Toll roads in the United Kingdom

Toll roads in the United Kingdom

The history of toll roads in the United Kingdom has several phases, with periods between when there were few (or no) toll roads.

Medieval Pavage

In the 14th century, pavage grants, which had previously been made for paving the market place or streets of towns, began also to be used for maintaining some roads between towns. These grants were made by letters patent, almost invariably for a limited term, presumably the time likely to be required to pay for the required works.

Highway Repair

Responsibility for the upkeep of the roads seems to have rested with landowners, but was probably not easily enforced against them.

The Parliament of England placed the upkeep of bridges to local settlements or the containing county under the Bridges Act 1530 and in 1555 the care of roads was similarly devolved to the parishes as statute labour under the Highways Act 1555. Every adult inhabitant of the parish was obliged to work four consecutive days a year on the roads, providing their own tools, carts and horses. The work was overseen by an unpaid local appointee, the Surveyor of Highways.

It was not until 1654 that road rates were introduced. However, the improvements offered by paid labour were offset by the rise in the use of wheeled vehicles greatly increasing wear to the road surfaces. The government reaction to this was to use legislation to limit the use of wheeled vehicles and also to regulate their construction. A vain hope that wider rims would be less damaging briefly led to carts with sixteen inch wheels. They did not cause ruts but neither did they roll and flatten the road as was hoped.

Early Turnpikes

The first turnpike road, whereby travellers paid tolls to be used for road upkeep, was authorised in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire. The term turnpike refers the military practise of placing a pikestaff across a road to block and control passage, this would be "turned" to one side to allow travellers through. Most English gates were not built to this standard; of the first three gates, two were found to be easily avoided.

The early turnpikes were administered directly by the Justices of the Peace in Quarter Sessions.

Turnpike Trusts

The first turnpike trust was established by Parliament through a Turnpike Act in 1706, placing a section of the London-Coventry-Chester road in the hands of a group of trustees.

The trustees could erect gates as they saw fit, demand statute labour or a cash equivalent, and appoint surveyors and collectors, in return they repaired the road and put up mileposts. Initially trusts were established for limited periods of often twenty one years. The expectation was that the trust would borrow the money to repair the road and repay that debt over time with the road then reverting to the parishes. In reality the initial debt was rarely paid off and the trusts were renewed as needed.

The end of the Trusts

The rise of railway transport largely halted the improving schemes of the turnpike trusts. The London-Birmingham railway almost instantly halved the tolls income of the Holyhead Road. The system was never properly reformed but from the 1870s Parliament stopped renewing the acts and roads began to revert to local authorities, the last trust vanishing in 1895. However, some bridges have continued to be subject to tolls.

The Local Government Act, 1888 created county councils and gave them responsibility for maintaining the major roads. The abiding relic of the English toll roads is the number of houses with names like "Turnpike Cottage", the inclusion of "Bar" in place names and occasional road name: Turnpike Lane in northern London has given its name to an Underground station.

Modern Toll Roads

In recent times, the concept of charging tolls to finance the building of roads has been revived, but so far the only new toll road is M6 Toll.

See also

*Causey Mounth
*Drovers' road
*Toll roads in Europe

Line notes


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