- Turnpike trusts in the United Kingdom
Turnpike trusts in the
United Kingdomwere bodies set up by Act of Parliament, with powers to collect road tolls for maintaining the principal highways in Britain during the eighteenth centuryand nineteenth century. At the peak in the 1830s, over 1000 trusts ["Parliamentary Papers", 1840, Vol 280 xxvii.] administered around 30,000 miles of turnpike road in England & Wales, taking tolls at almost 8000 toll-gates and side-bars [Searle, M. (1930), Turnpikes and Toll-bars, publ. Hutchinson, p798] .
During the early nineteenth century the concept of the turnpike trust was adopted and adapted to manage roads within the British Empire (Ireland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India & South Africa) and in the USA (ref Searle 1930). This article is only concerned with the Turnpike Trusts in Britain.
Pre-cursors to Turnpike Trusts
Tudor Statutes had placed responsibility on each
parishto maintain all its roads.
This arrangement was adequate for roads that the parishioners used themselves but proved unsatisfactory for the principal highways that were used by long-distance travellers and waggoners. [E. Pawson, 70-1. ] During the late
seventeenth century, the piecemeal approach to road maintenance caused acute problems on the main routes into London. As trade increased, the growing numbers of heavy carts and carriages led to serious deterioration in the state of these roads and this could not be remedied by the use of Parish Statute Labour.An alternative approach to coordinate effort on a single highway that passed through several parishes was introduced in 1663, when an Act of Parliamentgave the local Justices powers to erect tollgates on a section of the Great North Road, between Wadesmill, Hertfordshire; Caxton, Cambridgeshire; and Stilton, Huntingdonshire. [Statute, 15 Car. II, c.1. ] [ [http://www.hertsheritage.org.uk/transport/turnpike.htm The World's First Turnpike] Hertfordshire County Council Heritage page 2000, Accessed 2006] There were a small number of similar schemes during the later decades of the 17th century but all of these were managed by the Justices in Quarter Sessions, rather than by an independent trust. [E. Pawson, 88-92. ]
The First Turnpike Trusts
The first scheme that had trustees who were not Justices was established through a Turnpike Act in 1707, for a section of the London-Chester road between Fornhill and
Stony Stratford. The basic principle was that the trustees would manage resources from the several parishes through which the highway passed, augment this with tolls from users from outside the parishes and apply the whole to the maintenance of the main highway. This became the pattern for the turnpiking of a growing number of highways, sought by those who wished to improve flow of commerce through their part of a County.
The proposal to turnpike a particular section of road was normally a local initiative and a separate Act of Parliament was required to create each trust. The Act gave the trustees responsibility for maintaining a specified part of the existing highway. It provided them with powers to achieve this; the right to collect tolls from those using the road was particularly important. Local gentlemen, clergy and merchants were nominated as trustees and they appointed a clerk, a treasurer and a surveyor to actually administer and maintain the highway. These officers were paid by the trust. Trustees were not paid, though they derived indirect benefits from the better transport, which improved access to markets and led to increases in rental income and trade.
The first action of a new trust was to erect turnpike gates at which a fixed toll was charged. The Act gave a maximum toll allowable for each class of vehicle or animal - for instance one shilling and six pence for a coach pulled by four horses, a penny for an unladen horse and 10 pence for a drove of 20 cows. The trustees could call on a portion of the Statute Duty from the parishes, either as labour or by a cash payment. The trust applied the income to pay for labour and materials to maintain the road. They were also able to mortgage future tolls to raise loans for new structures and for more substantial improvements to the existing highway.
The trusts applied some funds to erecting tollhouses that accommodated the pikeman or toll-collector beside the turnpike gate. Although trusts initially organised the collection of tolls directly it became common for them to auction a lease to collect tolls. Specialist toll-farmers would make a fixed payment to the trust for the lease and then organise the day-to-day collection of the money, leaving themselves with a profit on their operations over a year.
The powers of a trust were limited, normally to 21 years, after which it was assumed that the responsibility for the now improved road would be handed back to the parishes. However, trusts routinely sought new powers before this time limit, usually citing the need to pay off the debts incurred in repairing damage caused by a rising volume of traffic or in building of new sections of road.
