All About Milestones and Waymarkers

Slaithwaite’s Dial Stone, and Roman milestones

In the 16th century a stone was found in Booth Bank Clough, between Slaithwaite and Marsden, one of the little streams that drops down into the River Colne.  It was set up, in 1587, in the grounds of Slaithwaite Manor House, and became known as the Dial or Dyall Stone.  Despite having been taken, for some unknown reason, to the Isle of Man in the 19th century, and later re-sited outside Slaithwaite Town Hall on Lewisham Road, it can still be seen at the Manor House, off Nabbs Lane in the centre of Slaithwaite.

It is cylindrical, about five feet in height, 19” in diameter and with a circumference of five feet.  There are no signs of any inscription on it.
For a long time it has been thought to be a Roman milestone, and recent excavations by the Huddersfield and District Archaeological Society have shown that it almost certainly is one.  A route connecting the fort at Castleshaw in Saddleworth via Marsden to the fort at Slack, near Outlane on the outskirts of Huddersfield, has long been reported to exist (eg by mapmaker John Warburton in 1720), but its exact line had always been in doubt.  Excavations by the Society over nearly 40 years have now enabled this route to be ascertained much more clearly, and a milestone could well have been erected near the spot where the Dial Stone was found.  The absence of an inscription is not unusual: letters, etc could have been painted on it.

Although the Dial Stone had a sundial positioned on it at one point in its eventful history, it is probable that Dial is an alternative form of the word Devil, from some mediaeval superstition relating monoliths such as this to the Devil.  Roman milestones have elsewhere been referred to as “devil stones”, and one of the milestones now at Aldborough was found at a place still known as Duel Cross – Duel being one of several variant forms of the same concept.  The Devil was thought to be responsible for all sorts of geological formations or prehistoric features (causeways, dykes, ditches, etc).

Nearly 100 inscribed Roman milestones have been recorded in Britain, of which six are from Yorkshire, in the following museums:
Aldborough: English Heritage Roman site museum (three milestones from Dere Street near Aldborough)
Leeds City Museum (from Castleford)
Pontefract Museum (from Ackworth Moor, about 6 miles south of Castleford)
York: Yorkshire Museum (from Castleford)

There are also two milestones from the Stainmore Pass in Cumbria at the Dales Countryside Museum in Hawes.

Sources: Norman Lunn and others: The Romans came this way (HDAS, 2008);
RWH / April 2012