Walking in Glamorgan, South Wales. Guided walks, routes &
Last updated 17.04.09
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Milestones and Boundary markers
Mile marker at Laleston, near Bridgend
Whilst you are wandering around the Highways and Byways of Glamorgan, look out for old Milestones and Boundary Markers which you can find from busy City Centres through to remote hills and moorland. They are often marked on Ordnance Survey maps, particularly the more detailed and older versions although sometimes a mark on the map is not matched by a stone in situ and in other cases you will find a stone in the ground where nothing is recorded on the map. The Ordnance Survey uses the following designations on its maps:
BP Boundary Post
BS Boundary Stone
A good online source to check is Old Maps - the OS map record of 1890, but bear in mind that many stones could have moved in the last 100 years.
Left, stone milestone to Llantrisant in Welsh National History Museum. Right, also in the museum, a stone marker indicating Turnpike Road.
Mileposts and milestones were markers used to indicate to travellers on foot or horseback the distances in miles from and to various locations. They were the forerunners of the roadsigns we see today on our roads and motorways.
Old stone mile marker at St Nicholas. The lettering is barely readable although the distances are in Roman numerals.
The earliest examples in Britain go back some 2000 years to Roman times. One plain stone stands close to Hadrians Wall with another a Roman mile to the west. With the decline in British roads after the Romans left, little survives until we get to the 17th century. Whilst the statute mile of 1760 yards had been established in 1593, the actual length of a mile used locally still varied and in some cases was as much as 2000 yards. However, in the mid 17th century the General Letter Office was established and it became necessary to improve the road network for the postcoaches and to know the distance travelled for charging purposes.
This milestone at Corntown has seen better days
As roads improved, more people were tempted to travel and this, in turn, put pressure on the authorities for further improvements. Turnpike Trusts were established and they extracted tolls from travellers, using the funds for road maintenance and improvement. In 1766 they were requested by law to erect milestones and these markers helped stagecoach drivers to price and time their journeys more accurately.
Milestone outside the railings of Rumney High School
Milestones come in many shapes and sizes; some square or cylindrical but later ones with angled faces so that they could be seen better by the coach drivers as they travelled at increasing speeds. Early versions were in stone (or even wood which have not normally survived) but as they eroded, cast-metal plates were often bolted onto the stone. Later versions, and many that we see in Glamorgan, were all metal.
Cast-metal plate from Anglesey.
As can be seen from the pictures below, Glamorgan has a fine selection of milestones from Roman times through to the more recent past. The information on many Glamorgan milestones would typically include the District (Turnpike trust), the distance to the next important destination and distance from the last, the distance to London, the parish in which the stone was situated and occasionally the year in which the milestone was erected. However, it can be seen from the following examples that this varied considerably with the most basic just indicating miles to the next destination. The differences can largely be attributed to the different turnpike trusts that were responsible for their introduction.
The 1764 Act split the highways up into 5 principal trusts; Cardiff, Cowbridge, Bridgend, Neath and Swansea. Then in 1789 the South Wales Association for the Improvement of Roads was set up with the primary object of improving the main South Wales highway from Milford to London. Each trust levied its own tolls although the Act fixed maximum charges such as 6d for a beast with a vehicle, 2d for a beast without vehicle and 20d per score of oxen. The main highway was apportioned as follows:
Rumney Bridge to Bonvilston (Cardiff)
Bonvilston to Laleston (Cowbridge)
Brocastle through Bridgend to Aberafan (Bridgend)
Aberafan to Crymlin Brook (Neath)
Crymlin Brook to Loughor (Swansea)
Subsequently smaller trusts were set up to manage local roads at Llantrisant and Merthyr
(From 'Glamorgan Communications (1) The Story of the Roads' by Thomas Bevan, Glamorgan Historian, vol.1)
Left, Roman milestone in Swansea Museum. Right, front and back view of Roman milestone in Margam Stones Museum with text.
With Roman forts, roads and marching camps in several places in Glamorgan, it is no wonder that Roman milestones have also been found.
The milestone on the left in the photo can be seen in the Swansea City museum. It is inscribed 'IMP M C PIAVONIO VICTORINA AUG' - 'For the Emperor Caesar Marcus Piavonius Victorinus Augustus'. Between 269 and 270 AD the Roman Legion stationed at Bovium dedicated this milestone to their new emperor. It was discovered in 1835 in a wall opposite Pyle Cottage, Pyle, but the original location remains uncertain. (Information note in museum).
