2.7.3 Boundary stones, milestones and wayside markers

Boundary or ‘march’ stones (Figure 60) mark the extent of authority over an area of land, whether an administrative unit (such as the extent of town’s land or other type of area, such as the sanctuary associated with Holyrood Abbey, Canongate, Edinburgh) or private property (estate markers). Canmore holds records for over 1003 examples of boundary stones. So far, this category of carved stone has not been the direct focus of academic studies. Public interest in boundary markers is underlined by community-based recording projects (for example Munro and O’Grady 2015) and local authority tourist trails (for example City of Aberdeen Council Aberdeen’s March Stones Trail). Research carried out for the Aberdeen March Stone Trail reveals boundary markers can have complex biographies and may comprise not only of carved stones. Initially the boundary markers around the periphery of the Aberdeen evolved from natural features and simple cairns into a systematic network of inscribed carved stones. A 1525 account of the city’s boundary refers to several stones including features described as ‘saucers’ and others with various holes. Potentially these depressions were filled with lead stamped with either the town’s mark or seal. Research notes how by 1790, this system was replaced with the series of lettered and numbered stones that survive today (Aberdeen’s March Stones Trail).

Small rectangular stone inscribed with 22 ABD in front of a stone wall

Figure 60: Boundary Stone 22, Westfield Farm, Aberdeen. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Canmore contains 648 entries for milestones (Figure 61), while The Milestone Society database contains over 900 records. Many more examples are likely to have been removed or destroyed during the early part of WW2 as part of efforts to counter an anticipated invasion. The recording of milestones has not been systematic, nevertheless several local interest groups or individual amateurs have progressed regional ‘gazetteer-style’ recording projects (for example for Fife see Darwood and Martin 2005; www.wildflowersplanted.co.uk and for Ayrshire see www.ayrshirehistory.org.uk). A fragment of a Roman milestone, discovered near Ingliston in the late 17th century, represents Scotland’s earliest surviving example (see Section 2.2) however, the majority of milestones date to the 18th to 20th centuries. These stones are typically associated with the 18th-century military roads and the emergent network of canals and turnpike roads in the 19th century.

Small stone on a pavement, painted white with black lettering showing number of miles to three places and an incised mark

Figure 61: Milestone with benchmark, Lower Largo, Fife. Crown Copyright: Historic Environment Scotland

Milestones occur in a variety of forms and can differ in the complexity of information presented (Wallace 1911). By the 19th century, road milestones may be made from stone or cast iron or a combination of these materials. Milestones may also bear incised Ordnance Survey benchmark symbols (Figure 61), a form of carved stones in their own right. Research into milestones as a group of monuments is limited, although 18th-century military examples have been studied as part of wider analyses of the military roads network (e.g. Wallace 1911). Equally a handful of regional-level analyses exist, with Fife particularly well documented (for example Stephen 1968; Darwood and Martin 2005). A good number of stones survive in East Fife as when all wayside markers and the cast iron caps from the milestones were removed at the outset of WW2 the local authority catalogued and arranged for their safe storage and replacement after the war (Fife Council, 2006). In 2006, Fife Council undertook a programme of preservation and restoration of its collection of milestones and wayside markers.

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