Other waymarkers, etc

As well as the main types of waymarker described on other pages, the Milestone Society and its members are interested in many other types of wayside feature.  Needless to say Yorkshire, as befits England’s largest county, has more than its fair share of all these.  For more information, click on the various links below.
Most numerous are finger posts, to be found at huge numbers of road junctions throughout the country.  While perhaps most have been replaced by signposts in the modern standard style, many interesting older ones survive.
Other stones, etc to be found include:
Take-on and take-off stones.  If this were an I-Spy book you would get at least 50 points if you were lucky enough to spot one of these.
Right-of-way stones, such as the Marsden packhorse road stones, subject of a court case in the early 20th century.
Sanctuary stones
Turbary stones
Village signs, originally put up by the Automobile Association, but now almost a new art form.

Wayside crosses

Other interesting features to be found especially in rural areas reflect the history of our highways: these will be found in our Roads and Travel section.
In addition to the milestones on our highways there are mile-markers (and sometimes fractions of miles) to be found on our canals, such as the Leeds-Liverpool and the Huddersfield (Broad and Narrow) Canals, and the Society also records these.
RWH / updated August 2020

Wayside and other crosses

All over the country, in towns and villages, and even in the middle of nowhere, you may encounter crosses – usually on a pedestal, some are actual crosses with a cross-piece, others a simple tall erect stone.  There are different types:

Beverley Market Cross

Market crosses: found in towns, and sometimes what are now mere villages, where the monarch (or other designated person) had granted the right to hold a market.  Some have developed into elaborate covered structures, such as Beverley’s, rebuilt in 1714.  Others remain simple, such as Emley’s.  Emley’s long-gone market was granted in 1253; now it has a Premier Stores mini-market, and the remains of the cross (pictured top) are painted white to avoid the several traffic accidents it has been involved in over the years.  A list of all those in Great Britain can be found on Wikipedia.  These and the next type, preaching crosses, do not really fall within the remit of the Milestone Society.

Saxon fragments at Dewsbury

Preaching crosses: during the Anglo-Saxon period wooden crosses would mark spots where priests or monks would preach to local communities, and stone crosses that survive today from mediaeval times (and are not market crosses) may be their successors.  It has been suggested, for example that Stainland Cross, near Halifax, listed as mediaeval by Historic England, might have been a preaching cross.  Although it now stands outside the church this was not its original location.  A preaching cross can be found outside the church in Pocklington: it commemorates a sermon of St Paulinus in 627 AD, though again the cross is much later: its 15th century head is now inside the church.  Paulinus became the first bishop of York, and he is also commemorated at Dewsbury where fragments of a 9th century stone cross can be found inside the Minster.

Wayside crosses: this term applies to any crosses found in open countryside or by old tracks outside towns and villages.  Stone crosses were erected widely throughout the mediaeval period, mostly between the 9th and 15th centuries and had a variety of functions, although the main purpose of raising such a cross was to reiterate and reinforce the Christian faith amongst those who passed it.  Many crosses were erected to mark the boundaries of lands held by ecclesiastical institutions such as monasteries.  Others fulfilled a role as waymarkers especially in difficult and otherwise unmarked terrain.  Such crosses contribute significantly to our understanding of medieval religious custom and landholding.  Decorated examples also contribute to our knowledge of sculptural and artistic traditions.  Examples can be found around Malham (see separate article), and another is the Lady Cross on the old salt road on Lansgett Moor. 

Source: Historic England

RWH / August 2021

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Mastiles Lane and wayside crosses around Malham

Mastiles Lane was a mediaeval track forming part of a road system connecting Fountains Abbey with its lands in the Dales and the Lake District. 

It commenced at Kilnsey where many tracks converged on a monastic grange built in the twelfth century.  This served all the Fountains Abbey estates in Upper Wharfedale, Littondale and upper Airedale.  From here it crossed the open moorland of Kilnsey Moor and Mastiles, past Street Gate.

