Bow bells mile markers explained

24th March

If you’ve ever walked or driven along the A271 through Horsebridge you might have seen this interesting ‘Bow Bells’ mile post marker on the north side of the road on the river bridge near to the Flour Mill.

Made of locally produced iron and Grade 2 listed, it’s one of a series along the C18th turnpike coaching route from Eastbourne to London and indicates how many miles there were to St Mary le Bow (the Bow Bells) in London.  The buckle on the top of this marker (and also on markers 44 – 55) reminds us that the wealthy and influential Pelham family (whose emblem is the buckle) owned the land here and helped finance the maintenance of this stretch of the route via a turnpike trust.

Initially the local parishes were responsible for road repairs but many did not meet their statutory obligations, often because they simply did not have the funds to do so.  In the early 18th century a multitude of local, independent, non-profit making turnpike trusts were formed across England and Wales by Act of Parliament to take on responsibility for the repair of these routes.  Traffic on the roads were increasing and transportation, particularly of goods, was rising.

Turnpike trusts raised funds by collecting tolls for the use of the roads – an idea that was initially very unpopular as before road use had been free!   From 1767 mileposts were made compulsory, not only to inform travellers of direction and distances, but to help coaches keep to schedule.  They were also used to calculate postal charges before a uniform postal rate was introduced in 1840.

By the mid 1800s there were over 1,100 turnpike trusts in England and Wales responsible for 22,000 miles of highway.

The route Bow bells marker 54 is on ran from Langney Bridge in Eastbourne, through Stone Cross, Hailsham, Horsebridge and Hellingly, along The Dicker to Uckfield, up to East Grinstead and on to London, linking our community to the capital.

Revenues collapsed and turnpikes were wound up by the 1880s with the advent of the new railway which took over the transportation of much of the passenger and goods traffic.

Sadly only a handful of these markers survive now.  Some were removed during World War II and never reinstated, some have been lost to modern road improvements or moved, others have been stolen.  The Hellingly Bow bells marker disappeared after roadworks nearby some years ago.  But two survive in Hailsham…… can you spot them? 

By local historian and author Nicky Walker