1795 - Tollhouse
Well-built roads were essential for the transport of perishable or high-value goods — the sooner they reached their markets, the quicker the producers could recoup their costs. Such roads, alas, were all too rare until the 18th century. Maintenance was a parish responsibility, and locals begrudged the six days a year they were legally obliged to spend, unpaid, tipping stones into the worst of the potholes. The answer was the turnpike, a private road built by an alliance of local landowners and engineered to high standards. Each turnpike trust was authorised by its own Act of Parliament to levy tolls on those using the highway - pedestrians were usually exempt - and maintenance was funded from the revenue. By 1830, there were nearly 4000 trusts controlling 22,000 miles of highway. Tollhouses were built at suitable points to collect the money. What kind of traffic would use the turnpikes?
Many turnpikes made good use of developments in road-building technology pioneered by two Scots, Thomas Telford (1757-1834) and John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836). Telford, the 'Colossus of Roads', was a genius among bridge-builders but he was also a highly skilled surveyor who paid particular attention to the fabric of his roads. He specified a foundation of large stones on level earth, graduated in height to impart a camber to the roadway. On top was a layer of smaller stones topped by gravel. The passage of iron-tyred wheels consolidated the top-dressing until, mixing with rainwater, it formed a virtually impermeable cement. Rain simply ran off the cambered road into the drainage ditches at each side. McAdam's techniques were simpler and cheaper, requiring less maintenance, and were thus preferred by the majority of turnpike trusts. He began with a cambered foundation on which were laid three layers of medium-sized stones. The top layer was compacted by ramming and the subsequent passage of traffic turned the whole roadway into a solid, waterproof mass almost a foot thick. The improvement in journey times thus effected was remarkable. In the 1750s a stage coach took ten days between London and Edinburgh; by the 1820s it took three. But the coming of railways sounded the death-knell for the turnpike trusts, which steadily lost traffic to this new, faster and generally cheaper rival. As their Acts came up for renewal the trusts were gradually terminated and responsibility for the roads passed into the hands of local and county councils. By 1895, the year the last turnpike trust closed, trains were racing between the English and Scottish capitals in a mere six hours, at an average speed of over 60mph. Relics of turnpike days are still far from uncommon, however, especially the elegant tollhouses and the neatly designed mileposts placed at intervals along the route.
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