Chris Marcus moved to the Saddleworth area around 10 years ago. He was already a keen member of the Letterbox Study Group and embraced with glee the milestones and other turnpike features of this locality. By 2007, he hoped to engage other inhabitants sufficiently to promote it as ‘Turnpike Country’ and wanted to host a Milestone Society meeting there. He spoke at our Hebden meeting again in April 08 and I finally gave way to his infectious enthusiasm – hence the ‘Pennine Ways & Waymarkers’ day came into being.
Chris was also a keen walker despite some mobility difficulties and he led our Sunday walking group round the area at the beginning of August, pointing out interesting artefacts amongst the wonderful scenery. He also introduced us to a splendid ice-cream parlour, Grandpa Green’s, beside a lock on the Huddersfield Narrow Canal. Next day was his 61st birthday and two days later he was dead, having succumbed to another heart attack.
His colleagues on the A Level Archaeology course at Selby described him as a “warm, witty man” – we have lost a great supporter of our cause and a good friend.
What would be a fitting tribute ? An excellent meeting – and so it turned out to be.
Forty Milestoners, friends and visitors found their way to Uppermill Museum, which sits beside one of the many turnpike roads that converge through this dip in the Pennines.
Our first speaker, Mike Buckley of Saddleworth Historical Society described ‘Ancient Saddleworth Highways and Byways’, illustrating the surviving remains of the Roman road past Castleshaw fort, the medieval packhorse trails and the routes of the turnpikes over Standedge. Aerial photographs made the account even more vivid.
Mike was followed by Howard Smith, who talked about ‘Finding the Way – how our Ancestors crossed the Peak’. Starting with natural features such as hillocks and rocks, as well as the oral tradition of retention of directions, Howard showed an amazing variety of Guide Stoops (a scandinavian word meaning large stone!) including wooden poles. We were also intrigued by some mirror writing – were the carvers dyslexic or did they get the template the wrong way round?!
Lunchtime provided the opportunity to view Christine & Frank Minto’s comprehensive display, to purchase books from Terry Keegan and Paul Hindle and to visit the Museum which houses the capstone of the Saddleworth Waymark, a toll-board and a ‘Take Off Here’ stone.
In the afternoon, I showed a miscellany of milestones and other waymarkers from around Yorkshire, Derbyshire and Cheshire; local Morris dancers illustrated the capstone story, where young men (after a Wakes night) would attempt to lift the capstone onto a nearby wall and back. We also had the legend of the Marsden cuckoo which perches atop a brand new waymarker on the Packhorse track. Some of the slides were taken by Chris Marcus himself, including his Cheshire ‘open book’ pictures – as well as the same style milepost recently for sale on e-Bay. Hopefully that story will end happily, too.
Then Christine Minto took us through the intriguing ‘Brayshaw and Booth’ saga that she had described in ‘On the Ground’. Why did the new West Riding County Council spend a great deal of money replacing milestones on turnpikes and other routes at the very end of the 19th Century, when the received wisdom indicates that road traffic had diminished significantly? Perhaps the roads remained busy in the wool districts, perhaps it was just a conspicuous display of local authority pride.
Would Chris have been proud of our day? I’m sure he would have greatly enjoyed it ! And we were fortunate to have known him; we’ll remember one of life’s true enthusiasts.