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SOME OLD WEST RIDING MILESTONES.
BY JOHN J. BRIGG, M.A.
It is well known that there was in use in this country down to modern times a customary mile which was longer than the statute mile, by an amount varying from one-third to one-half. The origin of this measure has been discussed by Professor Flinders Petrie and others, and was occupying the attention of the late Dr. Seebohm up to the time of his death. My purpose in this paper is to record, at his request, a number of instances in which the customary mile has been used as the measure of length and engraved on milestones which have remained to our own day.
In some matters, the West Riding of Yorkshire is as little conservative as most places, and it is, therefore, somewhat surprising to find, as I shall show, that there are milestones still standing on main roads which beguile the traveller into the belief that he has only, say, six miles to go when he really has to go nine.
The Quarter Sessions Order Books of the West Riding go back to the early part of the seventeenth century; but the earliest reference to the erection of milestones is in the record of the Sessions held at Rotherham on August 6th, 1700 :
Stoops to be sett up In pursuance of an Act of Parliament in crosse highways. made in the eighth and ninth years of
his present Majesty King William, intituled an Act for enlarging comon highways. It is ordered by this Court that for the better convenience of travelling in such partes of this Ryding, which are remote from Towns and where severall highways meet, the surveyors of the highways of every parish or place within this Ryding where two or more crosse highways meet, do forthwith cause to be erected or fixed in the most convenient place where such ways joine a stone or post, with an inscription thereon in large letters, containing the name of the next Market Town to which each of the said joining highways leede, upon paine to forfeit by the said Act the summe of ten shillings to be employed for the purposes aforesaid."
To be sent by the clerk of the peace to the chief constables, and by them to the surveyors of highways within their respective divisions.
This order was repeated in 1733, and again in 1738, in these words :
Whereas it has been reported to this Court that several public roads divide into several branches and cross one another upon large Moors and Commons and other places, where intelligence is difficult to be had, to the peril and great inconvenience and delay of travellers, for remedy whereof it is ordered that the Chief Constables of the several weapontakes do, with all convenient speed, give notice to their respective petty constables to erect stones and Guide-posts, with Indexes and directions ingraved or written thereupon in the plainest and most intelligible manner and in the most proper places of their several Constableries."
The constables are to view the places and to present the same, or indict the persons neglecting to carry out this order.
Again, at Sheffield, October 11th, 1738 :-“For explaining and amending the order lately made about Guide-posts. It is ordered that besides the name of the next Market Town or other notorious place, every such guide-post shall express how far such town or place is distant therefrom.” Petty constables are to make oath within eight weeks after receiving notice of this order, before a Justice, as to how it is being carried out.
At Doncaster, January 17th, 1749, the order as to guideposts is repeated, and a further order was passed :-"To erect Mark-stones and Guide-posts with full directions, from one to another over such Moors and Commons in times of snow.” The order was again repeated at Sheffield in October, 1750, and at Doncaster on January 23rd, 1754, with the words :“ Erect renew and repair Guide-posts with Indexes or directions engraved or written thereupon in the plainest and most intelligible manner.”
At Pontefract, on May 7th, 1754, the Justices repeated their order, and decided to hold a Special Sessions on April ist following, and to have all the several constables before them to answer a series of questions :-
Are guide-posts erected in all places where highways meet, divide, or cross one another, with proper directions ? "
" In what places are they wanting ? ” etc.
Eleven years later, in 1765, at Barnsley, the same procedure was repeated, and again in 1787, at the Pontefract Sessions, with a reference to a late Act of Parliament for amendment and preservation of public highways."
The last references to the subject are in the record of the Sessions at Pontefract in 1796, and at Sheffield in 1798; but in this case the chief constables are ordered to erect guide-posts at every convenient place, and such posts with the boards affixed at the top to be painted white, with large black letters. The same order enjoins them to put up boards at the entrance to each village, the boards to be white, with the name of the village in large black letters.
From the instances I am able to give, it will appear that the constables and surveyors tried to carry out these orders. The stones set up by them are to be found at the crossings and junctions of roads, in one instance in a place of busy tramcar traffic, in others by the side of main roads, in lanes once the main arteries of traffic, in lanes now quite disused, and again on “ large Moors and Commons,” where “intelligence is difficult to be had.” In these last the traces sometimes remain of the pack-horse routes, but in others the stone stands lonely in a swampy moor with no track visible.
The execution varies from the rudest work to lettering in the best style of the time. Dates are few, and it would be misleading to attempt to date the stones from the style of the lettering, as every surveyor would have his own ideas on the subject.
I have recorded some stones which have the distances in statute miles to show how the two standards are intermingled. It is interesting, for example, to compare the stone on Pinhow, dated 1730, showing statute miles, with one near Shipley of about the same date showing customary miles, and again with the Hellifield one showing customary miles as late as 1783. The surveyors must have been utterly confused which measurement to adopt.
My first example (given me by Mr. J. Horsfall Turner) is near Shipley, where the tramway tracks from Thackley and Idle join, and go on to Bradford : (1) To Leeds, 6 miles [9 statute miles]
1739. John Denbigh, Constable, The two following were given me by Mr. Abm. Newell, of Todmorden :