Other Waymarkers

County bridge markers

While road maintenance was the responsibility of the borough, parish or township in former times, bridges were a different matter.  One reason for this is because the river that a bridge crossed was often a boundary so no-one was obviously responsible.

Traditionally the county authorities (the Justices in Quarter Sessions) were held to be liable, and this was codified in the "Statute of Bridges" of 1531.  In addition to the actual bridge, this responsibility extended also to the highway for 300 feet from each end thereof.

In fact the number of bridges that counties maintained was at first relatively small, for despite the statute, often only bridges on major highways through the county were maintained at the county expense - in Middlesex in 1786, for example, there were only three; while in Staffordshire in 1792 the Justices spent a mere £298 on all the bridges in the county.

In 1602 the West Riding Justices named 48 bridges which were to be kept in repair by the County.

However, in the famous Glasburne Bridge case of 1780 the West Riding was indicted for not repairing a bridge; the County denied liability, maintaining that the bridge had been erected by the township to replace another which it had always maintained. The Court ruled, however, that "if a man build a bridge and it becomes useful to the county in general, the county should repair it".  And thus counties became responsible for more and more bridges, resulting in an Act of 1803, which greatly extended the role of Counties in bridge inspection and maintenance.  (Not sure if Glasburne is an old form of Gisburn(e) in Craven.)

County bridges were often marked by stones and several of these survive, even where the bridges themselves have been widened or rebuilt.  In some cases the county marker is not stone but a triangular cast-iron plate (see the Hebden example in the picture gallery).  We do not know when the bridge markers were erected, but one theory is that they could date from the 1803 Act as an indication of a bridge's fitness for purpose. 

Pictured here is an example from the West Riding, a typical WR stone, at Cooper Bridge near Mirfield.  For more illustrations, click here.

Two particularly interesting examples can be found on the Holme Moss road, the A6024 between Holmfirth and Woodhead.  About one and a half miles south-west of Holmfirth, at Holmbridge, 100 yards from the bridge on each side of the river, stand two stones each marked with the single word County.  Whether these were erected by the Turnpike Trust or, earlier, by the township, Austonley, we do not know.

Sources: S and B Webb: The Story of the King's Highway (1913); Milestone Society Newsletter (17, 2009, p 10).  RWH / April 2014.