The Growth of the Turnpike System
During the first three decades of the 18th century sections of the main radial roads into London were put under the control of individual turnpike trusts. The pace at which new turnpikes were created picked up in the 1750s as trusts were formed to maintain the cross-routes between the Great Roads radiating from London. Roads leading into some provincial towns, particularly in Western England, were put under single trusts and key roads in
Waleswere turnpiked. In South Wales the roads of complete counties were put under single turnpike trusts in the 1760s. A further surge of trust formation occurred in the 1770s, with the turnpiking of subsidiary connecting roads, routes over new bridges, new routes in the growing industrial areas and roads in Scotland. About 150 trusts were established by 1750, by 1772 a further 400 were established and in 1800, there were over 700 trusts. [Pawson, pp. 341-260. ] In 1825 about 1000 trusts controlled 18,000 miles (28,000 km) of road in England and Wales. [http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/hantsmap/hantsmap/turnpike.htm]
The Acts for these new trusts and the renewal Acts for the earlier trusts incorporated a growing list of powers and responsibilities. From the 1750s, Acts required trusts to erect
milestones indicating the distance between the main towns on the road. Users of the road were obliged to follow what were to become rules of the road, such as driving on the left and not damaging the road surface. Trusts could take additional tolls during the summer to pay for watering the road in order to lay the dust thrown up by fast moving vehicles. Parliament also passed a few General Turnpike Acts dealing with the administration of the trusts and restrictions on the width of wheels - narrow wheels were said to cause a disproportionate amount of damage to the road.
The rate at which new trusts were created slowed in the early 19th century but the existing trusts were making major investments in highway improvement. The government had been directly involved in the building of Military Roads in Scotland following the 1745 rebellion, but the first national initiative was a scheme to aid communications with
Ireland. Between 1815 and 1826, Thomas Telfordundertook a major reorganization of the existing trusts along the London to Holyhead Road and the construction of large sections of new road to avoid hindrances, particularly in North Wales.
By 1838 the turnpike trusts in England were collecting £1.5M/a from leasing the collection of tolls but had a cumulative debt of £7M, mainly as mortgages ["Parliamentary Papers", 1840, Vol 289] . Even at its greatest extent, the turnpike system only administered to a fifth of the roads in Britain; the majority was still looked after by the parishes. A trust would typically be responsible for about 20 miles of highway, although exceptions such as the
ExeterTurnpike Trust controlled 147 miles of roads radiating from the city. On the Bath Roadfor instance, a traveller from London to the head of the Thames Valleyin Wiltshire would pass through the jurisdiction of seven trusts, paying a toll at the gates of each. Although a few trusts built new bridges (e.g. at Shillingfordover the Thames), most bridges remained a County responsibility. A few bridges were built with private funds and tolls taken at these (e.g. the present Swinford Toll Bridgeover the Thames).
Operation of Turnpike Trusts
The quality of early turnpike roads was very variable. ["Parliamentary Papers", 1840, Vol 256 xxvii. ] Although the turnpiking did result in some improvement in the highway, technology to deal with many geological features, drainage and the affects of weather were in their infancy. Road construction improved slowly, initially through the efforts of individual surveyors, such as John Metcalf in
Yorkshirein the 1760s. But nineteenth centuryengineers made great advances, notably Thomas Telfordand John Loudon McAdam. The engineering work of Telford on the Holyhead Road (now the A5) in the 1820s reduced the journey time of the London mail coach from 45 hours to just 27 hours, and the best mail coach speeds rose from 5-6 mph (8-10 km/h) to 9-10 mph (14-16 km/h). McAdam and his sons were employed as General Surveyors (consultant Engineers) to many of the main turnpike trusts in Southern England. They recommended the building of new sections of road to avoid obstructions, eased steep slopes and directed the relaying of existing road-beds with carefully graded stones to create a dry, fast-running surface (known as Macadamizing). Coach design improved to take advantage of these better roads and in 1843 the London to Exetermail coach could complete the 170 miles (270 km) in 17 hours.
