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Monday, 30 September 2019

Turnpikes and toll houses

Toll house, Blists Hill, Ironbridge © A Knowles (2018)
Toll house, Blists Hill Victorian Town, Ironbridge © A Knowles (2018)
What was a turnpike road?

A turnpike road was a toll road operated under a trust set up by an Act of Parliament. A Turnpike Act authorised a group of trustees to levy tolls on a stretch of road in order to finance its maintenance and improvement. The toll rates were set by the Act which also empowered the trustees to borrow money secured on future tolls in order to invest in road improvements. Money could be borrowed by bonds and loans secured on the toll income or by mortgaging the tolls.

The term of a turnpike trust was 21 years, but tolls were to cease earlier if the money borrowed had been repaid. Extensions were regularly granted to trusts for ongoing improvement and maintenance.

Why was it called a turnpike?

Turnpike roads got their name from the turnpikes or toll gates which barred the way until the road users had paid the required toll. The turnpikes were placed at strategic points along the road where it was difficult for travellers to evade paying, such as at bridges or where the lie of the land constricted the road. 
 
Tyburn Turnpike (1820) from Old and New London by E Walford (1878)
Tyburn Turnpike (1820)
from Old and New London by E Walford (1878)
 Why were turnpike roads needed?

The state of the roads around large conurbations like London were in a bad state of repair due to overuse. The preamble to a Turnpike Act for Surrey passed in 1718 stated that certain roads
...by reason of the many heavy loads and carriages of meal, timber, stone, hops, and other goods, and great number of stage and hackney coaches, passengers and droves of cattle daily passing through the same, are become so very ruinous and almost impassable, for the space of five months in the year, so that it is dangerous to all persons, horses, and other cattle to pass through the said roads.1
Road maintenance was the responsibility of the parishes through which the roads passed, but they did not have the resources to keep the roads in good repair.

Turnpike Acts provided the means for raising money to build and maintain better roads and allow the fast transport of people, mail and goods from place to place.

Toll house at the Weald and Downland  Living Museum © A Knowles (2014)
Toll house at the Weald and Downland
Living Museum © A Knowles (2014)
When was the turnpike system in operation?

The turnpike system was not a unified road network but rather a large number of individual turnpike roads, operated by different trusts, that provided better road conditions across Britain and Scotland. Generally, the trusts coordinated their improvements to provide continuous stretches of good road, but if they were offering alternative routes to the same place, they sometimes competed with each other, trying to attract traffic and therefore tolls to travel their route. 

The first Turnpike Acts were passed in the late 17th century and by the mid-1830s, about 22,000 miles of road in England and Wales – about one fifth of the road network – were managed by turnpike trusts.2 The turnpikes were wound up in the 1870s and the responsibility for road maintenance passed to the Highways Board.

Who collected the tolls?

Trusts could either appoint collectors, who would have to sign an oath to confirm they had handed all the tolls over, or they could let the tolls. 

An advert in The Times for April 1810 stated the date and place when the trustees of the New Cross Turnpike Roads intended to auction the tolls, giving the sum collected in a previous period as guide price to bidders.3

Toll house, Athelhampton House © A Knowles (2015)
Toll house, Athelhampton House © A Knowles (2015)
Toll houses

Toll houses were built next to the turnpikes as someone needed to be collecting the tolls 24 hours a day. These represented a significant investment from the trusts. The standard toll house design adopted in the 1820s was of a small, single-story cottage with a polygonal bay front. 

Some toll houses on major roads were built on a rather grander design, with castellated rooves, designed to impress rich travellers and tempt them to use their route over an alternative.

Turnpikes were generally placed outside the town so that local businesses did not have to pay the toll. However, the remoteness of their locations meant that the toll houses were vulnerable to theft and as a precaution, they tended to be fitted with bars and a safe.

Many toll houses were demolished when the turnpike trusts were abolished particularly if their position restricted the width of the road. Others were sold into private ownership. 

Spaniards gate toll house, Hampstead © R Knowles (2019)
Spaniards Gate toll house, Hampstead © R Knowles (2019)
Plaque on side of Spaniards Gate toll house,  Hampstead © R Knowles (2019)
Plaque on side of Spaniards Gate toll house,
Hampstead © R Knowles (2019)
How much were the tolls?

The toll rates for each turnpike were set according to the Turnpike Act that established it and differed according to the type of user.

The Mail did not have to pay tolls. An outrider blew a horn as the coach approached so that the toll keeper could get the gate open ready without the Mail having to slow down.

