TOWN JOB: Barrie Bowes said he had all but forgotten that he painted the signs in Barnard Castle
TOWN JOB: Barrie Bowes said he had all but forgotten that he painted the signs in Barnard Castle

READING about a resident’s crusade to repaint “scruffy” street signs has jogged the memory of a Startforth man who had forgotten the part he played in their creation.

Barrie Bowes, from Teesdale Road, in Startforth, was given the task of painting the cast aluminium signs when they were originally made at Barnard Castle-based sign maker, William Smith, in the late 1950s.

Mr Bowes was completing an apprenticeship as a paint sprayer and sign writer when the order for the signs came in. He said: “I’d all but forgotten about it until I read the story about Paul [Crossling] repainting the signs around town. I think he’s doing a great job and it took me back.

“When I told my friends I knew who’d painted them originally, they couldn’t believe it when I said it was me.”

He said the order caused something of a stir in the workshop because some workers believed the number of signs was incorrect.

He added: “I would have been 16 or 17 years old. When the order came in for the signs it was for the original gates to Barnard Castle and the order said five. However, a lot of the old boys reckoned they must have got the order wrong as there were only four gates – Newgate, Galgate, Bridgegate and Thorngate.

“There was one old chap who was adamant there were five, but he wouldn’t let on where the fifth gate was until they’d put half a crown down – a sort of bet.

“It was then he told them it was Broadgates. Well I was just a young lad then but even then it was just a dead end passageway half way up The Bank. I suppose it could have been an entrance to the town years ago, perhaps that’s why Newgate was a new gate to replace it. I don’t know but I do remember the fuss it caused.”

He added: “I suppose I got the task of painting them as I had a steady hand and I was the apprentice sign writer. But I didn’t use a brush, I used a potato.”

The trick, which was to cut a potato in half and wrap it in muslin cloth, was passed on by an old hand in the workshop. Mr Bowes said: “You wrapped the potato up in muslin and then dab into the paint. It was the best way to paint the signs.”

Mr Bowes, who stayed with Williams Smith for four years, said the company was also tasked with creating town signage for the routes into Barnard Castle, complete with the town’s coat of arms.

However instead of only four signs, the order was given to create five signs and staff were left scratching their heads about the location of the fifth route into town.

He said: “It caused quite a bit of confusion. It turns out the fifth sign was for an exhibition up at Newcastle town moor. I’ve love to know what happened to the signs. They probably got melted down when they were replaced.”

Anyone with information on what happened to the coat of arms signs can contact the Mercury on 01833 637140.