Roman milestones were generally stone pillars with Latin inscriptions erected when a road was first constructed or when it was repaired. The inscriptions usually give the distance to the next, named, town, as well as the name of the reigning emperor and the particular year of his reign in which the milestone was placed, which allows them to be accurately dated. Over 100 inscribed Roman milestones have been recorded in Britain, according to the Roman Inscriptions of Britain website.
With the exception of one (or perhaps two), all the nine surviving Roman milestones in Yorkshire are in museums, and can be seen as follows.
Aldborough. There are three milestones from Dere Street, the road north to Catterick, in the museum at the Aldborough Roman site, now in the care of English Heritage. One, dating from the 3rd century AD, was found in 1776 at Duel Cross, about 2 miles from Aldborough. It was re-used AD 249–51 and given a later inscription: IMP CAES G MESSIVS Q DECI TRA PO FELICI AVG (To the Emperor, Caesar Caius Messius Quintus Trajanus Decius, the good, happy and great from…). It is not known why it was re-used, or whether it retained its use as a milestone or was used as a dedication stone. The last line XX C (20 miles from C) was probably from the original inscription. (Milestones of Decius, RIB no 2276; the other two are nos 2277 and 2278)
Castleford. Castleford lies on a road between Doncaster and Tadcaster (Margary 28b), known generally as Roman Ridge or Rigg. In 1861 it was reported that a milestone had been found at Half Acres, just south of the town centre. It was dedicated to the Emperor Florian in AD 276. It was given to the Yorkshire Museum in York, but is now back home in Castleford, at the Forum Museum, on loan from York Museums Trust. Click here for further details (external site),
Hawes. Two milestones from the road through Stainmore Gap, which crosses the Pennines between Bowes (formerly in the North Riding) and Brough in Cumbria are now in the Dales Countryside Museum – one is pictured on the right. The Roman road roughly follows the line of the present A66 (or more exactly vice versa). This was an important part of the road network by which the Romans controlled the Dales.
Leeds. In about 1880 a milestone was found in central Castleford, near the south end of Beancroft Road at the junction with Beancroft Street. It was cylindrical in shape and had two inscriptions on it. The first was to the Emperor Trajan Decius and dates to AD 250-251. Soon after the stone was turned upside down and a new inscription was added to Gallus and Volusian. It can be dated to AD 251-253. It gave the distance to York (Eboracum) as 22 miles. It was bought by Francis Haverfield, later professor of ancient history at Oxford, who presented it to Leeds City Museum.
Pontefract. The so-called Milestone of Florianus, found in 2002 at Rhydings Farm between East Hardwick and Ackworth, in a hedgebank on the line of the Roman road from Doncaster to Tadcaster (Margary 28b) – as the one at Castleford. Now in Pontefract Museum. Click here for further details (external site).
Rokeby Park: a Palladian country house south-east of Barnard Castle, and formerly in the North Riding. Among other Roman fragments is a milestone of Gallus and Volusian (RIB no 2279): found in the 18th century nearby at Greta Bridge on the Roman road from Scotch Corner to Carlisle.
Besides these the so-called Dial Stone at Slaithwaite is thought to have been a milestone from the road across the Pennines between the Roman forts at Castleshaw, in Saddleworth, and Slack, near Huddersfield. A similar stone can be found in the garden of a house in nearby Golcar and may be another one. See separate article.
Other milestones outside the old county are worth a mention. Two are still in or near their original positions. One is at Middleton, near Lancaster: this has been moved to a safe place in the village churchyard. There is an interesting article on it on the Yorkshire Dales National Park website. (Although the National Park was extended into bits of Lancashire in 2016, it has not yet completely taken over the old enemy). The other one is at Temple Sowerby on a by-passed section of the A66 between Appleby and Penrith. There are no traces of any inscription and only its form and location provide evidence of its former purpose.
The Bowes Museum at Barnard Castle has a milestone found off the Piercebridge – Gainford road, just over the North Riding county boundary,
Sources: links as above; Historic England; https://romancastleford.blogspot.com; www.romanroads.org; https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/
RWH / Nov 2021