The development of the Turnpike Trust

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Regular road users were aware of the bad state of most roads as early as the 1650s. The reliance on parishes to maintain their own roads could be seen to be inefficient. A group of businessmen in Cambridgeshire had the idea of maintaining a road by charging a fee or toll for each user. By the early 1700s the idea of creating toll roads took a step further when the first Turnpike Trust was set up. Some businessmen felt that a toll road could be a money making enterprise. 

Stuck in the snow.

The idea was that a road would have a series of gates along its length and tolls would be charged to pass the gates. The Turnpike Trust would be responsible for the road and have to employ a surveyor, a clerk and a treasurer. Each Trust was to have a life of 21 years after which it would have to renew its permission to manage the road. A trust was seen as an effective way of rebuilding Britainís busiest roads. Only the busiest and most important roads were ever turnpiked, 80% of Britainís roads were left untouched.
The process of creating Turnpike Trusts was, by modern standards, very slow. As each one needed an Act of Parliament the bureaucracy was very elaborate. The years 1706 to 1790 saw a growing number of trusts created in various parts of Britain. In many places the roads created or developed by Trusts formed the basis of Britainís ĎAí road system.

 The issue of turnpiking the Glamorgan roads did not seriously emerge until the 1760s. Businessmen who lived in Swansea and Cardiff were keen to improve the portway to the standards seen by various English turnpikes. The growing need for effective communication for South Walesí new industrial centres forced the issue to the top of the agenda for local debating societies and political discussions. Men who were close to government such as Edmund Thomas of Wenvoe and Earl Talbot of  Hensol joined with Herbert Mackworth of Neath and Robert Morris of Clasemont.

The ideal. A turnpike bridge.
 The initial idea was to improve the link between Cardiff and the Severn ferries at Aust and Gloucester. There was also opposition from many who had no wish to see an improved road because it brought in strangers and increased costs. Eventually, in 1762, a meeting was held in Swansea (probably in the Mackworth Hotel), to discuss the proposals. The support for the road was overwhelming and by 1764, work had commenced to develop the road between Dinas Powis and Leckwith to Cardiff. This involved straightening the route and closing some of the older parts of the road. This was the first time roads had been altered or made in South Wales since Roman times. The red painted tollgates became a feature of the landscape for the first time.

The first improvements encouraged an appetite for more. The South Wales Association for the Improvement of Roads was assembled with a mission to improve the Portway along its length. In 1789, a meeting was held at Swansea at the Mackworth Arms, by now Swansea's main coaching stop. It is clear that Swansea was a hotbed of desire  for road improvement. Of the 33 members of the association, eleven were merchants from Swansea. The members of the association were keen to confront the old established gentry such as the Duke of Beaufort who (through the indomitable Gabriel Powell) were against improved communications because they saw no profit in them and they did not like the changes that improved transport would inevitably bring.


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All content © Nigel A. Robins and Swansea History Web 2006, 2007

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