May 17, 2005

A Brief History of Roads & Waymarkers

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The Warwick 4000 weblog now also hosts a gallery of images relating to historical waymarkers in the Kenilworth Road area. The following is an introduction to this subject, by Jan Scrine of the Milestone Society.

A Brief History of Roads & Waymarkers

The Romans laid good metalled roads to move soldiers and supplies quickly across their Empire; they measured distance to aid timing and efficiency, marking every thousandth double-step with a large cylindrical stone. The Latin for thousand was ‘mille’ and the distance was 1618 yards; the eventual British standard mile was 1760 yards, although ‘long’ miles also existed into the 19th century. Some stones were inscribed with distances or dedications. Most of the 117 that still survive are in museums.

After Roman times, roads developed to meet local community needs: in 1555, an Act of Parliament made local parishes (or often townships in the North) responsible for their upkeep and in 1667, the Justices were ordered to erect guide-posts at cross highways and on the moors.

At this time, travel by road was slow and difficult. The sunken lanes became quagmires in wet weather and occasionally both horses and riders were drowned. It took 16 days to cover the 400 miles from London to Edinburgh. So Turnpike Trusts were set up, by Acts of Parliament, from 1706 to the 1840s. Groups of local worthies raised money to build stretches of road and then charged the users tolls to pay for it – just like the ‘M6 Toll’ today. The name comes from the spiked barrier at the Toll Gate, Bar or Booth. The poor bitterly resented having to pay to use the roads and there were anti-turnpike riots.

The Kenilworth Road, from Coventry to Warwick via Kenilworth, was turnpiked in 1775: a branch went through Stivichall towards Stoneleigh and thence to Warwick. There was a toll house at this point, near the park entrance today.

From 1767, mileposts were compulsory on all turnpikes, not only to inform travellers of direction and distances, but to help coaches keep to schedule and for charging for changes of horses at the coaching inns. The distances were also used to calculate postal charges before the uniform postal rate was introduced in 1840.

‘Milestone’ is a generic term, including mileposts made of cast iron. The ones on the Kenilworth road had sandstone backs and a cast iron plate giving the distances. At the height of the turnpike era, there were 20,000 miles of roads with milestones.

From the 1840s, rail travel superseded roads and many turnpike trusts were wound up. In 1888, the new County Councils were given responsibility for main roads and rural district councils for minor routes. As faster motorised transport developed, the importance of milestones waned.

Milestones are fast disappearing; some 9000 are thought to survive in the UK. Some were removed or defaced in World War II to baffle German invaders. Many more have been demolished as roads have been widened, or have been victims of collision damage, or have been smashed by hedge-cutter or flails.

The Milestone Society was established in 2001 to record milestone data, to research their history and to raise public awareness of the need for appropriate restoration or conservation. The Society promotes care of the environment and distinctive local heritage through national and county meetings, newsletters and other publications, including conservation guidance.
For more information, see

Jan Scrine

Mervyn Benford Milestones (Princes Risborough: Shire Publications Ltd., 2002)

- One comment Not publicly viewable

  1. Jack Wyatt

    Hey thanks I was looking for some information on roads for my history project, which surprisingly is on roads.

    09 Jan 2006, 21:10

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  • Hey thanks I was looking for some information on roads for my history project, which surprisingly is… by Jack Wyatt on this entry

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