Volunteers needed for Norfolk historic milestone project

Volunteers are needed for a project aiming to restore the most neglected of the county's ancient milestones.

Hidden behind the kaleidoscope of modern signage crowding the verges of Norfolk's roads lie the signposts of a less hectic pace of life.

But many of the ancient, elegant milestones which helped 18th-century travellers find their way have been lost, buried or damaged during the intervening decades.

Now one committed enthusiast is hoping to find a team of volunteers who can match his passion for preserving the county's roadside heritage.

The Norfolk Jubilee Milestone Project aims to restore 60 of Norfolk's neglected milestones to celebrate the Queen's 60 years on the throne next year.

It is a labour of love driven by Nigel Ford, a retired window-cleaner who has taken on the job of locating, repairing and re-painting these relics.

He has already restored scores of the aged distance markers in the last two years, but now needs help to locate, move and repaint another 60 before the jubilee celebrations begin.

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Mr Ford, 63, said: 'It is not just the question of it being part of our heritage. Milestones give people a feel-good factor. You would not believe the amount of people I have had thanking me for doing this.

'The other thing is that I have got two twin grandsons and I didn't like the thought that – unless we did something – when they grew up they would have to go to a museum to see something like this, purely out of the neglect of the last 50 years.'

Norfolk has 360 milestones, and Mr Ford estimates at least 150 are in need of some degree of attention.

Some date back to the mid-1700s and many were moved or buried to confuse potential invaders during the second world war.

In Honingham, one 19th-century milestone is in a ditch next to the A47, covered in ivy and obscured from view by trees and thick thorn bushes. Its rusty metal plaque simply reads: Norwich 7, Dereham 9.

The project aims to restore it to its pre-war position on the opposite side of the road, outside the village church.

Mr Ford, who lives at Hardingham, near Wymondham, began his mission in 2009 when he noticed a milestone at Bawburgh which had been damaged by a flail cutter. After writing a letter to the EDP expressing his dismay, he was contacted by the Milestone Society – which he promptly joined.

In August, a 190-year-old milestone on the B1108 near Watton was formally unveiled by Richard Jewson, Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk, after Mr Ford had restored it with the help of six Carbrooke school children.

On Thursday, he discovered a 'missing' one in the private garden of one of his old window-cleaning clients near Honingham, with ornate lettering which has convinced him it is one of the earliest of the series from the 1700s.

Mr Ford's project is supported by Norfolk County Council's historic environment service. Historic environment manager David Gurney said: 'This is one of those areas of heritage which is not immediately apparent. People think about churches and castles and the big monuments, but when you start to look locally at what we have right on our doorstep you see things like milestones, signposts and letter boxes – all the small things which make a great contribution to our sense of character and sense of space.

'That is why the milestone project is so important. It is about protecting things which people walk past every day, but which are of heritage importance.'

Mr Ford said he hopes for about a dozen volunteers, although a smaller team of the 'right people' could be enough to help him reach his goal. Particular help is needed in the Dereham, Holt, Fakenham and Downham Market areas.

'I want to complete this project in time for the jubilee celebrations, and I simply cannot do it on my own,' he said.

?To volunteer, contact Nigel Ford on 01953 850550 or legindrof@btinternet.com.

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