Bridport Gets Road Traffic Signal Lights at Dangerous Corner

“All this appalling dangerous driving on the roads”, was Grandad Beck’s view of the standard of driving in 1935. One dangerous place was the junction of South, West and East street at the town hall Bridport. For those that don’t know the town, coming from South Street, there is very little visibility to see the traffic coming from the West. Also traffic turning into South Street from East Street had to take the sharp corner wide to get around, as you can see from the first photograph. I can remember the traffic lights not working, turning right into East Street from South Street was scary and difficult to know if there would be any other vehicles coming towards me. Bridport Borough Council had been asking for “road traffic signal lights”, at the junction for a while. Bridport’s automatic traffic signals were officially opened at 12 noon on Saturday,  4th May 1935,  by the Mayor (Councillor W. S. B. Northover) who set the system in operation by turning a key in the “station” under the Town Hall colonade.  The Mayor was accompanied by his Deputy (Councillor S. J. Gale) and Councillor F. S. Cornick (Chairman of the Town Council Highways Committee).  After this there were numerous drivers coming up before the Borough Police court and in the first few months Grandad Beck was prosecuting.

The traffic lights at the Town Hall Bridport after 1935 exact date unknown
The traffic lights at the Town Hall Bridport after 1935 exact date unknown

The Police Chief of any area would be the one conducting the prosecution at these local courts. The local papers reported these cases often quoting the participants, giving us a interesting account of driving in 1935. I have picked a selection of cases, from before and after Grandad Beck retired at the end of July. The drivers were mainly from outside the town, suggesting that local drivers quickly got used the to lights, perhaps after a few warnings. The defendant’s, who all pleaded not guilty, blamed the lights being in the wrong place, not seeing the lights, no warning signs, not expecting traffic lights in a small town. Grandad Beck agreed that the light in East Street, could have been better placed and a warning sign would be useful. The first case happened 3 days before the lights were switched on, when a cyclist was failed to stop at this junction.

Cyclist Who Failed to Stop
Harold Richards was cycling his bicycle down East Street, Bridport to wards the T-junction at the town hall, on Market Day, Wednesday 1st May 1935 at 12.50pm. He intended to cross the junction to go down the hill. He saw the Great Western Railway lorry turning and the uniformed police constable, P.C. Applin, directing the traffic and slowed down.   The constable signalled Richards to stop but he didn’t.  In the court, Richards said “I saw your signal but thought I had time to pass.” “I did not stop” he said, “because I had a basket on the handlebars and thought I might come off in the middle of the road.”

Harold was to regret this decision, the car coming out of south street had to slow down, people on the pavement shouted at him. Only then did Harold stop.

Supt. Beck said there was a tendency on the part of pedal cyclist to rush the signals rather than dismount.  This was highly dangerous and was the reason why Richards had been summoned, so that a warning might be given to cyclists in general. 

As reported in the Bridport News on 10 May 1935, at the local court, the Mayor, sternly admonished Harold Richards of North Allington “No matter whether the signal is give by the outstretched arm of a police officer or by the traffic lights, it must be rigidly obeyed”, said the Mayor. The magistrates clerk, Mr A Whetham, added ” I hope you will take more notice of the traffic lights than you did of the constable.” Harold was fined 6 shillings, though only 30 pence in today’s money it was a considerable amount in 1935.

Traffic Lights opposite town hall Bridport after 1935 exact date unknown
Traffic Lights opposite town hall Bridport after 1935 exact date unknown

Failed to Obey Traffic Signals
The set of traffic lights, at the town hall Bridport was missed by motorists travelling though the town, especially those travelling West. It was felt by many that the light was in the wrong place and therefore they didn’t see it. At the Borough Police Court on the 16 July 5 drivers where summoned to appear for failing to stop at the traffic lights.

First was on 20 July when Cyril Martin from West Looe in Cornwall said he didn’t know that the lights had been installed. Richard Duxbury from Bournemouth, Hampshire said he was sorry he had not seen the lights. He also pointed out that there was no warning signs said there were traffic lights ahead.

John Foley for Landford, Wiltshire nearly caused a serious accident when he narrowly missed the Borough Surveyor’s car. Albert Creek of Stoke-under-Ham, Somerset was on a motor cycle when he came though Bridport. On 10 July Percival Smith, a chauffeur of Budleigh Salterton, Devon didn’t see the red light. He blamed the wet weather, the amount of traffic – it was a Wednesday morning, market day.

All them motorists were fined 5 shillings.

“I know a good many motorists are complaining that the light on the south side of East Street is in the wrong position and I entirely agree with them” declared Supt. A. P. Beck. This light was placed in a niche against the Town Hall, Supt. Beck felt that the light should be moved to the corner nearest the Grey Hound hotel. He also asked if a prominent sign could be erected on the Town Hall to warn motorist of the road traffic signal lights.

After Supt. Beck’s retirement motorist continued to find themselves in the Borough Court for not stopping at a red light. In August 1935 Mr Heels from Plymouth said he “did not notice the lights it is the first time I have been through this district”. He was unlucky that P.C. Samways was cycling out of South Street at the time. Mr Roper defending said that being a stranger he didn’t expect traffic lights in “a town like this”, The Magistrate wanted to know what he meant by “a town like this”. Mr Roper replied “Well, I do not know of a smaller town which has traffic lights”. Being a stranger they were was not excepted but he was fined 5 shillings.

Also fined 5 shillings was Athol Stewart Joseph Pearse a retired doctor, from North Curry, Somerset. He had been a motorist for 35 years and pleaded he did not see the lights because of the amount of parked cars and traffic. He stated that it was “most unusual” to have traffic lights where there were no crossroads. I don’t think the doctor was very happy at being summoned. He had seen someone drive against the lights that morning, “And I dare say that there are dozens doing the same thing every day. That’s all I have to say. I have got it off my chest and that’s that!” He agreed that this was a dangerous corner but argued that traffic moving through the town, eastwards towards Weymouth, did not need a traffic signal on the north side of West Street.

The traffic lights have been at the town hall for 80 years now.  It is rare that anyone drives through a red light now.

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