut in half to fit, with the hyphen blackened out. This sign was probably originally sited around the corner on what today is considered to be the north end of Catte Street, as until the twentieth century Broad Street stretched southwards as far as New College Lane.

Hyphenated Oxford street names in print

The hyphen in street names was also used in handwriting and print. This extract from Jackson's Oxford Journal of 13 September 1890 gives three examples: “Holywell-street”, “Broad-street”, and “South Parks-road”:

Jackson's Oxford Journal of 13  September 1890: Short extract showing three hyphenated street names

The convention of using hyphens in print continued well into the twentieth century in some publications.

Two adjacent old street signs in Oxford

The name “Walton Street“ was only introduced in about 1855, so its sign in the photograph below probably dates from that time. The sign for “Worcester Place” may be older, as that street name did not change:

Walton Street and Worcester Place street sign

Hyphenated street signs in Oxford that have been lost

Although these nineteenth-century street signs were obviously built to last, most of them have disappeared, often because the buildings to which they were attached were demolished or refaced.

Brasenose Lane and Turl Street

The above postcard below shows two old hyphenated street-signs (BRASENOSE-LANE and MARKET-STREET) that no longer exist:

Rectory Road

Later street signs

The style of sign shown on the right was used during the mid-twentieth century, and this one can be more precisely dated than that as Rectory Road was only given that name in 1959.

Street-signs are now usually mounted on concrete legs on the pavement like this rather than on buildings, so that is a useful clue to their age.

In the late twentieth century Oxford City Council started to put its new stylized logo of an ox crossing a ford on the left-hand side of all street signs.

Stephanie Jenkins