This name has also been given to the road itself, and is an indication that the route has actually been used in Roman times, and possibly even before that.  Aerial photography and archaeology has revealed a Roman marching camp on it, just north of Low Stony Bank.

After Street Gate it crosses Malham Water, the short stretch of a stream that issues from the Tarn before disappearing underground to re-emerge not below the Cove as originally thought, but south of Malham village at a place known as Aire Head.

The name Mastiles Lane applies only to the stretch from Kilnsey to Malham, but the monastic route continued over to Stainforth and then north-west towards the Fountains Abbey lands in the Lake District.  The origin of the name is not known, but it is not inconceivably related, albeit distantly, to the old Cumberland dialect word mastel, meaning a patch of an arable field never ploughed.

Wayside crosses were erected at prominent places along this stretch of the route: somewhere for a quick prayer to help you on your way, and to guide travellers over the somewhat featureless landscape. 

These were generally square shafts inserted into hollowed sockets cut into a stone base.  Five of these bases survive, though the crosses themselves have disappeared, re-used in later stone walls no doubt.  A good example is near the point where Cow Gill crosses Mastiles Lane and the oddly named Smearbottoms Lane meets it (SD 9299 6548) – pictured right.

Two crosses that appear intact can be found in the vicinity of Malham: Nappa Cross and Weets Cross.

Nappa Cross is by Kirkby Fell, 3 km west of Malham village, just north of an old track to Settle (SD 8751 6416).  Sadly, this is not entirely authentic: it has been moved, possibly from the junction of this path with the Settle track, and re-erected incongruously on the top of a dry-stone wall.  And the shaft was replaced in 1965 according to the National Park.

Weets Cross is 2 km east of Malham, on Weets Top (SD 9252 6323).  It is at a high point on a track from Mastiles Lane to the Fountains lands south of Malham, and a logical place for a wayside cross.  Especially as it is at an important point of great antiquity where five townships meet: Bordley, Hetton, Calton, Hanlith and Malham.

Sources: article by David Garside in the Dalesman, August 2021; Geoffrey N Wright: Roads and trackways in the Yorkshire Dales (1985); websites: historicengland.org.uk, outofoblivion.org.uk, yorkshiredales.org.uk.  Photos by David Garside and Milestone Society.

RWH / August 2021

Nappa Cross
Weets Cross

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Spur-stones: nothing to do with milestones

Spur-stones have nothing to do with milestones or the Milestone Society, but they can cause confusion.  So I thought it useful to mention them here.

A spur-stone, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a stone fixed in the ground to support a post or to keep vehicles away from the footway, etc.  More specifically, James Stevens Curl in A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2 ed; OUP, 2006) defines it as an upright stone, often circular on plan, like a bollard, fixed in the road at an angle of a building or on each side of a vehicle-entrance to protect the corners.

The OED’s first traced use of the word is in the Gentleman’s Magazine of March 1848.  In this a letter from a correspondent, B P of Maidstone, describes a mediaeval pillar or obelisk unearthed in Northampton in 1823, “part of it before having been above ground as a spur-stone.  …  The stone, when adopted for a spur-stone, seems to have been chiselled and trimmed at the top”.  The use of the word here implies that it was well-known (at least among gentlemen), needing no further explanation.

In 1882 Richard Jefferies in Bevis: the story of a boy writes:

Bevis battered his flints till he was tired; then he took up the last and hurled it away in a rage with all his might. The flint whirled over and over and hummed along the ground till it struck a small sarsen or boulder by the wood-pile, put there as a spur-stone to force the careless carters to drive straight.

Jefferies came from Wiltshire, and Joseph Wright’s six-volume English Dialect Dictionary of 1898 describes it as a Wiltshire term, but this is presumably based on the Bevis quotation.  He defines it as “a projecting stone … to keep the traffic from coming too close”.

