Turnpike roads were the first toll roads in Britain. The turnpikes were the entry gates, which comprised spiked metal bars that resembled a pike, an old infantry weapon. They came about as the result of the poor state of the country’s roads, which were often impassable for wheeled vehicles. With increased commercial traffic, there were moves to improve them, and in order to raise funds for the work required, tolls were introduced. The Turnpike Act of 1707 created the first trust to administer the turnpikes, on the London to Chester road. Further acts followed for other roads. The trusts, made up of local gentlemen, could raise money both from the parish in which the road was situated and from people travelling through. In some places, tollhouses were built to house the gatekeepers, or toll collectors. In 1766, the General Turnpike Act required trusts to erect milestones at one-mile intervals, indicating the distance from the main towns on the route. By 1838, 1,100 trusts controlled 22,000 miles of road. Turnpike roads accounted for approximately 20 per cent of the country’s roads. The rest had been the responsibility of parishes and townships since Tudor times and were free to use. Many trusts were accused of unfair charges. There was resentment where tolls were introduced on roads that provided the only access through an area, particularly from poor farmers with carts passing to and fro. For example, the famous Rebecca Riots in West Wales, which began in 1839, were directed partly against the imposition of tolls. Ultimately, the railways, which boomed in the 1840s, killed off the turnpike system, providing a more efficient means of transporting goods and passengers. By the 1870s, the turnpike trusts had gone bust. Road maintenance duties were handed over to councils by the Local Government Act of 1888, and the highways became free for all to use once more.
The 18th century Old Toll House, also known as the Round House, on the B3130 turnpike road at 118 Stanton Drew, Somerset.