Two historic milestones in St Helens are being moved to new homes in local parks thanks to teamwork between the NHS, a local authority and a history group.
The 1.22m (4 feet) high sandstone posts, which have flanked the entrance to the former Cowley Hill health facility in Balker Drive, St Helens, for many years, are being relocated to two local parks by St Helens Council.
The vacant Cowley Hill site has been declared surplus to the requirements of the NHS by St Helens Clinical Commissioning Group and owners NHS Property Services are close to completing the sale of the property after it was placed on the open market in December 2016.
It is not known how the milestones, which were once sited on a turnpike that is now the A58, came to be at Balker Drive, but they are now being handed to the council after a successful request by the local branch of the Milestone Society to keep them in public ownership – and on public display.
Robert Bentley, a Service Delivery Manager for NHS Property Services said: “We were happy to help the Milestone Society when they got in touch and it has been fascinating finding out more about these historic artefacts.
“We’re pleased they are now heading for the park where people can see them and learn more about local history. It’s been a great team effort!”
On Wednesday 25th October the milestones are due to be installed in new permanent homes in Victoria Park and Taylor Park, which are as close as is practically possible to their original locations. Currently, a service access road to a supermarket (morrisons) and the Jackson Street Industrial Estate occupy the sites where the milestones were first placed.
Local historian Barrie Pennington, who orchestrated the project on behalf of the Milestone Society, said: “We are immensely grateful to NHS Property Services for their active involvement in saving and preserving these milestones.
“We are particularly indebted to Robert Bentley, who immediately understood the relevance and importance of these historical artefacts and moved quickly to help us in securing their conservation.
“Local historian Chris Coffey has also been instrumental in the project and we’d like to thank local resident Stan Gibbons who spotted the milestones at Balker Drive.”
Both parks are managed by St Helens Council, which is funding the relocation project, and the Milestone Society has praised the efforts of Dave Bloor, a Service Manager in the Grounds Maintenance and Street Scene Services team.
Councillor Terry Shields, Cabinet Member for Green, Smart & Sustainable Borough, said: “This has been a great example of partnership work, and I’m delighted that we could help protect such interesting artefacts from the borough’s past.
“I’m very much looking forward to seeing the milestones put back on public display in two of our beautiful parks that also have rich history of their own, which will contribute to the great work done by the Friends of Taylor and Victoria Park groups.”
Dave Bloor, St Helens Council’s Environmental Services Manager, added:
“The fact that the existing gateposts to the Victorian house in Balker Drive, the old NHS site, happen to be the turnpike road milestones, was brought to my attention by the Milestone Society.
“It’s created great interest with local historians. St Helens Council welcomes the gift of these historic milestones to display in Victoria Park and Taylor Park to preserve their history.”
The milestones are made from sandstone extracted from one of the many former quarries around St Helens. The turnpike road where they were originally placed is one of the oldest in the country, dating from 1753 – and is now the A58.
Barrie added: “Next year is the 150th anniversary of St Helens as a borough so the recovery and preservation of the milestones is a timely reminder of the town’s industrial past.
“At one time Liverpool required huge amounts of coal for its steel, salt, chemical and ship building factories and St Helens had enormous quantities so the town became highly dependent on the turnpike roads for its economic development.
“When Turnpike Trusts were disbanded in 1888, responsibility for maintaining roads shifted to County and County Borough Councils and many assets were sold off at auction to cover debts.
“These two milestones may have had several owners before becoming gatepost guardians but we’re not aware of any records of purchase as individual items.”
The inscriptions on the milestones, which currently flank the entrance of the former maternity hospital in Balker Drive. are unusually well-preserved and legible, read:
No. 1 to left of gateway:
To Ashton VI miles
St Helens I mile
To Prescot III miles
No. 2 to right of gateway:
To Ashton V miles
To Prescot IV miles
Milestones in their new locations