After the Romans left no one seems to have been responsible for English roads until an Act in 1555 made parishes responsible for road maintenance. In spite of later legislation, this did not work. So in 1663 an Act of Parliament established the first Turnpike between Wadesmill and Stilton on the Great North Road.
The first Suffolk Turnpike Act was passed in 1711 for the roads between "Ipswich and Clayton etc", meaning the road to Stowmarket and "Hawleigh" (Haughley), and the road to Scole, including the branch at Yaxley to Eye. Twenty-Three milestones, out of a total of a possible thirty-four remain, two with Roman lettering. Obviously the do not date as far back as 1711. All are mapped as M.S.
Milestones or posts became mandatory from 1766. Their sites are indicated on the earliest edition of the 1" O.S. maps (reprinted by David and Charles of Newton Abbot) showing only the actual mileages to London and/or the next town. They do not indicate MPs or MSs as such as do the later 1" and current 1/50,000 maps. However, in the town they are omitted because of lack of space, and have to be looked for. Ipswich has seven out of seven milestones still in place; Lowestoft has none. Surviving milestones stand, of course, on the original main road and not on modern by-passes. For the purpose of this study the MOT numbers refer to the original main roads.
Mileages are entered on the David and Charles map for the London to Norwich road and the other roads from Barton Mills and Mildenhall, but no milestones are shown on the modern maps except one near Brandon and that has been removed. Milestones are not mentioned in the 1828 Act.
On the A12 and some other roads, a shaped metal plate is fixed with a single bolt to the stone. At the top is the name of the parish and the distance from London. Below, in small lettering, often too worn to read is the name and address of the ironworks and the date when the casting was made. Facing up and down the road are the names and distances of two towns in each direction. The dates on the A12 vary between 1818 and 1838 with one 1891. Some of these milestones are still marked on the latest maps as M.P.s. Most of the ironwork was done by J Garrett of Ipswich. Other makers were Cocksedge of Ipswich, and Page and Girling of Melton. Similar work was done by Samuel Ridley of Bury for milestones on the A45. Bench marks are sometimes seen on stones.
Several parishes on northern sections of the A12 have completely restored their milestones and reset them on pebble bases. Wangford milestone was restored in 1987.
147 milestones have been photographed in the five years 1983-87 but 96 have not been found. Nineteen stones between Newmarket and Stowmarket have gone, some probably as a result of the reconstruction of the A45. Here it may be noted that only Bury is named on milestones and not the full name. On the Suffolk A12 forty-one out of sixty stones are still standing, sixteen of them consecutively between Yoxford and Kessingland.
It is not possible to say why so many stones have gone. Perhaps some were taken up in 1940 when Winston Churchill call for the removal of sign posts as invasion threatened. In four instances milestones can no longer be found near wartime airfields. But they may have gone because of road widening.
Distances between milestones or posts were measured accurately using wheels, but in two places road changes have made mileages inaccurate. The distance between the 93rd and 94th milestones from London at Yoxford is less than a mile on the direct A12 from London. Originally the Turnpike must have made a sharp turn to go into the village and back out again before resuming its original direction. Incidentally the Turnpike trustees (a few of the two hundred and more appointed) first met here at the Three Tuns in 1785.
The distance between the 65th and the 62nd milestones on the Bury-Sudbury road is less than three miles. This is because the road was shortened when it was re-routed to leave room for a war-time airfield. The beginning and end of the original route can still be seen. The 64th and 63rd milestones were probably removed then.
Between 1711 and 1828 about fifteen original Acts affected Suffolk. Turnpike Acts had to be re-enacted every twenty-one years.
Milestones nearly always stood on the same side of the Turnpike. In many cases the inscriptions have been weathered away. This is true for most of the stones between the A12 and Aldeburgh. They could be the original stones set up in 1792 when it was enacted, "...if any person...shall break...or pull up...stones or posts...or deface them shall pay the sum of forty shillings...or be committed to jail...for not exceeding two month."
No stones have been found or are mapped on the turnpikes from Ipswich (1812) and Woodbridge (1802) to Eye. The Act of 1812 relating to the road from Ipswich to Debenham states that "the said Trustees may...cause...stones or posts to be set up...as they shall think fit..." (My emphasis).
The last Turnpike Act was in 1836, but is as not until after some unsatisfactory legislation that the County Councils took over responsibility for the main roads in 1889.
Today, it seems for the most part, that milestones are nobody's business. Whoever is legally responsible. it would be regrettable is these remaining "ancient monuments" were left to further disappearance.