The term “bollard” is used in a definition above, and this word can also be synonymous with spur-stone.  Originally, in the 19th century, this was a nautical term to describe a “post on a ship or a quay for securing ropes to” (OED), possibly derived from “bole” – the stem or trunk of a tree, and by transference anything of a similar cylindrical shape.  Its present use for an item found on pavements, traffic islands, etc, dates only from 1948.

So why is all this relevant to milestones?  Because sometimes they can be confused with each other when located close together, when place-names have been erased, or when a milestone or similar waymarker is lost.

Two such stones are illustrated here.  One, enjoining passers-by to stick no bills, is on Leeds Road in Huddersfield, not far from where a half-mile stone would have been – had there been one, which there wasn’t.  The other, plain, is by a driveway in Wilshaw, Meltham.  It stands almost exactly on the one-time boundary between Meltham and Netherthong.

Sources: as quoted; see also http://blog.waterfordmuseum.ie/2020/11/our-heritage-in-stone-spur-stones-stone.html for two Irish stones, and https://www.dreamstime.com/spur-stone-building-made-old-cannon-cayenne-capital-french-guian-spur-stone-building-made-old-cannon-image131721380.  This pictures a re-used bit of a cannon in Cayenne, French Guiana – a similar practice to the re-used mediaeval pillar in Northampton.

RWH / April 2021

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Village signs

Village signs come in all shapes and sizes.  There are the ubiquitous simple road-side notices telling you the name of the community you are entering (not to be confused with boundary stones, being rarely on the actual boundary).  And then there are the big round yellow signs put up by motoring organisations (mainly the AA) in village centres a century or so ago, many of which survive.

There is, however, a growing trend for local communities to show off their village with large attractive signs, illustrative of interesting or historical features of the place.  “Village signs” is sometimes hardly an adequate term for what are often little works of art. 

To promote and record these the Village Sign Society (www.villagesignsociety.org.uk) was founded in 1999.  Perhaps originally an East Anglian phenomenon (Norfolk has the most), they have recorded over 5,000 across the country, and over 200 in Yorkshire.

The sign pictured here, at Millhouse Green, on the Barnsley-Manchester road near Penistone, is typical of recent, more elaborate signs.  It was designed and made by local businessman Nigel Tyas and sculptor Jim Milner (www.jimmilnersculpture.co.uk), and unveiled at the village’s Jubilee Fete in 2012.  Featuring a typical local scene it also has the logo of the village community association, designed by pupils of the village school.

RWH / Nov 2020

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IWB: 19th century engineer and graffitist

Isaac Watt Boulton was born in 1823 in Stockport, and allegedly related to the more famous Boulton family, Matthew (1728-1809) having manufactured steam engines in partnership with James Watt.  Living in Ashton, Isaac built and repaired steam engines of various kinds, and was the inventor of patent block wheels for traction engines and a pioneer of narrow-gauge railways.  He started to hire out railway locomotives, constructing in 1864 Boulton’s Siding, alongside the Oldham branch of the Manchester, Sheffield and Lincolnshire Railway.  This lasted until 1898, the year before he died, a lauded local worthy, a JP and an alderman.

What, you may ask, has this to do with milestones and waymarkers?  Well, Isaac was a passionate believer in fresh air and free access to the countryside.  He was a keen rambler, an authority on the Peak District, and campaigner for public access to ancient paths over Kinder Scout – half a century before the famous “mass trespass”.  Rambling was his great recreation, and there were few things that pleased him better than the suggestion of a good walk over the moors.  He also operated the first pleasure-boat on Hollingworth Lake, which he was convinced could be made into a pleasure resort.

In May 1893 the Ashton-under-Lyne Herald published an article from IWB describing a walk done the previous weekend “that may help some of your younger readers who believe in walking as a healthy exercise and are anxiously looking forward to the Whitsuntide weekend for the purpose of going on a long tramp over mountains and moorland.”  He travelled by train to Woodhead, arriving at 8 am, and breakfasted on “oatcakes off the flake, fresh butter and a glass of beer” whilst chatting with “the genial landlady” of the Millers Arms at Saltersbrook – now long gone. 

