Thatcham milestone. Photograph by Nick Young.

Thatcham milestones

I mentioned previously about the roadside water pumps, the other thing people often ask about are the milestones. Milestones have a long history going back to at least the Romans. They marked every thousandth double step, hence the latin for thousand, “mille”. This equated to 1618 yards or 1479.5 meters. Throughout history the measure of a mile has varied with measures such as the “long” mile. A modern british mile is 1760 yards or 1609.3 meters. There are still some surviving Roman Milestones in Britain and more in general on milestones on The Milestone Society website. Milestones as most will know them were made compulsory in 1767 (I believe) on all turnpikes. With the modern A4 along being an old turnpike you will see many whilst going along the road. However not all remain in their original location.

Milestones, as the name suggests, are placed a mile apart and give the distance to the next major settlement such as Reading, London, Newbury, Bath or Bristol. Within the Thatcham boundary, old boundary, all of the milestones still exist and are shown on the map below:

Some of the milestones, the one near B&Q on the western edge of the map and the one at the top of the Broadway for example, have been moved from their original locations, in these cases due to road layout changes. Four of the five in this stretch have the same design, the odd one out being the one at the western end. It is most likely they would have been painted to make them stand out so the stagecoaches, and other vehicles, could see them more clearly.

Keep your eye out for milestones, or mile posts, and remember the chances are if you see one you are on the route of an old turnpike road.