Skip to main content area


Cookie settings
Main Content Area

Milestones and turnpikes

Milestones were initially erected to inform travellers how far they had to go before they reached their destination, and are a relic of a bygone age when transport was much simpler and slower.

The first milestones originated with the Romans who laid down an extensive network of roads across the country to move troops and supplies. Unsurprisingly very few of these remain in situ.

In 1730 an Act of Parliament was passed allowing groups of local men to take over the maintenance and improvement of sections of road in the county. In return for the work they did on the road system these men were entitled to install tollgates and turnpikes and to charge people for passage along their roads. These groups of men were called Turnpike Trusts.

The improvements to the roads as a direct result of these tolls made it possible for packhorses to be replaced by wagons and carriages. This meant that larger and heavier packages could be transported as a carriage could carry five times as much as a packhorse. The improved roads also resulted in speedier and more comfortable personal travel.

By 1730 Herefordshire had the largest turnpike system in Britain, with the Hereford Trust controlling 118 miles of road. From the 1740s turnpike trusts were encouraged to mark every mile and in 1766 milestones became compulsory on all turnpike roads. Mile-markers enabled the accurate pricing and timing of journeys, enabling stagecoach drivers to keep to their timetables.

Early milestones, whether set up by turnpike trusts or private individuals, were often built out of wood, which were quickly replaced by local stone examples. Originally milestones were placed with a flat face to the road but as transport became faster angled sides became the norm to improve visibility on approach. The arrival of cast metal plates with their resistance to erosion and clearer details caused many stone examples to be replaced. Today there is a great variety in shape, material and design among remaining milestones.

The introduction of the motor car increased the speed and distance of travel, and in the early 20th century the Automobile Association made enamelled circular plate distance markers and mounted them on the walls of buildings such as pubs and garages.

Sadly, the later years of the 20th century were not favourable to milestones with many falling foul of new road building, verge cutting and modern signing. Inscriptions have worn away and rain and frost have caused many of the early stone markers to flake and crack. Although many milemarkers in Herefordshire are listed, few are properly maintained and many are still vulnerable to misappropriation and damage through neglect.

Milestone enthusiasts in the county hope to set up a branch of the nationwide Milestone Society in Herefordshire with the aim of photographing and restoring all the existing milemarkers (posts, stones, wallplates etc.). The results of this project will eventually be included in the Herefordshire Historic Environment Record database. 

For information concerning existing or missing milestones, or to enquire about joining the Milestone Society, contact Terry Keegan at The Oxleys, Tenbury Road, Clows Top, Kidderminster DY14 9HE. Alternatively, you can print out an application form from the Milestone Society website.

[Original author: Miranda Greene, 2004]