Robin Longbottom on why boundary markers were an important feature alongside our highways from the 16th century

STANDING on the grass verge on the right side of the road to Cowling, a short distance past the bridge in Glusburn, is a stone highway marker.

It has Glusburn inscribed on the right and Sutton on the left and the letters ESHD cut into the moulded top.

The stone was erected to indicate the boundary between the two townships. Similar markers can be found throughout South Craven; the one at Marchup, indicating the boundary between Silsden and Addingham, is made of cast iron.

They were erected by the short-lived East Staincliffe Highways Division, that had been created to maintain the roads after the turnpike trusts were abolished in the late 1870s. Up to then the trusts had been responsible for maintaining the turnpike roads. Villages, such as Glusburn and Sutton, had been responsible for all minor roads. East Staincliffe was a division of the ancient wapentake of Staincliffe, an administrative unit in the old West Riding of Yorkshire dating back to before the Norman Conquest. It was abolished in 1894 when the urban and rural district councils were created under a new Local Government Act.

Marking boundaries along highways had been of importance since 1555 when Parliament placed the burden of their upkeep on townships in the north, and parishes in the south of England (in the north parishes were very large and divided into townships for administrative purposes). Very few highway markers from the Tudor period have survived, most having succumbed to road alterations over the centuries. However, one that does date back to this period stands just off Pole Road on the moor above Sutton-in-Craven. Known as Pole Stoop, it marks the boundary between Sutton and Laycock and stood on a once important highway between Keighley and Colne. In those days a highway was defined as a route linking two market towns, all others were of lesser importance and referred to as byways. The word way, for a public route, was of Anglo-Saxon origin and today survives in the terms pathway, byway, highway, railway, motorway etc. Otherwise, it has been superseded by the word road which came into use in the 17th century and referred to routes that could be ridden or ‘rode’ on horseback. It probably gained popular usage with the introduction of rode, or road, maps for travellers and the present spelling was adopted.

Erecting boundary markers on highways had been left to the townships. In many cases a stoop, or standing stone, was erected but a boulder was often used, such as the one at Addingham Moorside that marks the boundary between Silsden and Addingham, on the old highway from Colne to Otley. It was not until the Highways Act of 1835 that it became a statutory requirement to mark all boundaries along highways. Under the act, justices of the peace were empowered to erect the markers, but few bothered to do so. With the creation of the East Staincliffe Highways Division a determined effort was made to put the law into effect, resulting in the markers that can be seen at Glusburn, Silsden and elsewhere in South Craven. When East Staincliffe was abolished in 1894 and replaced by urban and rural district councils, they took over the task – Keighley and Skipton councils, and smaller ones such as Oakworth, marking their boundaries with small stone tablets and occasionally with cast-iron pillars.

A few examples of highway markers can still be seen along roadsides in the Keighley and Skipton area. Unfortunately, during the Second World War many were removed by overzealous members of the Home Guard, thinking that it would prevent invading German paratroopers from knowing where they had landed. It later transpired that the Germans had excellent and very detailed maps of the United Kingdom.