The first recorded milestones were put in place by the Romans, who defined the centre of Imperial Rome with the ‘Golden Milestone’. They laid good metalled roads to move soldiers, supplies and couriers quickly across their empire: they measured distance to aid timing, marking every thousandth double-step with a large cylindrical stone. Several survive. The Latin for thousand was ‘mille’ and the distance was 1618 yards. The eventual British Standard Mile was 1760 yards, but ‘long’ miles existed in Yorkshire and the Peak District into the 19th century.
After the Roman military roads of the first century AD, highways developed to meet local community needs. Ancient ridgeways, the saltergates, the Priests’ ways, manorial routes and pack-horse tracks criss-crossed Yorkshire. In 1555, an Act of Parliament made the townships responsible for the upkeep of local roads, and in 1667 the Justices were ordered to erect guide-posts on the moors where routes intersected.
At this time, road travel was slow and difficult. The sunken lanes became quagmires in wet weather and occasionally both horses and riders were drowned! It took 16 days to cover the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh. So groups of local worthies formed ‘Turnpike Trusts’, by Acts of Parliament, raising money to improve stretches of road and then charging users tolls to pay for it, at the Toll-gate or Bar.
From 1767, mileposts were compulsory on all turnpikes, to inform travellers of direction and distances, to help coaches keep to schedule and for charging for changes of horses at the coaching inns. The distances were also used to calculate postal charges before the uniform postal rate was introduced in 1840.
Turnpike roads were superseded by the railways from the 1840s and many trusts were wound up. In 1888, the new County Councils were given responsibility for main roads, while minor ones remained the responsibility of the local councils (boroughs, and urban and rural districts) which had succeeded the townships.
In the West Riding area, the County Council replaced most of the turnpike milestones with cast-iron ones of triangular section, many of which were manufactured at Brayshaw and Booth’s foundry in Liversedge. Many of the earlier milestones survive on minor turnpikes, however, and a wide variety of styles still exists.
Click on the links below for articles on some of Yorkshire's interesting milestones, or the links on the left for other types of waymarker.
JS / updated March 2012