He left his mark on the district in ways we would not approve of now, and the initials IWB can be found carved (sometimes quite crudely) in several places in the district.  Opposite the ruins of the Millers Arms against the wall can be seen a milestone inscribed IWB.  On the old saltway, this milestone, the last in Yorkshire (or the first if coming from Cheshire), marks the halfway point between Rotherham and Manchester – 21 miles each way.  The stone is very eroded, but the original inscription was to “Wortley XII Miles Rotherham XXI Miles”. The initials IWB can just be made out at the bottom of the photograph (above right).

Two miles west of this, on the same old saltway, north of the present A628, the 19 miles to Manchester stone has been incorporated into a wall; it also bears the initials IWB – pictured left.  Originally in Cheshire, this is now Derbyshire.

The Lady Cross

Nearer Rotherham on the same track, now south of the A628, is the Lady Cross.  Its exact date is uncertain, but it is referred to in documents from the early part of the 16th Century.  It stands on the eastern edge of the manorial lands of Glossop, and will also have acted as a marker to indicate the direction of the track over what was a featureless landscape.  The initials IWB are clearly visible on the base.  Nearly a mile further south, near Dean Head Stones, just over the county boundary, a tapered stone also bears his initials.

Sources: Stocksbridge & District History Society; Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History; obituary of Boulton from an un-named and undated newspaper cutting made available by the New Mills History Society at www.newmillshistory.org.uk/sbook/sbook1_001.pdf

RWH / October 2020

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AA village signs

In the early days of motoring it was a motoring association who put up signs for the benefit of drivers. The Automobile Association, founded in 1905 as the Motorists’ Mutual Association, began erecting village signs (as local councils didn’t consider this their responsibility), followed by all sorts of direction and warning signs. A few of these survive. When responsibility for these was given to local authorities in 1939, they had erected over 30,00 village signs.

These round yellow signs, put high up on a building in the town or village centre, told you where you were, with distances to neighbouring towns or villages, and also to London. More of these survive, and some are now in local museums. The one illustrated below is in Bainton in the East Riding – erected, it says, by the AA & MU. This is presumably not the Mothers’ Union, but the Motorists’ Union, an association which merged with the AA in 1910 – so this sign must date from very early in the 20th century. At the top of the page is a very faded sign in nearby North Dalton.

Sources: www.theaa.com/about-us/aa-history/timeline

RWH/June 2020

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Cleckheaton fingerposts

Cleckheaton residents can now once again enjoy a local landmark in its original glory, the 80-odd-year-old fingerpost outside the Fire Station – at the junction of Westgate and Hightown Road. (We refer to it as a fingerpost, though no fingers are to be seen on it).

Hightown, in the parish of Liversedge to the south of Cleckheaton, was in the 19th century a straggling collection of small settlements along the Wakefield to Halifax Turnpike, from Hightown Heights down to Middle Gate. Its main claim to fame was as, briefly, the residence of Patrick Brontë, assistant curate at nearby Hartshead Church (since restored to its original Norman glory), prior to his move to Thornton, the birth of his famous children, and his final settlement in Haworth. It has grown since then, and now includes the Windybank Estate, built after the Second World War, with its imaginatively-named streets – First Avenue, Second Avenue, and so on up to Thirteenth Avenue. Unlike their American namesakes, however, their numbering does not reflect the layout. But I digress.

Hightown Road was built sometime between 1922 and 1934, according to the dates when it appears on Ordnance Survey maps – perhaps as a belated by-product of the creation of the Spenborough Urban District in 1915.

