Courtesy of Lionel Scott
downloaded by him from Journal of Ancient Archaeology (45th series) 67 (5085) 244–6 (web.jas.45.67.uk24/244-6/html)
One of the items (DWB 1,039) recovered in the 5025–30 excavations of the ruins of Dewsbury, in what was then Yorkshire, England, was a rectangular metal sign, measuring 603 mm x 411 mm, with black letters on a yellow background. Although damaged at both sides, the wording is easily restorable:
The excavators’ note on this item was brief and succinct: “A notice used when the regular bus stop was temporarily unavailable, e.g. for road repairs.” The context in which it was found pointed to a date of 1,950–2,000 (Jones et al. (5036) 141–2, 316).
It was next noted in Professor Dr Dr Hans von Iglfeld’s monumental and copiously illustrated Allgemeine Geschichte des Zwanzigstejahrhunderttransport (5046), which treats in detail the “golden age of physical transport“. Part IV dealt with buses. Von Iglfeld included many illustrations of bus stops across the world; those in England were typically square or rectangular plates marked simply “Bus Stop”, fastened on to a vertical pole or attached to a structure called a “Bus Shelter” (Part IV §§310–27). Noting DWB 1,039, he described it as “unique”, dubbing it ‘Die Dewsbury Plakette’ (the Dewsbury Plaque). He proposed that it was used to show the place where a temporary bus, as opposed to a regular bus, stopped. He noted evidence from the Great Six Year War of 1939–45, and from several years afterwards, for the use of other types of vehicles, particularly wagons and lorries, to transport persons, and argued that this sign related to that period, to show the traveller that he or she might have to travel in some discomfort.
This interpretation did not commend itself to others. Thus Fontaine (5052) noted document Tpt D546-RVH-876 in the Central British Archive at Pontefract, a 1964 contract between the Trent Motor Traction Company and Hargreaves Coaches Ltd from 1964 for the hire of two motor coaches. Citing von Iglfeld’s discussion at Part IV §§305–68, which described and illustrated motor coaches as a more luxurious and comfortable vehicle than standard buses, and at §§839–904, discussing how payment for travel was achieved, and including one text which called the payment a “fare”, he argued that the Trent Company hired these coaches as a short-term or temporary experiment, to offer passengers a more comfortable ride; he was thus able to reconcile the “fare” reference with other surviving passages, where “fa(y)re” certainly meant something to eat. He proposed that the Trent Company were offering meals or refreshment to their passengers who were prepared to pay a higher price for a more comfortable journey. The Dewsbury Plaque was evidence for a similar arrangement, and showed where the passenger should wait for his luxury bus, i.e. a “coach”.
Borodinski (5055) rejected Fontaine’s proposal. She found considerable evidence that the cost of travelling by train was called a “train fare”; therefore “fare” clearly had two different meanings in the 20th century, one being the cost of travel and the other some form of food; there was no need to suppose a two-tier bus system. She also cited newspaper reports for the period 1970–2030 of trains being cancelled and replaced by buses, though cautioning the reader not to read too much into those texts, as they might suffer from the exaggerations of human journalism. Even so, those reports probably had some factual basis, and she argued that the Dewsbury Plaque denoted the place for boarding a temporary replacement bus: the bus was “temporary”, that is, until the train service could be restored. Unfortunately, she overlooked the excavator’s report on item DWB 1,039, which shows that it was recovered at a considerable distance from the Dewsbury railway station, a site identified by Jones et al. though not then fully excavated.
Two totally different explanations were offered by Keinmann (5057). He cited several photographs in the Münchner Freiluftmuseum, MFM 67TE 1298–1323, all showing “motor cars” at the side of the road with a red triangle behind them; they had broken down and were awaiting repair. She therefore suggested that, since a bus was a much larger vehicle than a car, a bigger warning sign was needed, and the Plaque was carried on the bus in case it broke down. Alternatively, since buses ran to timetables (so von Iglfeld Part IV §§587–8), a bus running ahead of time might have to wait until it was time to move on, and, again, its presence marked with a sign such as the Plaque. In either case, the stop of the bus was only temporary.
