chapter  5
25 Pages

The Changing Function of Road Transport in the Railway Age

In 1838, when the railway system was starting to be built up, about 22000 miles of highway in England were turnpiked. In all, the 1116 turnpike trusts which controlled them spent £132 000 per year (about £51 per mile) upon their upkeep. The 15 000 parishes were left with responsibility for the remaining 106 000 miles of English road and on this they spent over £1 150 000 per year (about £11 per mile).l In Scotland there were over 1300 miles of road built by the Conlmissioners for Highland Roads and Bridges or for military purposes, and also many miles of road elsewhere which had been turnpiked.2 Wales was also adequately supplied with turnpiked roads, the gates and tollkeep,ers' houses in South Wales becoming a focus for a show of regional discontent in the early 1840s known as the Rebecca Riots. 3

Statute labour, dating, as we have seen, fron11555 but gradually commuted into parish highway rates after the middle of the seventeenth century, was finally abolished in 1835 by the General Highway Act of that year. The turnpike trusts, like the parishes, bad previously enjoyed the right to statutory labour or to a composition in lieu of it. About 40 per cent of them were then gaining income from this source and its removal is said to have cost them £200 000 a year. This loss came soon after traffic on some routes had already been diverted to river or coastal steamboats and at a time when the railways were also starting to deprive them of their long-distance traffic. The tolls from eight trusts along the London-Birlningham road, for instance, fell from £29 500 to £15 800 immediately after the opening of the London & Birmingham railway. By 1848 the total receipts from all English turnpikes

had fallen by a quarter. Although, in 1840, 87 per cent of all the trusts reported that their roads ,vere in either good or tolerable repair, by the middle of the century many were reaching the point at which they could no longer afford to maintain them satisfactorily.4