A 60 year old road safety poster from the time of the Queen’s coronation is offering a glimpse into health and safety campaigns of the past.
The poster, which depicts the royal procession surrounded by children and proclaims ‘God Save the Queen,’ was aimed at teaching children road safety habits. It was unearthed by University of Portsmouth historian, Dr Mike Esbester, who discovered it on eBay.
He said that the poster’s approach is typically 1950s, a gentle approach, ‘guiding’ children and reminding them of their duty to obey policemen and the traffic rules.
“The health and safety messages of 1950s are a perfect example of how many things have changed dramatically since the Queen came to the throne. At that point safety messages were gently encouraging but 60 years on we are more used to hard-hitting, even shocking, messages, such as some of the Christmas anti-drink driving television commercials.
“But the underlying challenges – how to make the messages attractive and accessible, how to get people to pay attention – haven’t changed much in 60 years.”
The poster was discovered as part of Mike’s research into accident prevention in twentieth-century Britain, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. It is just one of many items used to try to educate people about safe and unsafe practices – others from around the time of the coronation included leaflets, exhibitions, local accident prevention groups, home safety campaigns, safe driving competitions – even a jumper knitting pattern featuring road signs.
Mike, from the School of Social Historical and Literary Studies, said: “Alarm about road safety in Britain grew with the introduction of the motor vehicle, as increasing numbers of people were killed and injured on the roads. Children provoked particular concern as they were highly vulnerable.”
Safety organisations – such as the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), which issued this poster – started appearing from 1916. During the Second World War the ‘kerb drill’ referred to in the poster was introduced. In a military style, children were taught how to cross the road: “At the kerb halt! Look right! Look left! Look right again! If all clear, quick march!”
Her Majesty the Queen is RoSPA’s Patron, and Janice Cave, history project manager at RoSPA, said that the discovery of this poster is a fitting way to celebrate her Diamond Jubilee.
“We are absolutely delighted that Dr Esbester has discovered this Coronation-themed poster.
“Our archives show that RoSPA’s theme to mark Her Majesty’s Coronation was ‘Let Courtesy Reign on the Queen’s Highway’. However, we do not know any background details about this particular poster and it would be lovely if anyone who remembers it could get in touch.”
The poster seems to have been supplied in black and white, leaving the colouring in to the recipient – in this case possibly one J Dunford, whose name is written on the back.
Dr Esbester said: “I’d like to think that J Dunford might see this and remember it and be able to tell us more about the poster and safety education in the 1950s. It may have been coloured in as a school activity, as safety essay and painting competitions had been run since before 1920, attracting hundreds of thousands of entries over the years. I’d be fascinated to hear from the original owner.”