Turnpikes and tolls

Turnpikes have been called "one of the central pillars on which the industrial revolution was based". The quality of roads was vital, because many industries producing light high-value goods, notably textiles, depended on them for relatively fast and reliable transport which rivers and coastal vessels could not provide.

Turnpike Acts

From the late 17th century, Parliament increasingly took responsibility for repairing and maintaining roads from local authorities. Turnpike Acts authorised a trust to levy tolls on those using the road and to use that income to repair and improve the road. They could also purchase property to widen or divert existing roads. The trusts were not-for-profit and maximum tolls were set. The 'turnpike' was the gate which blocked the road until the toll was paid.

The first such Act, of 1663, turnpiked the Great North Road between Wadesmill in Hertfordshire and Stilton in Huntingdonshire. The next was not until 1695 (Shenfield to Harwich), but after that there were several a year, and by 1750 most of the main roads from London were turnpiked.

Turnpike mania

"Turnpike mania" followed between 1751-72, when trusts covered more than 11,500 miles of road. By the time the last was passed in 1836, there had been 942 Acts for new turnpike trusts in England and Wales. By then, turnpikes covered around 22,000 miles of road, about a fifth of the entire road network.

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