To the right of this above are front and back views of another Roman milestone, this in the Margam Stones Museum which is in the care of CADW. Far right shows a panel which clarifies the complete inscription. The display panel text reads: 'Roman milestone and post-Roman memorial. Although there was no Roman settlement at Margam it did lie on the post road running west from Caerleon and Cardiff to Carmarthen, the Roman predecessor of the modern M4. 5 milestones from the Neath Pyle area record repairs to this road by third and fourth century Roman emperors. One of these was re-used in the 6th century for the tombstone of a local notable Cantusus son of Paulinus. The stone was found in 1839 alongside the Roman road east of Port Talbot. The upper right-hand fragment was lost soon after discovery but drawings of the complete stone survive. The two sides of the stone are described below:
Milestone of Maximinus Daia (AD 309 - 313) - the inscription reads as follows:
IM (P C) (aesari) FLA (vio) VA MINO INVIC TO AV GVS
(to) (The Emperor Caesar Flavius Valerius Maximinus the Invincible Augustus)
Memorial stone of Cantusus. Some two centuries after its original erection, the Roman milestone was inverted and re-used for the Christian memorial stone of a local leader. Like most such inscriptions the text is vertical:
(hi) c iacit cantusus pater paulinus (here lies Cantusus (his) father (was) Paulinus)
Date 6th century
From GG Francis 'Original Charters and Materials for a history of Neath, Swansea, 1845.'
This milestone can be found in the National Museum in Cardiff, having been discovered in the Margam area. The inscription indicates: 'For the emperor Caesar Marcus Cassianus Latinius Postumus Augustus.' Other Roman milestones have been found at Melincryddan, Aberafon and Port Talbot.
Milepost in Aberdare.
Aberdare boasts one of the grandest milestones in South Wales,
two aspects of which are shown in the photo. It is situated in the centre of the
town close to the public library. It was erected by the Aberdare Local Board of
Health in 1860 and shows a variety of distances - London 182¾, Cardiff 22¾,
Merthyr 6½, Neath 9½, Brecon 23 miles. It was executed by H. Pritchard,
Milestones along the A48 running west from Cardiff
As well as individual milestones there are some sequences which can be followed with many of the stones in place. One of the best runs along the A48 west from Cardiff. The milespost above and left is close to the Angel Hotel in the city of Cardiff and from there you will find examples as you travel west in Canton, Ely, Pyle and Margam. They are all of similar style but with two different dates, 1835 and 1841 - note in many cases the date section is now below ground level. The 1835 posts are on the section from Cardiff to Bridgend and the later ones to the west, these also having minor style differences. You can also see the odd anomaly. The mileposts in Canton and on Ely bridge both have Cardiff as 2 miles distant although the distance to Cowbridge more logically changes by a mile. The mile marker at the top of the page at Laleston is similar and was erected by the Bridgend Turnpike Trust.
Left, A48 Margam to Pyle. Centre, A48 a mile nearer to Pyle. Right, St Fagans Museum.
These three from the same A 48 sequence raise some issues. The first, at the southern end of Margam Country park is partially concealed by undergrowth and in need of refurbishment. The one in the centre, a mile to the south-east has simply been coated in white paint. And, on the right, this milestone has ended up in the Welsh National History museum at St Fagans.
A470 Merthyr to Brecon
There are several milestones through the Brecon Beacons to Merthyr
The Merthyr to Brecon milestones feature prominently on the left of the road as you travel north. They are of stone and some are quite substantial. The 15 mile to Brecon milestone in the picture is almost as deep as it is wide. It bears the date 1867 and features a surveyor's benchmark. These benchmarks (see also the A4059 examples below) are not the standard Ordnance Survey marks which have a horizontal bar across the top of the arrow and whose surveys were not started in earnest until towards the end of the 19th century. Middleton and Chadwick's 'Treatise on Surveying' suggests that surveyors should use a different mark, 'for example, an arrow without the horizontal bar' to distinguish their marks from the British Ordnance benchmark. The likelihood here is that surveyors primarily surveying the line of the roadway added their marks on these convenient milestones.
