HUNDREDS of motorists and pedestrians a day pass by the faded stone obelisk which helped give Leytonstone its name - without ever taking a second glance.

Tucked away against the boundary wall of a block of flats at the junction of Hollybush Hill and New Wanstead in Snaresbrook, the historic Highstone barely catches the eye.

But the 18th century structure's modest appearance belies its colourful past and the vital role it played in shaping the history of the area around it - quite literally putting the 'stone' into Leytonstone.

The Highstone, whose base is thought to be Roman in origin, once served as an important mile marker at the junction of what were once the old London to Ongar and Norwich roads, and is the site where Leyton was officially created into a municipal borough in October 1926.

The Grade II listed landmark is mentioned in countless reports of attacks by highwaymen in Epping Forest during the last 1800s - one of the most famous of which was the theft of the Norwich mail by Matthew Snatt in March 1757.

A press account from the time (taken from 'Epping Forest: Then and Now') reads: "Whereas the post-boy bringing the Norwich mail from Epping Forest to this office was, this morning about four O'clock attacked and robbed on the road by the obelisk or High Stone, near Leytonstone in the county of Essex by a single highwayman on horseback who presented a pistol to the post-boy at the time, ordering him to deliver the mail otherwise he would blow his brains out, which obliged the post-boy to unstrap the mail and deliver it to the highwayman who took the whole Norwich mail before him upon his horse and rode away with it full speed towards Epping."

Snatt was later convicted of the crime and, following his execution, his body was hung in chains near the Highstone where the robbery took place.

The Guardian spoke to Peter Lawrence, chairman of Woodford Historical Society, to find out more about the landmark.

He said: "The parish of Leytonstone took part of its name from the Highstone when it was formed.

"It once sat at a major junction between two of the main roads leading to East Anglia which are now Hollybush Hill and New Wanstead.

"Due to the last boundary change it now stands in Redbridge rather than Leytonstone, which is bizarre when you think of its historical importance to the area.

"It's been moved twice since I've known it, and is now tucked right back. It used to stand in a far more prominent position.

"The base is rumoured to be Roman, and could be a remnant from a former Roman road nearby.

"Mile markers were once vital reference points for travellers through Epping Forest."

An inscription on the stone which gives the distance to Epping in one direction and Hyde Park Corner in the other is now heavily worn, and hard to decipher.

A report is currently being compiled by Redbridge Council on the possibility of restoring the structure, which remains a key link to history of Epping Forest.