Turnpike Trusts


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    The 18th Century saw more than 1,007 turnpike acts were passed. It was the main means of improving the road system by taxing people who used the roads. So what were these acts, why were they necessary and what did they do?

    Essentially the upkeep of the roads were the business of the Parish, and the Turnpikes allowed them to exact a toll on users of those roads in fit proportion to the wear. As the roads were muddy, rutted swamps in winter and just plain rough in summer, it was thought the toll would improve the roads. Turnpike trusts were empowered by Parliament to: raise loans for road repairs, build tollhouses, erect gates and milestones and each trust would often consist of a local lawyer (as clerk), a treasurer and a surveyor, together with many of the landowners through whose land the road passed. There were still complaints on some roads about the state of the road surfaces and much depended on the integrity of the trustees but for the most part the state of the roads did improve.

    Tolls were originally based on the size of a vehicle (and number of horses drawing it) or the number of animals in a drove. However, it soon became evident that the size of vehicle was not the only factor in causing damage to road surfaces and Acts were introduced to charge tolls based on the weight of the load and occassionally weighing machines would be built by certain gates. This allowed a ticket to be provided indicating the weight of the vehicle which could then be produced each time a vehicle passed through a gate subsequently.

    Daniel Defoe comments on Toll gates in the early years of the eighteenth century;
    "...Turn pikes or toll bars have been set up on the several great roads of England, beginning at London and proceeding thro' almost all those dirty deep roads in the Midland Counties especially; at which, turn pikes all carriages, droves or cattle and travellers on horseback are oblig'd to pay an easy toll; that is to say, a horse a penny, a coach three pence, a cart fourpence, at some six to eight pence, a wagon six pence, in some a shilling. Cattle pay by the score, or by the herd, in some places more. But in no place is it thought a burthen that ever I met with, the benefit of a good road abundantly making amends for the little charge the travellers are put to at the turn pikes...".

    However they weren't universally popular people rioted against toll tax in 1726.

    The main turnpike roads for Mid & North Devon in 1795. The majority of the turnpike roads followed the ancient 'ridgeways' and have been continuously in use since pre-Roman times. These roads, which formed the principle coaching routes, were maintained to carry wheeled traffic by Turnpike Trusts who recovered the cost through the charging of tolls. Until 1815 only about 700 miles were maintained by the trusts - this out of the something around 6000 miles of roads for wheeled traffic in Devon at this time. But it paid to stay on the Turnpike roads for travelling off them was slow, uncomfortable and risky. In addition to these roads there were also thousands of miles of tracks and farmway suitable only for packhorses.

    For much of Devon in the early nineteenth century the packhorse was the only way of transporting goods to and from the villages lying off the turnpike roads. Some villages did not even have a single wheeled cart by 1800, all transport being by pack horse or oxen dragging a yoke. A farmer situated at the bottom of a hill would often keep a pair of oxen available for hire to haul wagons up the hill where horses were unable to do so. Many villages and hamlets were therefore quite isolated and totally self sufficient.

    Turnpike Gate House was erected by the turnpike trust - the trust itself was set up in 1754 to manage roads from Alcester to Feckenham (the present Droitwich Road) and to Tandebigge (the present road to Spernal - Crabbs Cross - Bromsgrove).

    At first there were no permanent tollhouses and the gates were closed at night, but once it became apparent that the turnpikes were not temporary, then tollhouses were built at road junctions with a clear view of the gates and roads. However, there were still complaints that gates were found locked because the keeper was missing or that he wasdrunk or asleep. The wages of 9s per week did not always encourage the right sort of staff. This changed in the 1770's when the operation of the turnpikes was "farmed" out to the highest bidder at auction (an early example of privatisation). This meant that the "farmer" paid annnual rent to the trust, but kep the tolls collected. He would either run the tollgate himself or appoint a gate-keeper.

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