ONCE a common sight up and down England’s roads, there are now thought to be just 9,000 milestones left across the country.

Hundreds of thousands of the markers have been lost, buried under roads and building work, or even stolen and sold on ebay over the years.

Most were removed or defaced in the Second World War to baffle potential German invaders and not all were replaced afterwards. Many have been demolished as roads have been widened, or have been victims of collision damage, or have been smashed by hedge-cutters or flails.

Like so many modern-day ideas, milestones originated with the Romans who were keen to measure distance to aid timing and efficiency for both their marching armies and supplies travelling across their vast Empire.

After Roman times, roads developed to meet local community needs: in 1555, an Act of Parliament made local parishes responsible for their upkeep and boundary markers became important.

From the late 17th century to the 1840s ,Turnpike Trusts were set up by Acts of Parliament to improve the state of Britain’s roads, which often became impassable in the winter months. Local groups of wealthy people paid for improved roads to be built and then charged people tolls for using them.

At first these milestones were made of stone or were engraved in walls of buildings but the later ones were made of cast iron. After 1767 milestones were compulsory on all turnpike roads to inform travellers, to help coaches keep to schedules and for the calculation of charges for the changes of horses at coaching inns.

Milestones were originally installed on the route of the current A540 and B5134 from Chester to Neston, as a requirement of the 1787 Wirral Turnpike Act. In 1896, on the establishment of the new Cheshire County Council, the stones were replaced by triangular, cast iron black-and-white ones as beautifully captured here by Wirral Globe Camera Club member John Lowe.