Milestones, Waymarkers and Turnpikes
The Romans laid good metal roads to move soldiers and supplies quickly across their Empire. They measured distance to aid timing and efficiency, marking every thousandth double-step with a large cylindrical stone. 117 stones still survive in the UK.
The Latin for thousand was “mille” and the distance was 1618 yards; the eventual British standard mile was 1760 yards, although “long” miles also existed into the 19th century.
After Roman times, roads developed to meet local community needs: in 1555, an Act of Parliament made local parishes (or often townships in the North) responsible for their upkeep and boundary markers became important. In 1667 the justices were ordered to erect guide-posts at cross-highways and on the moors.
At this time, travel by road was slow and difficult. The sunken lanes became quagmires in wet weather and occasionally both horses and riders were drowned. It took sixteen days to cover the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh.
Turnpike Trusts were set up, by Acts of Parliament, from 1706 to the 1840s. Groups of local worthies raised money to build stretches of road and then charged the users tolls to pay for it – just like the “M6 Toll” today. The name “turnpike” comes from the spiked barrier at the Toll Gate or Booth. The poor bitterly resented having to pay to use the roads and there were anti-turnpike riots.
1714 brought Worcestershire’s first turnpike, the 6 mile stretch from Droitwich to Worcester, prompted by the severe wear and tear caused to roads by heavy salt wagons. In 1749 it was extended to Bromsgrove and a new road ran east to Bradley Brook, with its own separate account in the Trust. This Act also decreed the erection of milestones, with a 40 shilling fine for anyone damaging them in any way, with a quarter of this going to the informer and the remainder being used for road maintenance. A prison sentence of not less than one month and not more than three months was the penalty for non-payment of fines.
There is no doubt that the turnpike roads benefited the country. Manufactured goods could be transported to the main population centres, and farm produce could be taken to market more quickly and efficiently, although livestock was usually taken by other routes to avoid the tolls, to use roads with softer surfaces to prevent damage to animals’ feet, and to provide grazing along the way. Wheeled traffic began to increase, and the 1750s saw the introduction of stage-coaches which speeded passenger traffic and the carrying of the mails. (Royal Mail coaches were exempt from paying tolls.)
In most cases the turnpikes used existing roads, often improving them for wheeled traffic by straightening bends and avoiding steep gradients. As England became more industrialised, however, new roads were built to serve the growing manufacturing towns and link them with the suppliers and markets.
Trust development tended to follow the fluctuations in trade and industry. “Turnpike Mania” lasted from 1751 to 1772.
From 1767, mileposts were compulsory on all turnpikes, not only to inform travellers of direction and distances, but 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. At the height of the turnpike era, there were 20,000 miles of roads with milestones.
It is probable that the first mileposts put up in the late 1700s and early 1800s were made of wood, but none has survived.
The earliest surviving post-Roman milestones date from the early 18th century, and are made of stone, a square pillar or a “tombstone” shape being the most popular. A few square pillars had inscriptions on all four sides and were almost certainly sited at crossroads, although they may have been repositioned because of road alterations. However, most early milestones usually have the inscription on the face parallel to the road and use Roman numerals, and although it is impossible to say that these features always signify an early stone, they can often be a good guide as to its age.
From the 1840s, rail travel superseded roads and many turnpike trusts were wound up. In 1888, the new County Councils were given responsibility for main roads and rural district councils for minor routes.
“Milestone” is a generic term, including mile-posts made of cast iron.
As faster motorised transport developed so the importance of the milestones waned. Such waymarkers are fast disappearing; around 9000 are thought to survive in the UK. Most were removed or defaced in World War II to baffle German invaders and not all were replaced afterwards. Many have been demolished as roads have been widened, or have been victims of collision damage, or have been smashed by hedge-cutters or flails.
There are three milestones still existing within the parish of Dodderhill: one outside Wychbold Court; one opposite the White House in Rashwood and one opposite the entrance to Dodderhill Road. None of these is an original stone, all having been replaced by the re-inforced concrete “stone” designed and installed on most main routes in Worcestershire during the 1930s by Harold Brooke- Bradley, Deputy County Surveyor. These are known as “Bradley stones”.
Visit the Milestone Society website here