15 November 2015

Going the extra mile … post

Before the days of odometers, satnav, GPS and TomTom, travellers could only measure distances travelled by looking at the numbers marked on signposts along the way. (In fact, the less gadget-obsessed amongst us – like me! – still do.)

Here in Britain, the original mileposts were milestones – actual stones, laid by the Romans to mark every one thousandth double-step, which was their way of calculating distance. The Latin for thousand was mille, hence the word ‘milestone’. Though one thousand Roman double steps equated roughly to 1618 yards, the eventual British standard measurement for a mile was 1760 yards. Maybe the British had longer strides!

According to the Mile Stone Society, there are around 9000 waymarkers still surviving around Britain, though many thousands more have been lost to thieves, collisions with cars, destruction by hedge-cutters, or removal during the Second World War, when the intention was to confuse the Germans if they invaded. The notion of reaching a significant point along the road has, of course, led to our more modern idea of a milestone as an important event or stage in life, progress or development.

Since moving to Cardiff, I’ve been gratified to see that many of the old mileposts still exist and that most are listed structures, so protected from destruction, though some have been moved in the course of road widening and motorway building. Because of their status I’ve managed to locate several posts by searching the British Listed Buildings (BLB) website and have walked many a mile to photograph them. These are they … and more may follow in the future as I continue to roam the roads and trails of my newly adopted country.

We start first near the centre of Cardiff, with one in a series of mileposts that mark points along the route of what is now the A48, a road that was once the principal route between the south-west of England and south Wales (the construction of the Severn Bridge in 1966 changed the course of that link somewhat).

Made of moulded cast iron in a rather ornate style, this milepost has survived remarkably well when you consider it is 180 years old and located near the centre of a busy city.

One mile down the road we come to the second in this series along the western section of the A48. The style is the same as the previous milepost but, as you can see, in that short distance we have moved from Cardiff town to ‘Landaff Parish’ (now known by its Welsh spelling, Llandaff), and further away from London.

Next we cross town, and the River Taff, to find a milepost that now sits adjacent to the Gabalfa interchange on a slip road that gives access to the eastern section of the A48, here called Eastern Avenue. According to the BLB website, this post is ‘shown on the Ordnance Survey [map] of 1880’ and ‘was located at the junction of two important routes out of Cardiff, Merthyr Road and Caerphilly Road.’

What a wonderful find these two stones were at the end of quite a long walk! Though differing in design from the previous mileposts, the newer one (on the left above) almost certainly dates from around the same time, the early 1830s, and was erected when improvements were made to the road that ran from Cardiff through Caerphilly to Merthyr.

The stone – literally, a stone – (shown in close up here to the left) probably dates from the late 1700s and, though I couldn’t read the inscription, it appears to mark the same route as its more modern neighbour. 

The BLB website notes that both stones have been re-sited, as they appeared in a more northerly position on an 1898 OS map.

How marvellous that both have survived.

We return now to Cowbridge Road East, in Canton, as this milepost (in the photograph at right) is located between numbers one and two above. (Don’t be mislead by the street number; they are simply more numerous on this side of the road.) 

This milepost is not one of the A48 series, however. It has been moved from its original position and is one of a series that mark the Cardiff-Llantrisant turnpike. Though it is undated, it was probably erected in the early to mid nineteenth century.

The milepost shown below is the second in the Cardiff-Llantrisant series and is located near the entrance to Llandaff village, the historic ‘city within a city’ as the locals say. The BLB website provides some interesting additional information for this entry:

The turnpike toll-house stood at the junction of the Llantrisant Road with Bridge Road in Llandaff, about 500m north. The toll-house was demolished in the late C19. The milepost was sited in its present position when Cardiff Road was widened at the junction with Western Avenue in 1976.

7) Albany Road, Roath
This last milepost was a bonus find when I was out walking one day, as it isn’t included on the BLB website. Yet, just like several of those above, it is a cast-iron milepost with a flat back, canted faces and top, so probably also dates from the 1830s. It has suffered a little damage over the years, with either a four or a two missing from the mileage shown on the top.

As you can see, the sizes and shapes of these old mileposts vary quite considerably but their functions are the same. And I’m sure that in the days of hot dusty journeys in bum-numbing horse-drawn coaches along bumpy pot-holed roads, both the coachmen and their passengers would have been very glad indeed to see that final post that read ‘Cardiff 1'!

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