The great George Bernard Shaw is supposed to have said that Britain and the USA are two countries separated by a common language. In a previous post I mentioned, in passing, how the Reticule of the Regency became the handbag of the British and the purse of the Americans. A fellow blogger willowdot21, liked my comments on the origins of the difference, so let’s continue with another curious pairing. The strip of raised ground alongside the road, for people to walk upon in Britain is the pavement and in America the sidewalk, why? – to understand I would advise you to visit a remarkably well preserved Victorian theme park on the Dorset Coast.
Durlston Castle – A Victorian Tea Room
The town of Swanage, on the Dorset coast was, in the late nineteenth century, a major exporter of stone, and a small holiday resort. A prominent local citizen, George Burt, a quarry owner and stone dealer, purchased a large block of land to the south of the town with a view to development. Houses were built on the land close to the town, however the land closer to the sea was unsuitable for development as it was pitted with old quarries. So he turned it into an educational theme park.
On entering the park, you walk past the castle, a dramatic looking folly, then as now a tea room, but as you do so you begin to notice something odd. The walls are covered with plaques giving interesting information on the earths place in the universe. Then you reach the Great Globe, a massive stone model of the earth.
Surrounding this are panels with more information, as well as suitable quotes from poets. There is even one blank panel for the use of graffiti ‘artists’ – and this was placed there in the 1880s!
Continue your walk and you will find other quotes inserted into walls, as well as a very rich wildlife. Massive bird colonies on the cliffs and when we were there a couple of weeks ago large numbers of Lulworth Skippers, a butterfly only found along a few miles of the Dorset coast. Some years ago the land was bought by the council and run as Durlston County Park.
If you have got this far you are probably wondering what all this has to do with pavements and sidewalks? Well, as you walk round the park you will see cast iron bollards, many with the names of old London Parishes. How they got there is a curious story.
George Burt was sending large amounts of Purbeck stone to London, much of which was used making pavements along the main roads. His vessels needed to have ballast on their return voyages, and he loaded the boats with objects from his yard. These included the bollards. And now for the story.
Up until the nineteenth century both sidewalks and pavements were to be found in Britain. A pavement was, as the name suggests an area paved with stone. The sidewalk had the same surface as the rest of the road, but was separated from the road by posts or bollards. By the end of the century sidewalks had vanished. In the USA they lasted longer and the name stuck.