Milestone near Resolven
The OS map shows a sequence of milestones on the B4242 but most seem to have disappeared. However, at least one is in situ, shown in the photo, which is at Coed-y-Cymoedd near Resolven. It is constructed from a large chunk of rock with a piece missing on the left-hand side - the right-hand face indicates '7 (in Roman numerals) miles to Neath'. On the left-hand side the lettering '.ont' is visible which referred to Pont Nedd Fechan and the distance would have read 5 miles.
A4059 Hirwaun to Brecon
There are several stone milestones on the A 4059 heading north from Hirwaun, most of those still in place towards the northern end. As with the A470 sequence the information is minimal but the examples here also show the surveyor's benchmark along with a metal stud which can be seen in the lower photograph.
Left, milepost at Tyn-y-Garn. Second left at Coytrahen. Second right, Llysworney. Right, on the Porthcawl road.
The mileposts around Bridgend are of cast-iron construction with 3 facets. Three show distances at the top to the nearest railway station. The Tyn-y-Garn one reads; 'Railway Station 2¼ miles', 'Maesteg 7 miles', 'Bridgend 2 miles'. On the right, the milepost on the A 4106 to Porthcawl just south of the A48 exhibits an unusual distance 4 miles 1 'F' or furlong.
Milestone near Bryn
This is the only milestone we have come across in Glamorgan which is not on a tarmac road. It is situated on a trackway, classified as a 'byway open to all traffic', between Bryn and Pontrhydyfen, just to the west of a place called Penhydd Fawr and at SS 80572/93031. As far as can be seen from the fading inscription it reads 'To Bridgend X11 miles'. Clearly, although now passed mainly by walkers, this would once have been an important route between Neath and Bridgend.
Milestone just West of Upper Killay
The Gower Peninsular has some surviving milestones - the one to the West of Upper Killay showing the Latin Numeral 'V', indicating Swansea 5 miles.
Old Toll House in the Welsh National History Museum. On the side are displayed the different tolls charged.
For a general introduction to the subject try 'Milestones' by Mervyn Benford, Shire publications, ISBN: 0 7478 0526 1 which includes suggestions for further reading.
Typical boundary stone from Anglesey showing the parishes of Llanfaes to the left of the vertical line and Beaumaris to the right. On right a similar stone in Weston Bigwood near Portishead, the CB referring to City of Bristol
Boundary markers were used to indicate where the boundary of a particular geographical area lay and this might be a parish or similar administrative unit or a private estate. The 'parish' can mean either a religious administrative area or a civil one and it is the civil boundaries that you will find marked on maps although these boundaries often co-incide with the boundary of a religious parish. Some boundaries are very old - part of the boundary between Ashton Keynes and Somerford Keynes on the border between Gloucestershire and Wiltshire dates back some 3000 years to the late Bronze Age.
One of a series of metal boundary posts to the west of Abersychan.
Whilst you are likely to find milestones mainly alongside the older roads you could find boundary markers anywhere and not least in the hills and on open moorland. The boundary of a parish might well run partly along natural features such as streams and rivers and man-made ones such as hedges and walls. To supplement these features use might be made of large boulders, often referred to as 'hoarstones'. Parishioners might also carve marks on trees or place crosses and stones at key points and it is these stones that occasionally survive today.
Cowbridge Parish Boundary Stone
With some parish boundaries established over 1000 years ago, the location of the boundary would principally have been passed on orally from generation to generation. Some mediaeval documents made reference to boundaries but it was not until the mid 19th Century that they were comprehensively recorded by the Ordnance Survey. In the meantime, and occasionally surviving to this day as an old custom, the parishioners would 'Beat the Bounds' in Rogation week. This involved walking round the complete boundary - 'perambulating' - so as to reinforce in everyone's minds where it ran and occasionally, at suitable points, to administer a mild punishment to the young lads to help them remember like holding them upside-down or banging their heads against a boundary stone.
City of Cardiff boundary marker by Rumney High School.
Whilst today the vast majority of people do not know exactly where their parish or community boundary runs, the information would have been vital to the mediaeval parishioners, not least because it established their common rights such as grazing cattle, that they were entitled to. Payment and collection of tithes often related to the particular parish and later, activities like the upkeep of roads became the responsibility of the parish.