The signpost was probably erected at the same time, directing along the main road, Westgate, now the A643, to Birstall, Leeds and Bradford to the east, and Brighouse, Elland and Huddersfield to the west. The new road, up to Hightown, directs the motorist not to Hightown, but again to Huddersfield – same distance, 7½ miles, but a more convoluted route. When he (because it probably was a he) reached Hightown, to cross the present A649, the motorist will have been directed onwards by another signpost of similar date and design.This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Cleckeaton-IMG_8649-1024x768.jpg

Both finger-posts were made by the Royal Label Factory of Stratford-on-Avon.  This company, as its name implies, had been established in 1874 and made labels for the gardens of Queen Victoria’s estate at Sandringham in Norfolk.  From other labels of all types for less royal customers they were making finger-posts and other signposts for local authorities from the 1930s onwards.  It is said to have produced half the finger-posts in the country.  As part of Leander Architectural, but now in Buxton, they still produce street furniture and signs of all kinds, and have been involved in the restoration of heritage signs.

The Spen Valley Civic Society restored the latter in 2003, and then decided in 2016 to restore the one at the bottom, on the A643. Over the years, unloved, un-noticed and uncared-for, it had lost two of its arms and become a rusty relic. Thanks to a grant from Kirklees Council’s You and Your Community funding programme, volunteers were able to work on its restoration: new metal letters were made to match the originals, brackets were manufactured using the one remaining original as a pattern, wooden finger-boards were created, and the metal post was stripped of rust and repainted with numerous coats of paint.

The restored signpost was unveiled in April 2017 by Jan Scrine, and the finished result is inspirational – even for those of us who are not inspired by finger-posts.

Sources: Milestone Society Newsletter, no 33, August 2017; Graces Guide to British Industrial History (www.gracesguide.co.uk); www.leanderarchitectural.co.uk; not forgetting Wikipedia.

RWH /Feb 2019

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Take-on and take-off stones

A take-on stone is a stone instructing a coachman to add an extra horse or horses to a conveyance in order to help pull the coach up a steep hill.  A take-off stone, conversely, is an instruction to unhitch the horse(s).  Such stones are few.

There are supposed to be three such stones surviving on Mortimer Road, on the moors above Bradfield, near Sheffield.  This road leads from Penistone to Grindleford in the Derbyshire Peak District.  Turnpiked from earlier packhorse routes, it was a financial failure, and its fascinating story is told in a book by Howard Smith (1993).  Its route is also traced on the Stocksbridge and District History Society website.

The take-off stone illustrated here is at the top of the hill just north of the Strines Inn, near the end of the West Riding stretch of the road.

RWH/Oct 2015

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Beverley Sanctuary Stones

The concept of sanctuary, as a place where fugitives can be immune from arrest, dates back to the Bible (cf Numbers, 35), and was recognised in English law until abolished by James I in the 17th century.  It was a way to protect people from the vagaries of mob justice.  All churches could offer sanctuary within the actual church building, but there were over 20 churches in mediaeval England (including Beverley, Ripon and York in Yorkshire) which were able to provide a wider area of sanctuary.

In Beverley sanctuary began approximately two miles from the Minster.  If a pursuer caught his quarry within this area he had to pay a fine to the church authorities.  To denote the area sanctuary stones were set up on four of the main approaches to the town – these were tall columns with richly carved crosses – and there were other crosses nearer the Minster at points where fines increased.

Three of the outermost sanctuary crosses survive, though much defaced and without their tops, probably occasioned by post-Reformation zeal.

One is on the A164 road from Hessle and the Humber, just south of its intersection with the A1079.  This would have been the main route from Lincoln and the south.  On a square base, the column is 21/2 feet tall and 18 inches thick.  It can be clearly seen, having been rescued from vegetation during construction of the by-pass.

Moving clockwise the next is at Walkington on the route from Howden and the south-west.  Similar in size to the Hessle cross, this (illustrated) is on the left just past the traffic-lights coming from Beverley.

The third surviving stone is at Killingwoldgraves near Bishop Burton on the road to York (the A1174) just before the by-pass (again coming from Beverley).  Better preserved and taller than the other two, with some decorative features surviving, this is slightly away from the road and on a higher vantage point, perhaps to make it more visible (unless, of course, it has been moved).

