Posted by Admin on 25 July 2011, 11:25 am

In this matter the Island had not kept pace with the mainland where, one hundred and fifty years earlier, the Turnpike Act of 1663 had introduced a pioneer gate at Wadesmill in Hertfordshire, and where by the end of the 18th century 20,000 miles of road were under the turnpikes.

In spite of the above fact, the condition of 18th century roads was appalling. There were, as John Wynyard has stated in his “Roads and Pipelines”, three classes of roads; the mediocre, the bad, and the execrable! The reason for this state of affairs being that after the departure of the Romans in AD409 no serious thought was given to the subject until the Industrial Revolution rendered it imperative.

In three hundred years of peaceful occupation Roman roads (built in four layers and between five and eight feet thick) had spanned the country; but under the Saxons these were left to subside or even to be broken up to provide building materials. Highways once capable of accommodating the marching legions deteriorated into tracks fit only for pack-horses.

Mediaeval road-makers, faced with what remained of Roman and Saxon highways, attempted to improve them by laying new surfaces of gravel, completely ignoring the fact that after only moderate rainfall an un-drained road must inevitably become a quagmire.

The Tudors, aware that successful government depended upon the movement of troops, tax gatherers, legal dignitaries etc., devised a scheme for road maintenance – a plan which relied on enlisting the services of unwilling and unpaid country-folk and which, therefore, was foredoomed to failure.

By an act of parliament dated 1555 all parishes were made responsible for the repair of roads within their boundaries, the work to be supervised by a local surveyor whose term of office would last for one year. From the outset nobody wanted to be a surveyor, for the job was a thankless one, abundant in nothing but abuse. Nominees, however, who refused to take office, were fined. Among his many duties the surveyor had to select four (later six) days between Easter and the beginning of July upon which parishioners were compelled to work on the highways. Farmers with teams of horses were forced to lend them together with two men per team to work eight hours a day for four days. Defaulters were fined ten shillings a day. The same amount of labour was required for each cottager, non-compliance resulting in a fine of one shilling per day. Quite often, farmers unable to spare men at the busiest time of the year hired substitutes. These men, who stopped work as soon as the surveyor turned his back, earned themselves the name of ‘King’s loiterers’. The repairs were badly done, and for five months out of twelve parts of many roads would be unusable by wheeled traffic.

Between 1706 and 1790 some 2,000 Road Acts became law, the majority to set up turnpike trusts as private companies, each authorised by its own act of parliament. Many of the trusts were incompetent, not all were models of probity, and those that were did not effect the immediate betterment that might have been expected. Prince George of Denmark, travelling from Windsor to Petworth in 1730, took six hours to cover nine miles. Of roads under the supervision of the trusts, it can only be said that, although bad, they were usable.

The first barriers employed were single bars (Toll-bar cottages still stand, one on the road to Freshwater and one at Mottistone), and their custodians were housed in wood and wattle huts. Then, as the bars were succeeded by toll-gates, the huts were replaced by stone-built cottages for which an octagonal design was favoured. The revolving gates, topped with spikes to prevent their being jumped, were known as ‘turnpikes’.

The lot of a toll-gate keeper was not entirely happy. Dishonest ones seem to have given the fraternity a bad name, and not infrequently they were attacked by disgruntled travellers. By the middle of the 18th century there were riots. Toll-gate keepers were beaten and gates destroyed. At Leeds in 1753 lives were lost. The fact that passengers were being cheated was not the sole cause of their anger. People who could not afford to pay were forced to contribute to road repairs from which they derived no benefit. Many moved only a mile or two from village to village – journeys for which the old roads were good enough. Better roads, they averred, were solely for the convenience of the wealthy.

There were, however, certain concessions. Usually church-goers were exempt from tax, although the minutes of a meeting of the Highway Commission at Newport in 1815 record that church-goers outside their own parishes were to be liable. Nell Stornaway, the heroine of Georgette Hayer’s novel “The Toll-gate”, makes it clear that from a traveller that who intended to go no farther than a hundred yards beyond the gate no toll could be demanded. And on the Isle of Wight, stage-coaches paid only once a day, unless the journey were made with fresh horses. Pigs and sheep going to, or returning from, the Newport market on Wednesdays and Saturdays also had the privilege of a toll-free passage.

By the beginning of the 19th century many roads had been given the MacAdam treatment, and it would be interesting to know what state the Isle of Wight roads in when, at the October meeting mentioned in the opening paragraph of this article, the Commissioners decided that ten turnpikes should be erected – five at the entrance to Newport, two at Ryde, and one each at East Cowes, West Cowes and Yarmouth.

At a subsequent meeting on November 10th, the precise locations of the ten gates were laid down. Those for Newport were to be at Nodehill above Deadman’s Lane, Carisbrooke New Village in a corner of Robert Clarke’s field, Coppins Bridge, Town Gate Bridge, and at Pan Bridge. Ryde was to have one at the entrance from Newport and one at Ashey near the entrance from St Helens. At Cowes a gate was to be situated close to W. Fafasckerley’s gate, while across the river it was to be at Whippingham in the vicinity of the direction-post to East Cowes.