The introduction of toll gates had been resented by local communities which had freely used the routes for centuries. Early Acts had given magistrates powers to punish anyone damaging turnpike property, such as defacing milestones, breaking turnpike gates or avoiding tolls. Opposition was particularly intense in mountainous regions where good routes were scarce. In
Mid Walesin 1839, new tolls on old roads sparked protests known as the Rebecca Riots. There were sporadic outbursts of vandalism and violent confrontation by gangs of 50 to 100 or more local men, and gatekeepers were told that if they resisted they would be killed. In 1844 the ringleaders were caught and transported to Australia as convicts. [ [http://history.powys.org.uk/history/rhaeadr/rebecca.html Rebecca Riots 1 ] ] . However, the result was that toll gates were dismantled and the trusts abolished in the six counties of south Wales, their powers being transferred to a roads board for each county. [P. Riden, "Record Sources for Local History" (Batsford, London 1987), 139]
The End of the System
By the early Victorian period toll gates were perceived as an impediment to free trade. The multitude of small trusts were frequently charged with being inefficient in use of resources and potentially suffered from petty corruption. The rise of
railways in the 19th century resulted in a dramatic drop in toll income from stage coaches and wagons and the debts of many trusts were becoming significant. Forced mergers of solvent and debt-laden trust occurred so by the 1870s it was feasible for Parliament to close the trusts progressively without leaving an unacceptable financial burden on local communities. From 1871, all applications for renewal were sent to a Turnpike Trust Commission. This arranged for existing Acts to continue, but with the objective of discharging the debt, and returning the roads to local administration, which was by then by Highway Boards. Local Government Act 1888gave responsibility for maintaining main roads to county councils and county boroughcouncils. When a trust was ended, there were often great celebrations as the gates were thrown open. The assets of the trust, such as tollhouses, gates and sections of surplus land beside the road were auctioned off to reduce the debt, and mortgagees were paid at whatever rate in the pound the funds would allow.
The legacy of the turnpike trust is the network of roads that still form the framework of the main road system in Britain. In addition, many roadside features such as milestones and tollhouse have survived [http://www.turnpikes.org.uk] despite no longer having a function in the modern road management system.
Common Questions about Turnpikes
The name turnpike is said to originate from the military practice of placing a pikestaff across a road to block and control passage. This pike would be "turned" to one side to allow horsemen through. Contemporary illustrations show that a wide gate was normally constructed across the road at a toll collection point. The term bar was also used to describe the point at which the gate was erected.
Turnpike was originally the barrier used to stop travellers while the toll was collected, but came to be used both for the location of the gate and for the road itself
Sparrows Herne turnpikeThe London to Aylesbury turnpike road.
* Albert, W. (1972) "The Turnpike Road System in England 1663-1840", publ. CUP – recently republished
* Copeland, J (1968) "Roads and their Traffic, 1750-1850", publ. David & Charles.
* Pawson, E. (1977) "Transport and Economy: the turnpike roads of eighteenth century England"
* Wright, G.N. (1992) "Turnpike Roads", publ. Shire Publications Ltd. (ISBN 0 7478 0155X)
* Cossons, A. (1994) " Coaching Days - The Turnpike Roads of Nottinghamshire", publ. Nottinghamshire County Council Leisure Services.
* Cossons, A. (2003) " The Turnpike Roads of Leicestershire & Rutland", publ. Kairos Press, Leicester.
* Freethy, R. (1986) "Turnpikes & Tollhouses in Lancashire", publ. privately
* Gloucester Record Office (1976) "Gloucester Turnpike Roads" (GRO)
* Hurley, H. (1992) "The Old Roads of South Herefordshire - Trackway to Turnpike", publ. The Pound House,
* Morley, F; (1961) "The Great North Road - A Journey in History", publ. Macmillan.
* Phillips, D. (1983) "The Great Road to Bath", publ. Countryside Books.
* Quatermaine, J., Trinder, B. & Turner, R. (2003) "Thomas Telford’s Holyhead Road", publ. Council for British Archaeology Report 135
* Rosevear, A. (1995) "Roads in the Upper Thames Valley", publ. privately
* Smith, H. (2003) "The Sheffield and Chesterfield to Derby Roads", publ. privately, Sheffield, ISBN 0-9521541-5-3.
* Taylor, W. (1996) "The Military Roads in Scotland", publ. House of Lochar, Argyll
* Viner, D. (2007) "Roads Tracks and Turnpikes", The Discover Dorset series. publ. Dovecote Press, Wimborne
* Williams, L.A. (1975) "Road Transport in Cumbria in the nineteenth century", publ George Allen & Unwin.
* http://www.turnpikes.org.uk for links to material on English turnpikes
* [http://www.geog.port.ac.uk/webmap/hantsmap/hantsmap/turnpike.htm Timeline of British Turnpike Trusts] University of Portsmouth, Department of Geography
* [http://www.thepotteries.org/dates/land_roads.htm Key dates in Road Building] Thepotteries.org
* [http://www.georgianindex.net/ldn_tollgates/Toll_gate.html Tollgates of London] Georgian Index
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