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Milestones and Signposts

  Blandford Milestone
  The Romans used milestones along their major routes and a few examples of their stones remain including several in museums around the country

  Way markers were the forerunners of milestones and signposts. Placed at strategic points they simply indicated the direction of the next habitation with a pointing hand or arrow. Examples of these remain around the country including some notable ones on the North Yorkshire Moors.

  With the development of a postal system across the country a measurement between places became desirable to ensure fair payment and roads were gradually surveyed and distances recorded in a standard mile measure.

  Increased travel meant better roads were required and local Turnpike trusts were set up to build and maintain roads. These in turn charged a toll for the use of the road and examples of Turnpike Trust markers remain in addition to milestones along their roads. As each Trust produced its own mile markers the designs are many and varied. Some simply employ the initial letter of the next significant location and the number of miles. Others are very exact giving distance in miles and furlongs or miles and yards. Fractions of miles also occur. Some employ the most elaborate lettering and others a very simple script. It is not unusual to find examples where the painter has failed to leave sufficient space for the whole word and some letters are written above or below the rest. Older examples often display old spellings of place names such as Winton for Winchester and Sarum for Salisbury.

  Originally made of stone with the information painted or carved onto the surface, the introduction of metal casting lead to milestones or, more correctly, mile markers being made in this way. In some instances a metal plate was attached to a stone, often an existing milestone. More commonly a whole new mile marker was produced, often in elaborate shapes and generally hollow backed.

  Occasionally the information was painted onto a building, usually at a height to be read by those travelling on stage coaches or other horse drawn vehicles. Early signposts employed at major junctions and crossroads were often very tall by modern standards for this reason.

  At major route crossings an obelisk was often chosen to record distances not only to the next town along the route but to other notable places along the route. Many of these were privately funded.

  Many mile markers record the distance to London in addition to more local destinations. A few carry additional information. It is not uncommon for cast examples to carry a foundry mark but a stone in the New Forest records the name of the surveyor whilst another in the locality records a Peace Treaty of its day.

  These markers have fallen foul of road improvements and the ravages of time. Many stone markers are illegible and metal ones have rusted and decayed. Some stones were buried or defaced during the Second World War. Many counties are now restoring their stones and a few have even been replaced.


 

Related Links

  The Milestone Society

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