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Turnpike Roads

From the first in 1663, and with a great expansion in the 1750s-70s, there were thousands of trusts and companies established by Acts of Parliament with rights to collect tolls in return for providing and maintaining roads; turnpike trusts. A General Turnpike Act 1773 was passed to speed up the process of setting up such arrangements. Just how trustworthy and effective was the provision and maintenance can be imagined.
Railways had a serious impact on long distance road traffic from the 1830s, and many turnpike trusts were discontinued. The Local Government Act 1888, establishing county councils, gave these new authorities, answerable to an electorate, the responsibility for most of the existing turnpikes. Most turnpike trusts were wound up; roads were more reliable provided and maintained.
The following chronological notes are culled from various sources; do not take them as a definitive list of events.
1555     Highways Act 1555
First highways act, beginning of state control of roads. Responsibility for maintenance placed on parishes. Fails: national traffic overwhelms the resources of local parishes.
Remained in force for 250 years.
1563     Amendment to Highways Act 1555 increases the labour for roads.
1642 The magistrates court at Cirencester heard a case in which:-
    Each end of the High Street ... was secured against a horse, with a strong straight boom which our men call Turn pike. A barrier with short metal spikes along the upper surface, placed across a road to stop passage till the toll has been paid.
1663     Highways Act 1663
Justices of the Peace for Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, and Cambridgeshire enabled to levy tolls for their part of the Great North Road. First turnpike erected at Wadesmill, north of Ware, Hertfordshire, and others along this road.
The first turnpike act. Up to 1706 turnpike trusts involved local justices.
1696 Sherfield to Harwich road turnpiked.
Wymondham to Attleborough road turnpiked.
1697 An act allowed magistrates to erect signposts at crossroads.
1698 Comment by Celia Fiennes:-
    ... the road on the Causey was in many places full of holes, tho' it is served by a barr at which passengers pay a penny a horse in order to the mending of the way.
1700 By 1700 there were 7 turnpike trusts.
1700-50 About 10 turnpike trusts set up each year.
1706 The trustees for turnpiking the Fornhill to Stony Stratford road were independent people, not local justices. This pattern was copied for the next 130 years.
Trustess were empowered to borrow capital for road mending against the expected income from tolls. Turnpike trusts took responsibilty for road repair. They improved alignments, eased gradients, etc. They were only partly effective.
1744 An act made milestones compulsory on most turnpike roads.
1750-99 Three late 18th century engineers developed improvements in road building:-
    John Metcalfe
    John Loudon MacAdam (1756-1836)
    Thomas Telford (1757-1834)
They all realised that good drainage was essential factor for good roads.
1750-90 About 40 turnpike trusts set up each year.
1766     General Turnpike Act 1766.
Milestones became compulsory on all turnpike roads.
1773     General Turnpike Act 1773.
Smoothed the way for setting up turnpike trusts. Required turnpike trusts to erect distance signs to nearest towns along the turnpikes.
1790s About 50 turnpike trusts set up each year.
1821 By 1821 there were 18000 miles of turnpike roads in England.
1822     General Turnpike Act 1822.
Marker posts required where a turnpike crossed a parish boundary. Many turnpikes also had terminus markers.
1830s From the 1830s onwards the development of railways caused a reduction in road usage for long distance goods and passenger traffic.
1835     Highways Act 1835
Set up districts, composed of a groups of parishes, to look after roads. Not successful.
1835-36 The last turnpike trusts set up.
1860s From the 1860s disturnpiking was actively pursued.
1878     Highways and Locomotives Amendment Act 1878
Set up Highway Authorities.
1881 By 1881 only 184 turnpike trusts remained.
1885 The last turnpike trust ended 1885.
1889 Newly formed county councils took over responsibility for main roads.
1894 Rural district councils accepted responsibility for local roads.
1895 The last tollgate, on the London to Holyhead road, on Anglesey, ceased in 1895.
1909 Central goverment began to give grants to local authorities for road maintenance.
1920 Ministry of Transport set up.
1930 County councils accepted responsibiity for all roads.
1936 Trunk roads became a financial responsibility of the Ministry of Transport.
1960s The motorway system was begun.
First new road system since roman times?


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Benford, Mervyn: 2002: Milestones: Shire Publications (Princes Risborough, Buckinghamshire):: ISBN 0 7478 0526 1

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Hindley, Geoffrey: 1971: History of Roads

Jeffreys, Rees: 1949: King's Highway, The

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Pawson, E: 1977: Transport and Economy, the Turnpike Roads of the Eighteenth Centruy: Academic Press

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Taylor, Christopher: 1979 & 1982 (pbk): Roads and Tracks of Britain: Dent, J M and Son (London):: ISBN 1 85797 340 2 (pbk)

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