27 people packed the Ibbotson Institute in Hebden for the Society’s Northern Spring Meeting: a familiar format of faces, cakes and slides. Dorothy and Brian Burrows began the proceedings with the usual cornucopia of photographs of milestones and related objects from around the world.
David Garside then told us about the South Pennine Walk and Ride Festival, an annual event each September, for which he has been organising walks for a few years. David’s Blackstone Edge walk covers 10-11 miles, including Roman (allegedly), packhorse and turnpike roads, mediaeval crosses and boundary stones.
June Scott gave a talk on historical distance measures. Younger members of the audience (had there been any) would have marvelled at the peculiar units that were once everyday concepts: how much simpler (but less colourful) the metric system is. Besides miles and their fractions older milestones often feature furlongs (originally the length of a furrow in mediaeval strip fields, later standardised at 220 yards – or 660 feet as the Americans would prefer to say). A few may even show rods, poles or perches: some of us well remember these from primary school. And, of course, the chain, one tenth of a furlong, the length of a cricket pitch, and ideal for measuring distances: June had an original one to show us. The chain continued in use officially and on the railways until very recent times. Finally some measures not found on milestones, shorter ones relating to the human body, and therefore not precisely defined: the cubit, for example, the distance from the elbow to the tip of the middle finger, about 18 inches (46 cm for our younger readers).
Concluding an interesting day, Keith Benton took us on a milestone tour from Anglesey (Ynys Môn) – the Holyhead Road – across to Northumbria, down through Derbyshire and back up through Cheshire to Cumbria.