In the north-west of the old West Riding over a dozen stylistically identical boundary stones can be found, all in an area between Giggleswick and Ingleton.  They are made from a single slab of Helwith Bridge blue slate, from a local quarry – Helwith Bridge, over the Ribble is about four miles north of Settle. 

They have a triangular top and a v-shaped groove down the centre, with the parish or township names attractively carved on each side.  Historic England, who have listed many of them, describe them as early 19th century, but they may be later as they do not appear on Ordnance Survey maps until the 1890s.

Nearly all the surviving ones are in Clapham parish, which comprised the townships of Clapham, Austwick and Lawkland, and the hamlet of Newby.  Others can be found on the borders of half-a-dozen nearby townships, including Ingleton/Horton, Horton/Stainforth, Stainforth/Arncliffe, Stainforth/Giggleswick and Langcliffe/Settle.

The one illustrated here, marking the boundary between Austwick and Lawkland townships, is near a bend on the A65 (Milestone Soc ID YW_AUSLAW01pb; grid ref SD 7793 6745).  There are three more on this boundary, including one on the lane leading into Lawkland.  This is no longer the parish boundary, however, it having been moved to run along the main road, probably in the 1930s.

A similar stone can be found on a minor road between Ingleton and High Bentham.  Made of the same material, it differs in that the I and the B are in larger capitals while in all the others all the letters are the same size.  The top is level rather than triangular, but this may not always have been the case.  This stone is illustrated on the front of Angus Winchester’s Discovering parish boundaries (Shire Publications, 1990).

Clapham township extended over five miles south of the village onto the moors, to an area called Clapham Common.  Austwick does the same to the east, and they share a long straight featureless  boundary.  (A detached portion of Lawkland between them to the north was transferred to Austwick in 1884).  Near a place known as Dovenanter is a much earlier boundary stone: a square block with A for Austwick on one side and C for Clapham on the other.  Winchester’s book pictures this standing up, but Humphrey Bolton’s 2018 photograph on Geograph shows it has fallen over – see www.geograph.org.uk/photo/5871545.  [Unless, of course, there’s more than one].

Who had the slate stones made and put up is not known.  While most of them are in the parish of Clapham, it was the townships rather than the parish who would have had the responsibility for marking their boundaries.  Similarly, while turnpike trusts might have erected boundary stones, most of these are not on the turnpikes.

One possibility, therefore is that a newly-formed district Highway Board erected them in the later 19th century.  They took over responsibility for all roads, including turnpikes, and this could explain their uniqueness to this area.  I have not, however, traced any reference to a Highway District covering this district (eg for Ewecross, the wapentake which included Clapham parish).

Another possibility is that they might be related to tithe maps.  These were produced in the 1840s, following the Tithe Commutation Act of 1836.  Tithes were a local tax on agricultural produce, and the Act allowed tithes to the church, which had traditionally been paid in goods (eg crops or animals), to be paid in cash.  Large-scale maps were produced for most townships, showing every building and feature, natural and man-made, and land usage.  [Tithes were not abolished until 1936].

A tithe map for Clapham-cum-Newby township was produced by John Watson (Junior) of Kendal in 1847.  It shows “manorial boundary, buildings (named), vicarage, school, boat house, old mill, gardens, sundial, grotto, boundary stones, field gates, sheepfolds, pinfold, parkland, plantations, quarry (sand), pot hole, named hills, hill-drawing (slopes, knoll), woods, waterbodies, wells, springs, bridges, railway with station, footpath and/or bridleway. Turnpike roads distinguished; toll bar” at a scale of 1 inch to 3 chains.  The same surveyor produced a tithe map for the combined townships of Austwick and Lawkland, also in 1847.  Further research is needed here.

Another possibility is that they are somehow related to enclosures.  Similar maps were produced, often by the same surveyors, at around the same time, eg for Clapham in 1849.  This was surveyed by John Greenwood of Gisburn, who had assisted in the production of the tithe map for Giggleswick in 1841-43.

None of these possibilities, however, explain why the boundary stones can be found in unrelated townships.  So maybe a final possibility is that they began life in one township and others decided to copy them – or the quarry owners did an effective marketing exercise.

Please let us know if you have any further information on these attractive stones.

RWH / Sept 2020