The fourth, missing stone was on the road to Driffield and the north, the A164.  It is possible that it was lost during the construction of the now disused railway line to Market Weighton.

One sanctuary stone survives of the eight that originally surrounded St Wilfrid’s Monastery (founded 672 AD) in Ripon: Sharow Cross, now cared for by the National Trust, probably dates from the 13th century.  On Dishforth Road at Sharow, just off the A61 on the other side of the River Ure from Ripon itself, it is at SE 3235 7198.  Ripon Cathedral now stands where the original monastery was established.

Sources: Martyn Kirby: Sanctuary: Beverley – a town of refuge (updated ed, 200?); for Sharow Cross: https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1149835

RWH / rev August 2020

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Turbary stones

Holme Moss conjures up different images for people: for some it’s an iconic bike ride climb; for others a treacherous moorland road where to venture in the winter is to court danger. But for the residents of the Graveship of Holme the Moss (and ‘moss’ is a local term for a peat-bog) was their source of fuel, and peat was also used for other purposes, eg roofing.

The Graveship of Holme was (in fact still is) a collection of townships around Holmfirth in West Yorkshire. Its origins have nothing to do with burying the dead, but denoted an area governed by a grave or grieve, a mainly northern term for a sheriff. The common lands (in effect the moorlands or mosses) to these townships were divided between the townships, and a glance at older large-scale Ordnance Survey maps reveals a vast number of detached portions of townships all over the moors. These were the sources of peat or turbary (from ‘turf’) for the local population.

“Father Conmee reflected on the providence of the Creator who had made turf to be in bogs where men might dig it out and take it to town and hamlet to make fires in the houses of poor people”.  So wrote James Joyce in Ulysses, but turbary or peat-digging rights were jealously guarded. And, because of the featureless nature of the landscapes of these mosses – cf the fruitless searches for the Moors Murderers’ victims – disputes were common. Hence we sometimes find turbary boundary stones.

We have looked, so far without success, for turbary stones around Holme Moss; nor are there any yet located in peat-digging areas of Marsden Moor, just north of Holme Moss – again the proliferation of Moss names indicates the peaty areas. Which is why an unidentified stone on the first Austerlands turnpike above Marsden, which we wanted to be a turbary stone, almost certainly isn’t one.

Further north again, however, there are some stones asserting turbary rights (or ‘commons’) in the township of Langfield in the ancient parish of Halifax. This covers a wide, sparsely-populated area south of Todmorden on the West Riding county boundary. There is no standard pattern to the stones, but all have ‘L’ for Langfield, followed by a number. The one illustrated here says “This common doth belong to L…”, but much on the stones is illegible.

Another area where turbary stones are found is further north again, in the Dales, where turbary rights were often in dispute, especially in the 17th century. They have been recorded in the parishes of Austwick, Dent, Stainforth and Thornton-in-Lonsdale, with the largest number in Lawkland. Many, however, have no visible text. The Yorkshire Dales National Park website has further information, a database on a spreadsheet, and a picture gallery.

For more information on peat and peat cutting see a book of the same title by Ian Rotherham (Shire Publications, 2009).  This book is a celebration of a cultural history that extended from the Iron Age to the twentieth century when peat was the main fuel that warmed houses all over the British Isles, and the mark of the peat cutter is written deep in the landscape.  It tells the story of the use of peat for fuel in the British Isles, and the people who cut it. It also examines the methods of cutting, the tools that were used, and the organization of cutting. It chronicles the beginning of commercial extraction and the exhaustion of this precious resource.

Sources: Talk given to the Milestone Society Northern Spring Meeting, 2015, by David Garside; Yorkshire Dales National Park website article (archived); Langfield Common stone illustration © Copyright Humphrey Bolton and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

RWH / rev Sept 2020

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