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The Letocetum Stone

On 24 November 2012, at Wall in Staffordshire, a lasting monument to the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was unveiled alongside Watling Street, close to its junction with ancient Ryknild Street, where once stood a milestone of the reign of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudis (268-70).

This feature, a replica of an Imperial Roman milestone (effectively an 'honorific pillar'), was the idea of The Milestone Society which aims to restore and maintain historic milestones and finger posts throughout the country. 

Inscribed in Latin to reflect sixty years of the Queen's reign and is the only one of its type to be installed since the Roman period.

The work was commissioned in conjunction with Wall Parish Council.

Why a ‘Milestone’?
We use the word 'milestone' as freely to denote distance as to recognise achievement. The idea of erecting a new milestone to mark the long reign of an English monarch might seem obvious therefore, except that no-one has done so, even for the 1897 Jubilee which resulted in a huge amount of new public monuments and sculpture. Instead to mark the achievement of HM The Queen, old milestones have been conserved or recreated while new ones were erected in 2012 for the Olympic relay through Derbyshire.

What is a Roman Milestone?
Although most of the 65 or so surviving Roman milestones date to the third century, they will have marked the early military roads, such as Watling Street from London to Chester and Wroxeter, in the first century AD. These were usually cylindrical stones engraved with a dedication to reigning emperor, with the distances simply painted on once the stones were set in position. Such stones were sometimes up-ended and re-carved with a change of emperor. There are excellent examples at Jewry Wall Museum in Leicester and several along the line of Hadrian's Wall. 

And Turnpike milestones?
Milestones were made compulsory on the Turnpike (toll) road system in 1767, to indicate direction and distance, which was useful for charging for changes of horses at coaching inns and for delivery of mail before the uniform penny post was introduced in 1840. An early stone remains at Atherstone, beside the Red Lion, a coaching inn on the old A5 road, known as the ‘Hundred’ stone, because originally it showed distances to London, Lincoln and Liverpool as one hundred miles each!

Roman Watling Street, later the turnpiked A5, improved by Telford as his London-Holyhead road, formerly had many milestones. While some of Telford's have been restored through Wales a great many of those along the English section of the road were disposed as a hindrance to cable-laying during the 1970s.

So why a Roman one for the Jubilee?
Artistic modern milestones are currently being erected to mark cycle routes (by Sustrans) and reproduction ones by heritage bodies keen to replace lost examples from the age of the turnpike road or transport canal.

For the Jubilee a Roman milestone was preferred for the following reasons:

  • The Roman format lends itself much better to commemoration of achievement as well as distance. Roman milestones habitually record the emperor and the reign as well as places and distances, although some (designed simply to mark the way) record only the emperor.
  • A 'Roman' stone more effectively communicates a sense of the great span of history in this Country, in a way reflective of the span of Her Majesty's reign
  • A 'Roman' stone, in contrast to the commoner artistic modern and reproduction turnpike stones, reminds us of the great diversity of this nations' history.
  • A 'Roman' stone helps to foster ancient epigraphical and scriptoral skills and in so doing quietly inform and inspire us all.
  • A new 'Roman' stone set in a heritage location along the line of a Roman road would be a first in this Country since the Roman period.

Why at Wall?
A site as close to the centre of the Country as possible was important to be as representative as possible of the whole Nation. It needed to be of excellent 'heritage' interest as well as being distinctive and accessible. A location on a fast stretch of modern road would not do.  

Wall (Roman Letocetum) lies at the junction of Watling Street and Ryknield Street, a comfortable equidistance between the major urban centres of Roman Britain: London (Londinium), Chester (Deva), York (Ebracvm) and Gloucester (Glevvm). As it happens the Parish Council at Wall owns, and has offered the use of, just such a 'heritage location' on a quiet by-passed section of Watling Street in the centre of the village. Furthermore it is a location close to the visitor car-park for the Roman site, a site owned by the National Trust and managed by volunteers from the community in co-operation with English Heritage as its Guardian.

Most compellingly Wall once has a Roman milestone, perhaps properly an honorific pillar, which stood in a field at Chesterfield Farm near the junction of Watling Street and Ryknild street to the south-east of the settlement. Remembered by local man Richard Barker whose father and grandfather had Chesterfield Farm from 1913, and published 'Roman Inscriptions of Britain' as no 2246, on it is/was inscribed: IMP C M AVR VAL CLAVDIO "For Imperator Caesar Marcus Aurelius Val(erianus) Claudius (Pius Felix Invictus Augustus), dating it to AD 268-70. Although a fragment of a possibly similar stone, found during the 1912 excavations, is on display at the Wall Museum, this pillar was lost - possible to argricultural improvement in the 1970s.

The Wall Jubilee 'Roman' Milestone, recalling this ancient predecessor, is a truly unique monument representing a never-to-be repeated coalescence of events and interests at the very best location

How will this inform or inspire?
At Wall there are the excavated remains of a bath house and a Mansio, part of a Roman street and a small museum dedicated to interpretation of the site and its finds. Wall began life as a military staging post, but soon developed into a significant civil settlement offering a high standard of life. The new Roman milestone complements and enhances the story but, being on its own site, should not confuse or contrive that of the Roman site proper. It demonstrates Roman skill and give an impression of what a Roman milestone may have looked like in its day, much as does the new Roman villa at Wroxeter (Viroconium).

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Watling Street
Wall

Website: http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-wallromansite

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