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Turnpikes or Tollgates



There is information galore about the history of roads in Britain, so I won’t bore you with more.  Just a few pictures and the occasional remark:


#1 is a photo of the Whitecliff Tollgate, just south of Coleford in the Forest of Dean (SO 569102).  Note the bowler (female version), the apron and the formidable woman wearing them.  It must have been a tough life: you rarely saw a friend, worked a 16-hour day and were liable to be knocked up in the small hours by coachmen, highwaymen, herds of cattle, drunken soldiers1 – you name it. 

NB  The picture must have been taken before 1879, when local authorities took over the upkeep of roads after rail travel had made turnpikes unprofitable.


#2 is an octagonal tollgate design from Aylesbury Record Office.  Note the dimensions (16 feet from side to side), the central fireplace & chimney and the blank upper ‘window’ on the first floor for advertising the charges.  Husband, wife and children must all have been busy when carriages and herds arrived from opposite directions: there were so many windows in danger of being smashed by impatient travellers...


#3 is from the 1851 Census of Syresham, where I live.  Half way down the page is Robert Harris, the “Turnpike Keeper”, and his family.  The pub is next door, but the rector seems to be lodging there.  There is no sign of ‘Turnpike House’ any more, but the board with the charges on was rescued from the tip about 30 years ago...How could anyone in the world be so stupid as to throw that away?  (#4)


#5 is included because I’m moving to Wales.  It’s a cartoon of the Rebecca2 Rioters, who started smashing tollgates down in 1839 in protest at their frequency and charges3.  When The Times sent its reporter down to Carmarthenshire to take a look, he couldn’t contain his glee when the authorities failed to arrest the rioters.  It all died down in 1844, and tollgates were limited to one per 7 miles.  That’s still quite a lot!




1 One soldier’s hat was confiscated, quite legally, when its owner refused to pay the toll.  The keeper was allowed to take goods & chattels in lieu of payment.

2 They dressed as women – reasonable idea – and called themselves Rebeccas after Genesis 24, verse 60, where the original Rebecca is told she will be the mother of millions, “...and let thy seed possess the gate...”.  Not so convincing. 

3 According to one source, the attacks were timed to coincide with livestock fairs, where “a vast amount of drink was traditionally consumed by buyers and drovers.”   Well, I had to bring them in at some point!

Turnpikes or Tollgates image 1
Whitecliff Tollgate
Turnpikes or Tollgates image 2
Tollhouse Plan c.1780
Turnpikes or Tollgates image 3
Syresham Census 1851, p.1
Turnpikes or Tollgates image 4
Brackley North Toll Charges
Turnpikes or Tollgates image 5
"Rebecca" in full swing