On a number of roads in the vicinity of Thirsk in North Yorkshire are some series of milestones that are all very similar in design, although there is no indication on them of who made them.

One series begins in York on a road originally turnpiked in 1753, through Easingwold and Thirsk to Northallerton – this is now mainly the A19 and A 167 (ignoring modern by-passes). This series actually continues to Darlington (a separate turnpike). The stretch between York and Easingwold has the greatest number of surviving milestones. A road with similar milestones connected Thirsk with Boroughbridge to the south-west, and another with slightly different ones to Yarm (which was of course originally in the North Riding), turnpiked in 1803. Only two stones survive on the latter.

[There was another turnpike that started in Thirsk, to Masham (1755) – now mainly the B6267 – but the only milestone on this road, at Nosterfield, is a later one erected by the Hang East Highway District.]

The milestones all have a number of distinguishing features. They have a triangular cast-iron shape with a sloping top on which the number of miles to London is shown – although not all these mileages are consistent. The lettering is also in a fairly standard font: the local directions are cast in a semi-circular shape around the miles (except for the two surviving Thirsk/Yarm stones, which, perhaps because they are shorter names, are in a straight line).

The most interesting example is in Thirsk itself, opposite no 15, Ingramgate, near the Frankland Arms. This depicts, as part of the original casting, on the left (Easingwold) a lamb and its mother, and on the right (Thirsk) a character with a pint of ale. He has been interpreted variously as Tom the Drover or Tom the Tippler, a colourful local character. Under ‘Thirsk’, in lieu of a mileage figure, is an unidentified symbol, perhaps a bird (or, in the words of Hamlet, “Is it a whale?”).

As for who made the milestones, it would seem likely that they were made in Thirsk, which is fairly central to them all, and because a special one was made for the one in Thirsk itself.

The likeliest candidate would seem to be the ironfounders William and Thomas Chapman, recorded in the 1841 census living at 15 Kirkgate, Thirsk, sons of John Chapman, machine-maker. By 1851 they are still there, unmarried, the head of the household being the now widowed Isabella Chapman. Their foundry is shown on the OS map just north of the church and parsonage. William Chapman died in 1858 and Thomas gave up the business, so it would seem likely that the milestones were produced around the mid 1850s.

Source: based on a talk by Jeremy Howat to the Milestone Society Northern Spring Meeting, April 2015.

RWH/April 2015