The installation of toll-gates was, it would seem, not a thing to be undertaken without lengthy discussions. The minutes of at least meetings contain business connected with the project, and it was June 1814 before the collection of tolls commenced.

Foremost on the agenda was the acquisition of land – each toll-house being allotted twenty square feet: the piece of ground for the Nodehill gate costing £15.

On November 10th 1813, the clerk was instructed to seek tenders from prospective toll-keepers, an operation that resulted in William Dunning being employed at Carisbrooke, James Jackson at Nodehill, Benjamin Denton at Hunny Hill, and Thomas Pedder at Coppins Bridge – all at a weekly wage of seven shillings. Pedder, using his own house, received five pounds (per annum?) extra. For the other men houses were provided rent free, but the occupants were required to find their own coal and candles. In some cases a security was considered necessary. Alfred Flemming, a Yarmouth keeper, was backed to the tune of fifty pounds by Mr Mitchell of Freshwater.

Generally speaking, the information to be gathered from the clerical copperplate of the minutes is laconic but lucid. There are, nevertheless, certain omissions which rouse one’s curiosity. Why, for instance, did Jack Russell offer his services for a shilling a week less than the standard rate? Why did George Twyman who kept the Debourne Gate at Cowes receive only half-a-crown? And, even more intriguing, what had Ben Denton done to deserve ten days’ notice to quit?

The small amount of traffic on Island roads at that time would, no doubt, make the toll-keeper’s job more tedious than taxing. He had, however, to keep his wits about him for, in addition to taking money and issuing tickets, he was expected to be on the alert for overloaded coaches, to take note of carts which did not display the owner’s name, and to report these offences to the Highway Commissioners.

At the time when enquiries for keepers were sent out, Messrs Taylor, Moorey (sic), and Spickernelles were invited to tender for eleven-and-a-half feet long gates, and Mr Denyer for toll-houses. In these days of inflation it is interesting to learn that the gates cost £25 each, and that a toll-house could be built for £135.

In 1816 Thomas Denyer was given a ten-year contract for repairs, in which he agreed to glaze, whitewash and keep the houses in good condition for the sum of £2.12s.0d each. A contract to supply lamps went to Mr Hubbard – a proviso being made that the reflectors were to be the same as those used at Hyde Park Corner.

On April 27th 1814 decisions regarding the all-important question of tolls were made, and the following scale of charges drawn up:

Coach, drawn by one horse, mule, or other beast: 3d.

Wagon, wain, or cart, with wheels less than 3 inches wide, drawn by one horse,

the person using it a common carrier: 8d.

The person using it not a common carrier: 4d.

Horse, mare, gelding, mule or ass, laden or unladen: 2d.

A score of oxen, bullocks, or meat cattle: 10d.

A score of calves, sheep, hogs or lambs: 5d.

On Sundays the tax for a coach, chariot, landau, berlin, herse (sic), chaise, curricle, calash, wain, wagon, or cart, was doubled.

For the habitual road-user there was something in the nature of a season ticket known as a ‘composition’. Some composition figures (presumably per annum) are given below, and after them the total receipts from eleven gates for the year ending 10th October 1816:

Coach or carriage drawn by six horses: £6.10s 0d.

Every additional horse: 10d.

Coach or carriage with four horses: £5.0s.0d.

Coach or carriage with two horses: £2.10s.0d.

Coach or carriage with one horse: £1.0s.0d.

Horse for riding: 10s.0d.

Total receipts for eleven gates:

Ashey: £7.8s.2d.

Coppins Bridge: £169.8s.8d.

Dallimore’s (Cowes): £25.1s.5d.

Debourne: £15.13s.3d.

Hunny Hill: £111.15s.3d.

New Village (Carisbrooke): £159.18s.4d.

Nodehill: £126.0s.7d.

Stonepits: £23.6s.2d.

St John’s: £18.6s.11d.

Whippingham: £9.14s.5d.

Yarmouth: £17.17s.0d.

Total: £684.9s.4d.

Towards the end of the 19th century, when railways already were responsible for a decline in road traffic, new legislation in the form of the Public Health Act (1872) ended Home Office jurisdiction over turnpike roads and transferred its powers to Rural District authorities who in due course abolished the turnpike trusts and incorporated highway as well as sanitary services in the common rate.

The abolition of highway tolls in the Isle of Wight was effected in 1889, at which time some fifty gates were in operation. The removal of the gates, however, did not necessarily entail the demolition of the toll-houses, a number of which still exist – picturesque reminders of the days when legally appointed ‘highwaymen’ were able to relieve travellers of their money, and when the voice of the post-horn was heard in our land.

T. C. Hudson

© T. C. Hudson.

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