On nearly 70 roads all over the former West Riding of Yorkshire nearly 400 milestones can be found in a standard style.  Attached to a solid rectangular stone column a metal plate shows destinations and distances.  At the top are the names of the road and the township in which the stone is located.  And between these can usually be found the words Brayshaw & Booth / Makers / Liversedge.  For this reason we tend to refer to these milestones as “Brayshaw & Booths”.

Perhaps, however, we should instead call them Steads.

While Henry Brayshaw and John Booth did cast most of them at their (long gone) foundry in Millbridge, it was Gill Stead and his son Frank, stonemasons in Mirfield, who in 1893 tendered for and won the contract from the newly-formed West Riding County Council for “supplying and fixing 615 milestones upon the main roads in the said West Riding”.  A great-grandson of Gill Stead, Brian Whittaker from Stoke-on-Trent, found a copy of the original contract, which is now available at the West Yorkshire Archive Service in Wakefield.

Gill (1836-1904) was born in Mirfield, the illegitimate son (according to the baptism record) of Ann Stead.  The 1841 census records him living with Joseph Stead, a clothier and presumably a relation, and his wife Mary, at Battyeford.  His mother Ann, meanwhile, is living at Bank House, owned by Benjamin Wilson, described as a landed proprietor in a later census.  Bank House, off what is now Francis Street, was then in extensive landscaped gardens.

Ann continued to live at Bank House, as a servant, until 1857 when she married.  She became the third wife of John Gill, described as a labourer on his marriage certificate and a dairyman in the 1861 census.  It would not be unreasonable to conclude that John Gill was Gill’s father.  Did Ann name her son Gill because she loved his father, or to shame him?

Gill and Mary Stead

Gill does not appear in the 1851 census: apprenticed to become a stone-mason, he was perhaps elsewhere and got left off.  In 1861, now a stone-mason, he is living at Bank House.  Also living there was Mary Taylor, the cook; she and Gill married in 1863.  Later censuses record them with an ever-growing family at various addresses in Mirfield – finally, in 1891 and 1901, on Crossley Lane. 

In 1891 his eldest surviving son, Frank (23), the business partner named in the contract, was also living there.  Ten years later Frank is married with two daughters, but in 1911, with his father dead, he would appear no longer to own the business, describing himself as an employee.  He died in 1919, aged just 51.

Another son of Gill’s, Joseph, who was born in 1871, was also a stone-mason and living with his parents in 1891.  The last census entry for him, in 1911, records him at his widowed mother’s house on Crossley Lane, a stone-mason, a “worker” and married, but other information is frustratingly absent.  His wife, however, appears to be living in Ravensthorpe and taking in boarders.

According to the milestone contract the Steads had to ‘find and provide and be at the expense of all materials, tools, labour, carriage and others matters mentioned or referred to’.  This involved:

  • obtaining and paying for the 615 stones, mainly but not necessarily exclusively from a quarry in Horsforth;
  • commissioning and paying Brayshaw & Booth (or sometimes other ironfounders) to cast and paint the iron plates – each one different, of course, and sometimes with 150 or more characters per stone;
  • transporting them to all parts of the county – from Sedbergh in the north-west (70 miles) to the villages south-east of Rotherham (nearly 40 miles) as well as over the hills to Saddleworth; they may have used horse and cart, or the then more extensive railway network;
  • locating where they were to go (a road measurer had been employed to mark these places with wooden stakes), bolting the plates on, and fixing them two feet into the ground (the stones were six feet long);
  • and finally when in situ giving them another coat of paint.

And all was to be done within twelve calendar months of the date of the contract.

The blue “Stead” at Mirfield

For this mammoth undertaking they were paid £1,140, or £1-18-0d (£1.90) per stone.  And it was all done between August 1893 and August 1894 as stipulated.

One interesting item in the contract states that the milestones were to be painted blue, with white letters, though almost all the surviving milestones are white, with black letters.  Some do in fact show traces of blue paint underneath, but it is not known when it was decided to change the colours.

One, however, was repainted blue in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s 60th Jubilee, but with gold letters.  Appropriately in view of the local link this is in Mirfield, on the A62 just west of Stocks Bank Road.  If you’ve passed by and not noticed it, that was probably why they re-painted them white.  

Sources: article by Christine Minto in the Saddleworth Historical Society Bulletin, 2015, vol 45 (1), pp 1-17; census records

RWH / Jan 2022