Turnpikes In Britain

Mitchel Rose By Mitchel Rose, 27th Aug 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

A brief overview of turnpikes in Britain and their role in changing travel and trade during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Turnpikes In Britain

Turnpikes were gates used to control access to roads, preventing traffic from moving through unless they paid a toll. They were similar to barriers set up originally to defend against cavalry attacks, and consisted of rows of pikes attached to horizontal members and secured at one end to a vertical pole or axle. This mechanism could be rotated to open and close the gate. In Britain, a comprehensive turnpike network took shape at the beginning of the 18th century, providing improved connections between towns and cities in answer to the needs of increased commerce.

Originally, under Tudor law, the responsibility of maintaining roads belonged to each local parish. This was suitable for those local roads the parishioners used themselves. The major highways, however, seeing an increase in heavier carts and carriages, deteriorated so badly that more than the limited resources of parishes were needed to maintain them. To help finance road maintenance, Parliament granted local justices the power to set up tollgates. A section of the Great North Road was administered this way and similar schemes were established in other parts of the country. However, the system came into its own through a Turnpike Act passed in 1707. This allowed the creation of Turnpike Trusts, whose members would administer the creation of Turnpike Trusts, whose members would administer the resources of several parishes through which a particular road ran. Turnpiking a road was a local initiative sought by those wishing to improve the flow of commerce through their part of the county and a separate Act of Parliament was required to establish each trust.

Understandably, the trusts were made up of local merchants and community leaders. The trustees appointed a clerk, a treasurer and a surveyor. Turnpike gates were erected, tolls collected and income and labour utilized from the local parishes to maintain the road. Money was also raised through the mortgaging of future toll income. This allowed investment in such improvements as drainage, gradients, building new sections of road, embankments, cuttings, Macadamizing of road surfaces and the construction of bridges. These efforts also had an impact on coach design, with improved models being designed to benefit from the smoother, less treacherous highways. By 1825, approximately 1,000 trusts were responsible for 18,000 miles of road throughout England and Wales.

Although the turnpike system brought substantial benefits, it was not without opposition. Extortionate tolls helped spark the Rebecca Riots in Mid and South Wales. Starting in 1839, local gangs carried out sporadic attacks against turnpike property and personages. The violence resulted in the death of toll gatekeeper Sarah Williams. Though the riots were suppressed by 1844, their impact prompted the legal removal of many toll gates from the region.

The advent of the railways signalled the end for the turnpike trusts. Loss of income because of the trains and incurred debts undermined the system. Eventually, the Local Government Act of 1888 transferred road responsibility to local councils and the turnpike era was effectively brought to a close.


Tags

Carriage, Carts, Commerce, Eighteenth Century, Engineering, Merchant, Merchants, Riots, Roads, Trade, Travel, Trust, Turnpike

Meet the author

author avatar Mitchel Rose
I am a published fantasy author and part of a project called Tales Of Granton City, an independent publisher that specialises in pulp fantasy novels. I am currently looking to develop and expand my portfolio and hope to write a range of articles on ...(more)

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author avatar johnnydod
28th Aug 2011 (#)

What a fasanating article, thank you Mitchel.

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author avatar johnnydod
28th Aug 2011 (#)

Or even fascinating lol

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author avatar Mitchel Rose
28th Aug 2011 (#)

Thanks johnnydod :)

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author avatar Mitchel Rose
6th Feb 2015 (#)

Thanks Sivaramakrishnan, glad you enjoyed reading it

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author avatar Sivaramakrishnan A
6th Feb 2015 (#)

Interesting read, need of the hour - siva

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