The Terry Keegan memorial Award, by the Milestone Society
Milestones are classified as “listed buildings” by English Heritage. Unlike most other ‘listed buildings’, single milestones are not grand enough to have a ‘Friends’ association or be cherished by an individual; milestones and guide stoops are mostly owned by the Highways Authorities and are distributed in the landscape, often being destroyed as roads are widened, or becoming victims of collision damage, smashed by verge-cutters, stolen for sale or deliberately vandalised.
It was against this background in the year 2000 that Terry Keegan was mulling the idea of a society to safeguard these historic markers. Although Terry had been born in Ireland in 1931, he spent most of his life in England, with periods in Scotland. He met his wife Mary when they were both students at the LSE, and they formed a lifelong devoted partnership. He worked for the Guinness Company before taking a smallholding in Worcestershire in 1966 to try a more green and entrepreneurial way of life, setting up and running a milk bar. He had wide ranging interests and was instrumental in saving the heavy horse from virtual extinction, setting up a Society to spread the word about their history and uses, becoming a recognised expert and publishing books and articles. He also set up a Horse Brass society. Both of these still flourish today.
And in 2000 he encountered a few others with similar interest in the welfare of milestones. He organised the inaugural meeting at the newly opened Black Country Museum which was attended by over 60 people, many surprised to find others who shared their strange hobby, and others who were surprised to learn about the existence of these quirky waymarkers and the history and heritage they represent.
The Society grew to 500 members within five years, thanks greatly to the tireless efforts of Terry, who rounded up those with something to contribute, doing so with good humour, a persuasive Irish lilt and most of all leading by example. He gave talks and interviews, raised funds, restored milestones in Worcestershire, produced a county newsletter, edited an early edition of the Society’s magazine ‘On the Ground’. He hassled the highways authorities gently but persistently and he got results. For years as Hon Sec of the Milestone Society and later as Vice Chair, he picked up all the balls dropped by the rest of the Committee; he knew how to motivate volunteers and how to encourage commitment.
So when he died in June 2012, after a few months illness during which he continued to attend Committee meetings through a Skype link, we had lost a great man, a tower of strength. We received an anonymous donation of £500 and his family also contributed the donations made in his memory, a total of £800. How best to commemorate his work for the next generation? We knew of the good work in heritage conservation being undertaken at the Ironbridge Institute; Terry and his Worcestershire colleagues used the foundry at Blists Hill to produce replacement cast-iron plates for their milestones, too. So we offered to set up a memorial award in his name, to an outstanding student; it seemed appropriate to make this award to a post-grad part-time student who was likely to have found the time for heritage later in life, as have the majority of our Society’s members. The Conservation of the Historic Environment course has since been transferred to Birmingham City University and we have continued to make the award at the start of each autumn term.
The award comprises an inscribed milestone, a framed certificate, a cheque for £100 and a copy of Mervyn Benford’s Shire book Milestones, along with a year’s membership of the Society. We include some of the Society’s postcards, too.