Shropshire History

Shropshire

Turnpikes

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Tudor statutes placed a responsibility on each parish to maintain all of its roads and the men were supposed to provide 6 days labour per year to do this. However, although this worked for roads that the parishioners used themselves, they were often unwilling to maintain the principal highways that were only used by long-distance travellers. During the 17th century, 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 local labour alone.

 

In 1656, the parish of Radwell in Herfordshire appealed for help to maintain their section of the Great North Road. As a result, Parliament passed an Act that gave the local justices powers to erect toll-gates on their section of the Great North Road for a period of 11 years. The toll-gate erected at Wadesmill became the first effective toll-gate in England. Parliament then gave similar powers to the justices in other counties in England and Wales. These acts made provision to erect turnpikes (a gate at which tolls were collected) and appoint toll collectors.

 

In 1707, a Turnpike Act was passed for a section of the London-Chester road between Fornhill and Stony Stratford. Trustees were appointed who 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 soon became the pattern elsewhere. A separate Act of Parliament was required to create a trust for a particular length of road. The first action of a new trust would be 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, eg 1/6d for a coach pulled by four horses, 1d for an unladen horse and 10d for a drove of 20 cows. The trustees could also 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. In Shropshire there were originally around 300 tollhouses built, of which 100 are still in existence today. Tollhouses varied greatly in design. Some have a very distinctive plan with a semi-octagonal or circular shape. This was so that the toll keeper could see the traffic approaching from both directions. Other tollhouses look like cottages set rather close to the road. 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 normally limited 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 often 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 new sections of road.

 

From the 1750s, Acts were passed requiring 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, as narrow wheels were said to cause a disproportionate amount of damage to the road. Although a few trusts built new bridges, most bridges remained a county responsibility.

 

Between 1815-1826, Thomas Telford undertook a major reorganisation 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. This route was particularly important as there was a need for fast and reliable transport between Ireland and London. In 1808 the journey took 38 hours but by 1836, with Telford's improvements, the journey time was reduced to 26 hours. This was due to the best mail coach speeds rising from 5 mph to 10 mph. In Shrewsbury, Telford's road caused a number of monastic buildings at Shrewsbury Abbey to be demolished so it could have a straight through route over the English bridge. The church of the Holy Cross was left intact but the refectory pulpit can be seen on the other side of the road in the centre of a car park.

 

Telford's method of road construction was very different to that of his contemporaries. He set a paving of large stones on a prepared subsoil to take the brunt of the weight of the road. This was followed by a layer of paving with broken stone on top. On top of all this was a coating of gravel. Like the Roman roads, Telford's road also had a marked camber to improve drainage with water running into channels. Telford placed toll houses along the route at 5-10 mile intervals and regular insets can also be seen in walls where spare gravel was stored for maintenance. Telford's patron, Sir Harry Parnell, wanted to attract honest toll collectors who would not leave the gate at night nor let friends through without paying. To attract the right sort of person, it was ensured that the houses were comfortable. The wrought iron toll gates were designed by Telford, with radiating bars forming a sunburst design. Telford also designed his own milestones with a triangular head and chamfered sides.

 

The introduction of toll gates was resented by local communities which had freely used the routes for centuries. Early Acts had given local 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 Wales in 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 50-100 local men, who told gatekeepers that if they resisted they would be killed. In 1844, the ringleaders were caught and transported to Australia as convicts.

 

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 coming of the railways spelt disaster for most turnpike trusts. Although some trusts in districts not served by railways managed to increase revenue, most did not. The debts of many trusts became significant and forced mergers of solvent and debt-laden trusts became frequent. 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.

 

The Local Government Act of 1888 gave responsibility for maintaining main roads to county councils and county borough councils. 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 tollhouses have survived, despite no longer having any function in the modern road management system.

 

Shropshire Turnpike Trusts

 

Name of Trust

Act

Length

(miles)

Main

Gates

Side

Gates

1834

Income

Atcham to Dorrington

1797

Whitchurch to Nantwich

1767

38

10

1

Bishops Castle, First Division

1768

93

24

£1,624

Bridgnorth and Shifnal

1764

8

2

1

£213

Bridgnorth Black Brook

1752

8

1

£165

Bridgnorth Morvill

1752

8

3

£335

Bridgnorth Smithy Brook

1752

4

1

£223

Burlton and Llanymynech

1772

18

3

1

£271

Cleobury Mortimer District (Bewdley)

1774

4

1

£220

Cleobury Mortimer District (Bridgnorth)

1762

37

22

£616

Cleobury North & Ditton Priors

1763

15

6

5

£271

Coalbrookdale & Wellington

1817

5

2

1

£365

Ellesmere District of Shrewsbury & Wrexham

22

6

5

£991

Ellesmere to Oswestry

Shrewbury to Oswestry

Honington and Hilton

3

1

£28

Ironbridge (Buildwas to Tern Bridges)

1778

7

1

1

£271

Kelsall to Whiston Cross

1762

King-Street

6

2

£45

Ludlow (1st district)

1756

14

5

1

Ludlow (2nd district)

1751

83

14

2

£3,909

Ludlow to Monk's Bridge

Madeley

19

4

1

£636

Whitchurch & Marchwiel

1767

27

Meadowgate Shrewsbury

Ministerley to Churchstoke

1834

11

2

Much Wenlock to Church Stretton

1756

12

2

2

£216

Newport and Ternhill

12

2

2

£577

Oswestry

1772

56

38

£3,121

Overton District of Shrewsbury Road

23

Preston Brockhurst

60

21

£1,143

Shawbury to Newcastle

1769

18

4

2

£340

Shifnal District of Holyhead Road

1726

18

4

1

£1,548

Shrewsbury & Holyhead

Shrewsbury to Baschurch

7

2

1

£325

Shrewsbury to Bridgnorth

1765

11

3

£363

Shrewsbury to Church Stretton and Condover

1756

14

2

1

£461

Shrewsbury to Longden and Castle Pulverbach

1756

8

1

3

£172

Shrewsbury to Minsterley

1759

9

2

1

£439

Shrewsbury to Welshpool

5

2

1

£1,120

Shrewsbury to Westbury

9

1

1

£349

Wall upon Eyewood to Blackwood

1752

1

1

£10

Uckington to Longnor Green

1764

7

2

Watling Street, Shrewsbury District

7

2

1

£1,299

Watling Street, Wellington District

22

11

£1,687

Welch Gate and Cotton Hill to Shrewsbury

1758

Shrewsbury to Wrexham

1752

9

3

3

£116

Wem to Bron y Garth

1771

25

8

4

£555

Wem to Sandford

1811

Wenlock

25

10

£876

Whitchurch to Madeley

1767

9

2

£1,156

Whitchurch to Ternhill

9

3

£245