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  • Betty Girardeau

A Bit of the UK IN Rugby, TN

Updated: Oct 13


When I was in Rugby on Saturday for my Cameraless Photography Class, I spotted this sign at a crosswalk in the town center. I was a bit amused by it, but also thought it was different from most yield signs that I have seen. And indeed it is. Rugby, Tennessee was founded by Englishman, Thomas Hughes as a "colony" to create an “honorable” alternative for sons of aristocratic English families in the United States.  When he visited the United States in 1870 he was well-known for his writings and work for social reform and was welcomed by such prominent Americans as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Secretary of State Hamilton Fish. Through his introduction to a group of Bostonians, who were searching for unoccupied farm lands to promote migration from the crowded Northeast, Hughes created an Anglo-American coalition that bought 50,000 acres of land in northeast Tennessee. The plan of Rugby town imitates an English village and the Victorian architecture of the public and private buildings in Rugby were in stark contrast to the rough cabins of their Tennessee neighbors of the time. Hughes himself described his vision of Rugby to be an “honorable” alternative for sons of aristocratic English families in the United States." It was a little piece of England in America. The street crossing sign above is a subtle reminder of this today. This yield sign is, in fact, not American. It is a British one! "The Elderly People Crossing" road signs were introduced to the UK in 1981 and immediately became controversial because of their outdated and negative image of senior citizens. In 2015 Anna James, the founder of Spring Chicken, a company dedicated to changing the image of aging, began to work with others to redesign this much detested British road sign. She wrote at the time that "Today’s older adults don’t think of themselves as old and infirm. I think there is a way to represent the need for drivers to slow down without suggesting that life is over for older people....” Margaret Calvert, who is the original designer for many of the iconic UK's road signs, agreed that these signs should be "scrapped." The wheels of "progress," however, must run slowly in that country, because I have not been able to find any evidence that a new sign has been adopted or even that the old signs have simply been removed. If and when that happens in Britain, though, I expect this sign in the middle of Rugby, Tennessee, will remain as yet another reminder of that village's roots.

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