Boundary marker in Swansea City Museum which reads 'Boundary line betwixt Middle and Upper Bank Works as Settled in AD 1829'.
In Wales Celtic society had its own distinctive type of territorial organisation which was adopted by the Normans. At the top was the CANTREF, the equivalent of 100 townships, and this split into several COMMOTES, in Welsh CYMYDAU. These were important in administering the court system and collecting taxes. Commotes were made up of GWESTFAS or MAENORS which acted as rent collection units and these in turn were comprised of a number of townships or TREFI. After the union with England in 1535 the English system of 'Hundreds' was imposed although in practice these often followed similar boundaries to the commotes.
Left and centre, boundary stones near Parc Cwm Darren. Right, stone in Welsh National History museum, St Fagans.
Left, District boundary marker. Right, estate boundary marker.
A number of boundary markers have survived in the hills near Maesteg. On the left, above, is a fine stone boundary marker indicating the division between the 'Neath Highway District' and the 'Maesteg Local Board District'. It consists of a chunk of rock, undressed behind, but with the two angled facets. Around 350 metres to East North East of it is a cast iron boundary marker with the letter 'D'.
Around Merthyr Tydfil
A series of boundary markers east of Ponsticil on close to the Glamorgan/Brecon boundary
Just to the east of Pontsticil near Merthyr Tydfil is a fine series of Boundary markers with identical lettering, 'D of B' (District of Brecon) on one side with the letters 'TM' underneath and 'GH' on the reverse. Those on the southern boundary which would have been where a gas pipeline now runs have disappeared although one was found lying upside down and half-buried in peat! However, those stretching to the north away from the pipeline have many still in place appearing like gravestones in this remote moorland area.
Boundary stone near Abercynon
This stone on the hills overlooking Abercynon has the lettering 'LJ 1876' on one side and 'HSA 1876' on the reverse.
Gorrwg Fechan metal boundary post
In the area to the north-west of Blaenrhondda, hilly and well-wooded, are two types of boundary marker. One set is of cast-iron, several with their tops missing, but those with tops intact have the lettering 'GORRWG FECHAN' on the perimeter and 'BOUNDARY' across the centre. 7 of these were found.
6 more in the same sequence
Not far from these were some stone boundary markers with simple lettering - on one side the letter 'K' and on the reverse, the letter 'V'. These are shown below.
Left, first stone front. Next, first stone reverse. Next second stone. Right, third stone.
Left, pipeline casualty? Centre, by Whitehall. Right, the incredible, sinking stone.
The area to the North and North West of Cwmbran, around Mynydd Twyn-glas and Mynydd Maen, has many surviving examples of Boundary Stones. They are all of similar design but with varied lettering including 'M', 'LUP', 'ABC', 'PP' and 'MP'. As was found with the Merthyr Tydfil stones (see above) the existence of a Gas Pipeline co-incides with the disappearance of some stones, the movement of others and one which is on its side. An unusual feature is that some appear to be sinking (see photos) where, although the stone is upright and in its correct position, only the top couple of inches show above the surface. This does not seem to have occurred where it is particularly wet or boggy.
Left, boundary stone by Mynydd Twyn-glas. Centre, with lettering 'ABC'. Right, covered in lichen.
A potpourri of other boundary stones in the area
Western Brecon Beacons
Boundary markers running in a north-west direction south of Fan Nedd.
This sequence runs just south of Fan Nedd and not far from the Roman Road Sarn Helen and the ancient standing stone of Maen Madoc. In contrast to the elegantly inscribed dressed stones of Ponsticil, these are just distinctive slabs of stone, most with no visible inscription although the first has a clear 'S' shown in the photo. The white markings show how popular they are as vantage points for birds of prey, the first found with an owl pellet lodged in a crevice.
Around the Blorenge
Boundary marker on the Blorenge
This cast-iron boundary post is an example of one marking an estate boundary, in this case 'The Manor of Lanellen'. It is sited west of the village of Llanellen at the south end of the Blorenge mountain.
For a general introduction try 'Discovering Parish Boundaries' by Angus Winchester, Shire publications, ISBN: 0 7478 0470 2 which includes suggestions for further reading.