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