AN overgrown Morpeth landmark has been restored to its original glory to take pride of place in a new development.
The Stobhill milestone has an uncertain past, with no precise details about where and when it was originally installed, or who placed it.
But the modest marker is believed to have stood on the outskirts of Morpeth for at least 150 years and points the way to the town’s past as an important destination at the centre of several major routes.
So there was concern when locals noticed the milestone had disappeared from the undergrowth at the former Royal British Legion Club car park when housing development work began.
Morpeth Antiquarian Society began the investigation and with the help of former borough Mayor Frank Harrington the case of the missing marker was taken up by The Milestone Society’s Northumbrian representative Iain Davison.
However, there was no cause for alarm as Mr Davison soon discovered that developers Cussins had removed the stone for safekeeping until their building work was complete.
And the company was more than happy to reinstate it, with local resident Brian Harle, who had also been alarmed to find the stone missing, helping to co-ordinate the project.
Mr Davison said: “When Frank Harrington told me about a milestone that I didn’t know about I thought I must investigate.
“I checked with Cussins the builders and they had stored the milestone in their compound, which was a good thing because obviously it was safe.
“I saw the stone and asked if they could put it back and they agreed right away, it was just a question of where best to put it.
“We spoke to the highways department at Northumberland County Council and decided the best point was nearest to where the developers had found it, beside the new development in a safe location.”
Mr Davison also obtained permission from the council to paint the stone white, with black lettering, to take it back to what is likely to have been its original state.
“Many of the stones were lime-washed so that they could be seen clearly because the whole point of them was to be a marker, and the letters would have been picked out in black. Some might not have been painted, but the lettering and figures would have been done in white so they could be seen,” he said.
There are several theories about which road the stone was associated with, whether it was the Morpeth to North Shields turnpike, or the Morpeth to Choppington road, or perhaps another route altogether as the town also had markers for Newcastle, Alnwick and Cresswell.
However, the late historian Roland Bibby, who published a short series on milestones in the Northumbriana magazine in 1976, had a different view.
His daughter Kim Bibby-Wilson explained.
“The milestone has the number one on it, but if it was on the turnpike there would likely have been another figure on the other side to show the distance from the opposite direction,” she said.
“My father thought that it was just giving the distance to Morpeth from Stobhill as a type of signpost and was probably set in place by the Morpeth Corporation, rather than the turnpike authorities.”
Whatever its background, many are now pleased that the stone has been preserved.
County councillor for the area Ian Lindley said: “We are lucky to have people looking after this kind of heritage.
“Although these are quite small things they have history all around them and they build up the tourism interest for Northumberland as a whole. Nowadays these things are too easily lost.
“We are grateful to Cussins for dealing with its relocation sensitively.”
Cussins Director Jabin Cussins said: “The historic milestone was discovered in thick undergrowth on the boundary of our Turner Square development prior to construction commencing on site.
“We knew from earlier surveys that the main road to Morpeth from the south ran to the north of the site and that the stone was of historical value to the town.
“To safeguard the stone from potential damage during the build phase our Construction Director John Anderson arranged for it to be stored until works had finished. Shortly afterwards, Mr Davison of the Milestone Society contacted us to enquire on our plans for the stone and to offer his assistance.
“Since then Mr Davison has put considerable energy into restoring the stone and arranging for it to be re-sited at a location where it can be best appreciated by the public. I understand that Mr Davison has been in contact with the relevant authorities who have proved very helpful throughout the restoration process.”
He added: “During the Cussins Marques 90-year history we have discovered many historical artefacts and it is always hugely rewarding to preserve and safeguard these for future generations. That both Mr Davison and the local community have proved so proactive has been a huge help to us.”
More details about the Stobhill turnpike can be found in Town Trail for Morpethians No. 9, which is available in local bookshops.
The Milestone Society works to identify, record, research, conserve and interpret the features across Britain.
Anyone with information about milestones can contact Mr Davison on 01661 824859.