Turn­pike roads

Landscape (UK) - - In The Home -

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.

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