Compared to an episode of Poirot or Miss Marple it’s a mystery which may sound a little trivial. Not the mystery of who killed who and why but the mystery of the missing handmade signs. GRAHAM CHALMERS attempts to investigate. . .
For community groups in pretty villages across North Yorkshire, it’s a mystery which can mean a matter of life and death - to the success of their public events at least.
The story began with a chance encounter outside St Andrew’s Church in Aldborough near Boroughbridge before an event at this year’s Northern Aldborough Festival.
Chatting to a couple of volunteer helpers, one of them mentioned the signs they had put up for the festival in a few places round the village had all disappeared.
In fact, they continued, the same thing had happened to every sign they had put up in the past six months or so.
These were neatly-dressed, civic-minded residents who simply wanted to let people know a series of classical concerts was taking place in the village.
How else could they advertise community events except with posters - outside of Facebook, which the more elderly members of their potential audiences don’t often use.
Or talk to someone in the newsroom at the Harrogate Advertiser Series, of course.
Still, there was no body to do a post-mortem on; this mystery wasn’t quite on the scale of Midsomer Murders.
I was tempted to brush it off when someone else got in touch.
The organiser of Whixley Open Garden Day said their signs had gone missing, too.
Barry Atkinson sounded a plausible witness. He could describe the signs exactly – metal T” shape and tough “Corex” signage.
“Two signs were put up on the A59 coming into Whixley crossroads from York and one just past the roundabout at Allerton. Both have vanished.
“Two signs were taken from the Boroughbridge road, the B6265, near to the turn-off for Marton.
“One approaching Marton from Boroughbridge and one approaching Marton the other way.”
Here was detailed evidence at last. Soon I was picking up similar tales from other villages - Lower Dunsforth and Marton cum Grafton.
But no good mystery was ever solved without suspects.
Could the culprits be rival groups or was it tidy-conscious public bodies?
I heard that someone in Aldborough had talked to someone from North Yorkshire County Council who’d told them the signs had supposedly been taken away by Harrogate Borough Council.
Robert Ogden, director of Northern Aldborough Festival told me he had contacted HBC with the following points:
“The Northern Aldborough Festival, which ran this year from June 11-20 put out some dark blue advertising signs in various positions in the local area around ten days before the event.
“At some stage before the festival began these were removed and have not been located.
“Assuming they had been removed by North Yorkshire County Council, we visited their depot and they told us that, in their opinion, they had been removed by HBC.”
The plot was thickening. This was getting intriguing.
I contacted Whixley Parish Council to pass on what knowledge I had, After a few days they replied they had no knowledge of the problem.
I left a message for Boroughbridge Town Council and they kindly rang back emphasising strongly that they could not possibly comment because they, too, knew nothing whatsoever.
I contacted Harrogate Borough Council and finally got a ‘lead’.
A spokesperson from the council’s Economy and Culture department said they had told Northern Aldborough Festival the following:
“I have spoken to case officers from Planning and can confirm nobody in this department has removed your signs.
“My advice would be to speak to staff at North Yorkshire County Council as they handle complaints regarding event signage within their responsibility as the leading highways authority.
“With regards to retrieving the signs, I would suggest you look behind any hedges where the signs were located as people often dump them somewhere locally after removal.”
It was time to talk to North Yorkshire County Council.
A friendly and helpful spokesman was happy to talk.
He said the county council had received some complaints about the disappearing signs but the council had “no idea” who was doing it.
We’ve always had a relatively relaxed attitude on community groups putting signs up to publicise their events.
“In the past we’ve tended to turn a blind eye as long as they’re not causing a safety issue by where they are placed.”
But there had been a change, the spokesman told me.
“In recent months we’ve been receiving complaints from people complaining about the proliferation of signage littering the countryside in North Yorkshire.
“Even so, if we need to remove any signs we always contact the people involved and give them three chances to do so. And we usually allow them to keep them up for 30 days anyway.”
Perhaps the signs were being removed for a good reason?
Were these mostly elderly community volunteers seeking to advertiser events such as the annual village fetes actually the problem, albeit unintentionally.
Not according to the church warden at Aldborough, Aidan Foster who said: “As I do every year for Northern Aldborough Festival, I placed signs on verges well away for traffic and nobody could argue they were obscuring any road signage. They were only up for a week or so before disappearance.”
Anyone who drives a car in the Harrogate district knows signs tend to stay unmolested for weeks on end at the side of roads.
It suddenly struck me that most of the disappearances were taking place in villages in the same area between the A1, the A59 and the A19.
On the map it looked a little like a triangle.
Unlike the notorious Bermuda Triangle, however, it’s not planes or boats going missing, it’s signs, humble but important little signs causing no apparent harm to anyone.
The whole thing had turned into a wild goose chase. I’d failed to solve the mystery of the missing signs.
But I am certain of one thing now. I know I’m no Poirot or Miss Marple.
Have you got any information about the mystery of the missing signs?
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