Unless further evidence emerges, it seems unlikely that we can decide with any degree of confidence which of the above explanations is to be preferred. All we can say with confidence is that temporary buses, or buses temporarily stopped in one sense or another, existed, and an appropriate notice was required. I note, in passing, that no scholar, so far as I know, has agreed with the suspiciously simple explanation of the original excavators.
I here revisit the Plaque on a different basis. I propose that DWB 1,039 was not for outdoor use, but an indoor ornament mimicking an outdoor item. This is based on two things: the recent work of Professor Johann von Lochimkopf (5080), and a close examination of the excavators’ report.
Von Lochimkopf’s work deals with the redistribution of wealth in 20th– and 21st-century Britain; Chapters 4 and 5 look in detail at the lifestyle of the meritocracy and other élites, especially from after 1960. He showed that some people, especially those engaged in areas such as finance, entertainment, and sport, enjoyed a sharp rise in their income and therefore spending power. This led to the emergence of a new profession, “interior decorators”, who provided expensive decorations for their houses, and fittings, particularly in kitchens and bathrooms; and also, for their living rooms and entrance halls, unusual items which acted as “talking points”. The new rich were people of great earning power but few other interests, and needed some extraneous objects as a basis for social conversation. He cited evidence for items such as the “coffee table book”, an impractically large book consisting mostly of pictures of various subjects, such as plants or tropical beaches, placed on an expensive table; statues; and smaller items of unusual shape, often of some age and dubbed “antiques”. These “talking points” were, in effect, secular cult objects, and enabled their owners not only to converse with visitors, but also to enhance their status in the eyes of their visitors.
Turning to DWB 1,039, the excavators’ report showed three things of note. One was that it was badly damaged at both sides; as noted above, letters at both edges have been lost. Secondly, they commented that it was not of very good quality, having been recovered in an otherwise undisturbed layer of earth. Thirdly, apart from being found at some distance from the railway station, it was in or immediately outside the curtilage of a large dwelling house. This suggests that it was never intended for outdoor use, but as an indoor item, a ‘talking point’, thrown out when damaged in some domestic incident, and presumably replaced with some other expensive ‘talking point’. When in use, one can imagine social banter along the lines of one person saying to the other “Waiting for the bus, are you?” Alternatively, if not a ‘talking point’ in the von Lochimkopf sense, it could have been a quasi-religious object, which the owner would touch before leaving his or her house, as a thank offering for being able to journey in a car as opposed to travelling on a bus.
I appreciate that this does not define what a ‘temporary bus’ was, but it does offer a realistic explanation for item DWB 1,039.
Borodinski F. (5052) Fares, fares, and the Dewsbury Plaque (web.borodinski.balliol.ac.uk.eng32/faresdewsbury/html)
Fontaine M. (5055) Le ‘Temporary Bus’ au Plaque de Dewsbury (web.fontainem.rennu.ac.fr6/letempbus/html)
Jones J., Liu P., and Mohammed A. The Dewsbury Excavations 2025-30 vol 1 (5035) (web.ox.ac.uk.eng32/dewbury excav1/html)
Keinmann O. Das rote Dreieck und die Dewsbury Platte (5057) (web.heidelberg.edu.de64/dewsbury/html)
von Iglfeld H. Allegmeine Geschichte des Zwangigstejahrhunderttransport (5046) web.heidelberg.edu.de64/allgem.geschichte.zwanzjhtpt.wbook
von Lochimkopf J. “The Meritocrat and other high earners in the Early Techno-Electron Age: New Aristocrats and 20th century consumerism” (5080) web.camb.edu.eng3/merito.wbook
In lieu of any information about the author – and it may be that the future of academia is both faceless and anonymous – we are at least able to pass on the following about Lionel Scott instead:
Lionel Scott is a Classically-educated retired barrister, whose publications include Pytheas of Massalia: Texts, Translation, Commentary (Routledge, London, 2022), Were There Polis Navies in Archaic Greece? (BAR Int Series 899 (2000) 93-115), and Historical Commentary on Herodotus Book VI (Brill, Leiden, 2005).