Getting from A to B in the 1700s was a hazardous business.The roads were unmade, rutted and plagued by footpads and highwaymen. For these reasons most people stayed at home or in their own locality. Any long journeys involved a large retinue of people, horses and armed protectors.
In his talk, Toll Roads and Turnpike Roads, Derek Cutts explained how Britain’s general increase in prosperity and more settled domestic political climate after the mid-18th century brought about a need for better, safer and quicker communications, a need that resulted in the construction of a road system of turnpikes and tolls that established the routes of most of the roads we use today.
The first Turnpike Act was passed in 1697 and more followed. Turnpike Acts put road building and maintenance into the hands of Toll Trusts. These Trusts were essentially local in their make-up but together were charged with doing something of national importance.
By the early 19th century, the toll system had spread all over the country. Progress was not easy. Derek explained how local considerations, petty jealousies or plain greed held up projects, led to their abandonment or to the re-routing of a proposed road. The results of some of this are still with us today – a bend that a horse drawn mail coach had difficulty negotiating will always be difficult for an articulated lorry! Wherever a turnpike necessitated a stop, supply businesses such as inns and farriers emerged.