Spur-stones have nothing to do with milestones or the Milestone Society, but they can cause confusion.  So I thought it useful to mention them here.

A spur-stone, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is a stone fixed in the ground to support a post or to keep vehicles away from the footway, etc.  More specifically, James Stevens Curl in A Dictionary of Architecture and Landscape Architecture (2 ed; OUP, 2006) defines it as an upright stone, often circular on plan, like a bollard, fixed in the road at an angle of a building or on each side of a vehicle-entrance to protect the corners.

The OED’s first traced use of the word is in the Gentleman’s Magazine of March 1848.  In this a letter from a correspondent, B P of Maidstone, describes a mediaeval pillar or obelisk unearthed in Northampton in 1823, “part of it before having been above ground as a spur-stone.  …  The stone, when adopted for a spur-stone, seems to have been chiselled and trimmed at the top”.  The use of the word here implies that it was well-known (at least among gentlemen), needing no further explanation.

In 1882 Richard Jefferies in Bevis: the story of a boy writes:

Bevis battered his flints till he was tired; then he took up the last and hurled it away in a rage with all his might. The flint whirled over and over and hummed along the ground till it struck a small sarsen or boulder by the wood-pile, put there as a spur-stone to force the careless carters to drive straight.

Jefferies came from Wiltshire, and Joseph Wright’s six-volume English Dialect Dictionary of 1898 describes it as a Wiltshire term, but this is presumably based on the Bevis quotation.  He defines it as “a projecting stone … to keep the traffic from coming too close”.

The term “bollard” is used in a definition above, and this word can also be synonymous with spur-stone.  Originally, in the 19th century, this was a nautical term to describe a “post on a ship or a quay for securing ropes to” (OED), possibly derived from “bole” – the stem or trunk of a tree, and by transference anything of a similar cylindrical shape.  Its present use for an item found on pavements, traffic islands, etc, dates only from 1948.

So why is all this relevant to milestones?  Because sometimes they can be confused with each other when located close together, when place-names have been erased, or when a milestone or similar waymarker is lost.

Two such stones are illustrated here.  One, enjoining passers-by to stick no bills, is on Leeds Road in Huddersfield, not far from where a half-mile stone would have been – had there been one, which there wasn’t.  The other, plain, is by a driveway in Wilshaw, Meltham.  It stands almost exactly on the one-time boundary between Meltham and Netherthong.

Sources: as quoted; see also http://blog.waterfordmuseum.ie/2020/11/our-heritage-in-stone-spur-stones-stone.html for two Irish stones, and https://www.dreamstime.com/spur-stone-building-made-old-cannon-cayenne-capital-french-guian-spur-stone-building-made-old-cannon-image131721380.  This pictures a re-used bit of a cannon in Cayenne, French Guiana – a similar practice to the re-used mediaeval pillar in Northampton.

RWH / April 2021