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The Story of Milestones

The May talk to the Langport & District History Society at Langport Library was an illustrated presentation on the history of Milestones by Richard Raynsford of the Milestone Society (http://www.milestonesociety.co.uk/).

Richard described the many designs of milestones over the centuries, back to Roman times, including various shapes of the stone markings, and the different styles of information written on them. The latter ranged from milestones crammed with lines of information of distances to many locations, to the other extreme of those with all their useful information removed during the last War when there was a threat of invasion.

Examples from the 18th century tended to have rather ornate writing with beautifully designed hands as direction pointers., whereas those from the 19th century tended to be more basic. Not all distinctive features were a matter of artistic style. Some locations were abbreviated in various ways (including use of their archaic names, such as 'Sarum' for 'Salisbury') because of space restrictions, and others simply through human error such as bad spelling or writing! Not all waymarkers are made entirely of stone. Richard presented slate examples from Cornwall and many others with metal plates on stone or even entirely of metal.

He also expanded his talk to cover other types of marker, such as mileposts (including one unusually with red, rather than black or white, lettering), and other signposts and guideposts. Many were established to indicated a boundary, between parishes or even between the extent of responsibility for parts of a road or bridge by various bodies such as councils or turnpike trusts. Many of the audience recognised the rare surviving instances of old-style signage (eg 'School', 'Crossroads' and 'Slow'), and those put up in many areas by the AA. He completed his survey with examples of other road infrastructure such as bridges, fords, weighbridges and old traffic mirrors.

The audience were surprised to learn how vulnerable all these structures were to theft and other forms of attack, and how few were subject to any form of effective heritage protection, despite their historical importance.