Robin Longbottom looks at how watercourses, stones and trees have all been used to mark boundaries over the years – but not always without dispute

WHEN Ordnance Survey accurately mapped the Keighley and South Craven area in the late 1840s, one of the tasks for its surveyors was to determine and indicate the township boundaries. Some surveyors even went beyond their remit and marked manorial boundaries.

Before the first sheets were published in 1853 the only way that boundaries could be ascertained was by travelling around them and committing them to memory. In the north these events were traditionally on horseback and known as ‘ridings’. They were said to have been ridden every seven years, but this rarely happened and in Sutton-in-Craven during the 18th century ridings are only recorded four times – in 1730, 1759, 1773 and 1797.

In the Aire Valley, the River Aire and the becks and sikes that flow into it provided natural boundaries between neighbouring townships – however on the uplands and moors, boundaries were marked by trees, natural boulders, purposely-erected stoops and piles of stones. Trees would appear to be an odd choice, but some can live for many centuries. There are several recorded in our locality, such as the Broad Oak that stood into the 18th century and marked the boundary between Thwaites in Keighley and Harden in Bingley; the Thief Thorn, a hawthorn, once stood on Silsden Moor marking the boundary with Addingham; and a Sallow Bush, a willow, once marked the boundary between Sutton and Steeton-with-Eastburn.

Natural boulders were an obvious choice. The biggest surviving one is the Hitching Stone on Keighley Moor, chosen in ancient times as the point at which the boundaries of Keighley, Sutton-in-Craven and Cowling met. Many smaller and less obvious stones were utilised, but all were given specific names, such as the Worm Hill Stone, the Cought Stone, the Quicken Stone and the Little Stone on Sutton Moor. If there wasn’t a convenient boulder, or tree, a stone stoop was often erected and today lines of them can still be found across the moors – a good example being those marking the boundary between Haworth and Oxenhope and the line of stoops between the Colne Road above Two Laws, Oakworth and the Wolf Stones on the boundary with Lancashire.

Sometimes it was easier to mark a boundary with a pile of stones, but these were less permanent, easily moved and occasionally resulted in lengthy boundary disputes. One such case occurred in the 1780s when a pile of stones on the moor was moved by the inhabitants of Wycoller to extend their land into Stanbury. An ensuing court case in 1788 found in favour of Stanbury and a large stone was placed on the original boundary. It was inscribed with the words ‘Lad or Scarr on Crow Hill’. The name ‘lad’ is from Old Norse for a pile of stones and ‘scarr’ simply means a mark.

As ridings progressed the participants would often inscribe a stone with the initials of their lord or his heraldic symbol. In the 17th century Keighley marked its WD for William Earl of Devonshire, Haworth used the letter H, Sutton used a heraldic cross known as a cross moline and Silsden used the letter T for the Earl of Thanet. Boundary marks are almost impossible to date, but one exception is a stone on the boundary between Silsden and Skipton. It lies west of Snow Hill and is marked with a T and also with a five pointed star. The star is known as a mullet in heraldry and indicates a third son suggesting it was cut in 1681 at a riding instigated by Richard, the third son of John the 2nd Earl of Thanet.

Although many boundary markers have been lost over the centuries a good number still survive and provide points of interest for today’s walkers and groups of ramblers.