Did you know that London Road at Suton was a Turnpike Road?
Have you ever thought why the roads around us are set out the way there are?
Back in the late 17th century Parliament often took responsibility for repairing and maintaining thoroughfares from cities and major towns. With the industrial revolution well underway industries producing light high-value goods, textiles, depended on good roads for relatively fast and reliable transport.
The idea of creating a network of well maintained roads was in its infancy but what later emerged to become one of the major achievements of the 18th century. As the transportation of goods further afield become more important, local enterprise often stepped in to make things happen.
The first use of the word ‘turnpike’ was to describe the gate which blocked the road until the toll was paid. As early as 1663 the very first Turnpike Act brought about the Great North Road between Wadesmill in Hertfordshire and Stilton in Huntingdonshire. Such Acts would often be proposed in the north by mill owners, whilst down south it was often land owners (who owned the local farms) that would bring about a trust that would levy tolls on those using the particular road. The income would then be used to repair and improve the road. It was labour from the parish that was used to help maintain these roads and the Parish often still remained responsible for maintaining the extensive network of local roads. It is important to remember that the trusts were not-for-profit and modest tolls were often set to simply reflect the cost of the road.
In 1707 a stretch of the London Road to Attleborough became the first turnpike road in the county and you can still see a stone mileage marker at Suton. And by 1750 most of the main roads from London were turnpiked.
Although the powers under an Act were limited to a period of 21 years, in practise, Acts for continuation of the trusts meant that they remained responsible for most English trunk roads until the 1870s. Later trusts mention the right to purchase property so as to allow a road to be widened or diverted.
These highways facilitated the rapid and efficient transportation of goods and passengers throughout the Kingdom. And the word “turnpike” still crops up from time to time as you travel around. Nearby Bunwell has a Turnpike!