Old Hampshire Mapped

Turnpike Roads

Defoe's Tour

[Extract from an appendix to volume two, about turnpikes.]


The reason for my taking notice of this badness of the roads, through all the midland counties, is this; that as these are counties which drive a very great trade with the city of London, and with one another, perhaps the greatest of any county in England; and that, by consequence, the carriage is exceeding great, and also that all the land carriage of the northern counties necessarily goes through these counties, so the roads had been plow'd so deep, and materials have been in some places so difficukt to be had for the repair of the roads, that all the surveyors rates have been able to do nothing; nay, the very whole country has not been able to repair them; that is to say, it was a burthen too great for the poor farmers; for in England it is the tenant, not the landlord, that pays the surveyors of the highways.

This necessarily brought the country to bring these things before the Parliament; and the consequence has been, that turnpikes or toll-bars have been set up on the several great roads of England, beginning at London, and proceeding thro' almost all those dirty deep roads, in the midland counties especially; at which turn-pike all carriages, droves of cattle, and travellers on horseback, are oblig'd to pay an easy toll; that is to say, a horse a penny, a coach three pence, a cart four pence, at some six pence to eight pence, a waggon six pence, in some a shilling, and the like; cattle pay by the score, or by the head, in some places more, in some less; but in no place is it thought a burthen that ever I met with, the benefit of a good road abundantly making amends for that little charge the travellers are put to at the turn-pikes.

Several of these turn-pikes and tolls had been set up of late years, and great progress had been made in mending the most difficult ways, and that with such success as well deserves a place in this account: And this is one reason for taking notice of it in this manner; for as the memory of the Romans, which is so justly famous, is preserv'd in nothing more visible to common observation, than in the remains of those noble causeways and highways, which they made through all parts of the kingdom, and which were found so needful, even then, when there was not the five hundredth part of the commerce and carriage that is now: How much more valuable must these new works be, tho' nothing to compare with those of the Romans, for the firmness and duration of their work?


So that on the whole, this custom prevailing, 'tis more probable, that our posterity may see the roads all over England restor'd in their time to such perfection, that travelling and carriage of goods will be much more easy both to man and horse, than ever it was since the Romans lost this island.

Nor will the charge be burthensome to any body; as for trade, it will be encourag'd by it every way; for carriage of all kind of heavy goods will be much easier, the waggoners will either perform in less time, or draw heavier loads, or the same load with fewer horses; the pack-horses will carry heavier burthens, or travel farther in a day, and so perform their journey in less time; all which will tend to lessen the rate of carriage, and so bring goods cheaper to market.

The fat cattle will drive lighter, and come to market with less toil, and consequently both go farther in one day, and not waste their flesh, and heat and spoil themselves, in wallowing thro' the mud and sloughs, as now is the case.

The sheep will be able to travel in the winter, and the city will not be oblig'd to give great prizes to the butchers for mutton, because it cannot be brought up out of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, the sheep not being able to travel: the graziers and breeders will not be oblig'd to sell their stocks of weathers cheap in October to the farmers within 20 miles of London, because after that they cannot bring them up; but the ways being always light and sound, the grasiers will keep their stocks themselves, and bring them up to market, as they see cause, as well in winter as in summer.

Another benefit of these new measures for repairing the roads by turnpikes, is the opening of drains and water-courses, and building bridges, especially over the smaller waters, which are oftentimes the most dangerous to travellers on hasty rains, and alwasy most injurious to the roads, by lying in holes and puddles, to the great spoiling the bottom, and making constant sloughs, sometimes able to bury both man and horse; 'tis very remarkable that the overseers of these works take effectual care to have bridges built in such places, and currents made or opened for the waters to pass, by which abundance of labour is sav'd in constantly tending the waters on such occasions; but of this also we shall more presently.


This improving of the roads is an infinite improvement to the towns near London, in the convenience of coming to them, which makes the citizens flock out in greater numbers than ever to take lodgings and country-houses, which many, whose business call'd them often to London, could not do, because of the labour of riding forward and backward, when the roads were but a little dirty, and this is een in the differnece in the rents of houses in those villages upon such repair'd roads, from the rents of the like dwellings and lodgings in other towns of equal distance, where they want those helps, and particularly the encrease of the number of buildings in those towns, as above.

This probably has not been the least reason why such tolls are erected now on every side of London, or soon will be, and I doubt not but in time it will be the like all over England.


The benefit of these turnpikes appears now to be so great, and the people in all places begin to be so sensible of it, that it is incredible what effect it has already had upon trade in the countries where it is more compleatly finish'd; even the carriage of goods is abated in some places, 6d. per hundred weight, in some places 12d. per hundred, which is abundantly more advantage to commerce, than the charge paid amounts to, and yet at the same time the expence is paid by the carriers too, who make the abatement; so that the benefit in abating the rate of carriage is wholly and simply the tradesmens, not the carriers.

Yet the advantage is evident to the carriers also another way; for, as was observ'd before, they can bring more weight with the same number of horses, not are their horses so hard work'd and fatigued with their labour as they were before; in which one particular 'tis ackowledg'd by the carriers, they perform their work with more ease, and the masters are at less expence.

The advantage to all other kinds of travelling I omit here; such as the safety and ease to gentlemen travelling up to London on all occasions, whether to the term, or to Parliament, to court, or on any other necessary occasion, which is not a small part of the benefit of these new methods.

Also the riding post, as well for the ordinary carrying of the mails, or for the gentleman riding post, when their occasions requires speed; I say, the riding post is made extreamly easy, safe, and pleasant, by this alteration of the roads.

I mention so often the safety of travelling on this occasion, because, as I have observ'd before, the commissioners for these repairs of the highways have order'd, and do daily order, abundance of bridges to be repair'd and enlarg'd, and new ones built, wher they find occasion, which not only serve to carry the water off, where it otherwise often spreads, and lies as it were, damm'd up upon the road, and spoils the way; but where it rises sometimes by sudden rains tpo a dangerous height; for it is to be observ'd, that there is more hazard, and more lives lost, in passing, or attempting to pass little brooks and streams, which are swell'd by sudden showers of rain, and where passengers expect no stoppage, than in passing great rivers, where the danger is known, and therefore more carefully avoided.


I could enlarge here upon the convenience that would follow such a restoring the ways, for the carrying of fish from the sea coasts to the inner parts of the kingdom, where, by reason of the badness of the ways, they cannot now carry them sweet; This would greatly encrease the consumption of fish in its season, which now for that very reason, is but small, and would employ an innumerable number of horses and men, as well as encrease the shipping by that consumption.


These, and many others, are the advantages to our inland commerce, which we may have room to hope for upon the general repair of the roads, ...

Defoe's Hampshire 1724
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Martin and Jean Norgate: 2003
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