Table of tolls from Weald and Downland  Living Museum © A Knowles (2014)
Table of tolls from Weald and Downland
Living Museum © A Knowles (2014)
The Surrey Turnpike Act of 1718 set the rates as follows:
For every horse, mule, or ass, laden or unladen, and for every chaise, cart, dray, or other carriage drawn by one horse, one penny
For every coach, chariot, or calash drawn by two or more horses, sixpence
For every waggon not laden with hay or straw, sixpence
For every waggon laden with hay or straw, threepence
For every cart, dray, or carriage laden with hay, straw, or other goods, twopence
For every drove of oxen or neat cattle, twopence per score
For every drove of calves, hogs, sheep, or lambs one penny per score
A ticket for the toll road lasted all day.
Soldiers, all persons riding post, and all carts and waggons travelling with vagrants, were permitted to pass free of toll.4
The Sussex Turnpike Act of 1749 set the rates as follows:
For every coach, berlin, landau, chariot, chaise, calash, chair, caravan, or hearse, drawn by six horses or mules, the sum of one shilling
If drawn by four horses, &c., ninepence
If drawn by two horses, &c., sixpence
If drawn by one horse, threepence
For every waggon, wain, cart, or carriage drawn by six horses or oxen, one shilling and sixpence
If drawn by four horses or oxen, ninepence
If drawn by two horses or oxen, sixpence
If by one horse, threepence
For every waggon or cart, laden only with hay or straw, threepence
For every horse, mule, or ass, laden or unladen, and not drawing, one penny
For every drove of oxen, tenpence per score
For every drove of calves, sheep, &c., fivepence per score.
The Act specifically prohibited the repair of pavements in the streets of any town.
Those travelling to county elections were exempt.5
Milestones

Most turnpike trusts put up milestones, marking the distance to significant places.

Milestone in Blandford, Dorset © A Knowles (2016)
Milestone in Blandford, Dorset © A Knowles (2016)
Notes
1. Parliamentary papers, House of Commons vol 44 (1852)(Turnpike Roads)
3. The Times online archive, April 1810.
4. Parliamentary papers op cit.
5. Ibid.

Sources used include:
Parliamentary papers, House of Commons vol 44 (1852)(Turnpike Roads)

Thursday, 12 September 2019

The Gordon Riots of 1780

The Gordon Riots  from The Chronicles of Crime or The Newgate   Calendar by C Pelham illustrated by Phiz (1841)
The Gordon Riots
from The Chronicles of Crime or The Newgate 
Calendar by C Pelham illustrated by Phiz (1841)
For a week in June 1780, London experienced some of the worst riots that the city has ever seen. Thousands of anti-Catholic protestors gathered to petition Parliament, but what began as a peaceable religious protest turned into a destructive riot, causing havoc across the city.

The Gordon Riots play a small but important part in A Perfect Match. The hero, Christopher Merry, has never really got over the trauma of what he witnessed during that fateful week. In his pursuit of love, he is forced to confront the truth.
Front cover of A Perfect Match by Rachel Knowles

What caused the Gordon Riots?

The Gordon Riots were an extreme Protestant reaction to the Catholic Relief Act of 1778. The Act relieved some of the discrimination against Catholics including allowing them to join the army. Lord George Gordon, President of the Protestant Society, declared that such a move put British forces in danger should the Catholics turn on their kinsmen and side with Britain’s Catholic enemies instead. He spearheaded a petition for the repeal of the Act.

On Friday 2 June, Lord George, together with some 60,000 protestors, arrived at Parliament to present
… a huge roll of parchment, almost as much as a man could carry, containing the names of those who had signed the petition.1
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots
The rabble gets rowdy

Thus far, the protest was peaceable, but it did not remain so. The protestors started attacking the carriages of those arriving at Parliament, who they held responsible for passing the Act.
The protestors
… obliged almost all the members to put blue cockades in their hats, and call out, ‘No Popery!’ Some they compelled to take oath to vote for the repeal of the act. They took possession of all the avenues from the outer door to the door of the House of Commons, which they twice attempted to force open.2
Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield, had the glasses of his carriage broken and the panels beaten in; the Bishop of Litchfield had his gown torn; and the Duke of Northumberland had his watch stolen. Lord Mansfield’s nephew, Lord Stormont, fared even worse:
They stopped Lord Stormont’s carriage, and great numbers of them got upon the wheels, box, &c taking the most impudent liberties with his Lordship, who was as it were in their possession for near half an hour, and would perhaps not have so soon got away had not a Gentleman jumped into his Lordship’s carriage, and by haranguing the mob persuaded them to desist.3
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots
Lord George entered the House and presented his petition for ‘A repeal of the Act passed in the last session in favour of the Roman Catholics’, signed by nearly one hundred and twenty thousand people, demanding that it be considered immediately.

The House voted against the immediate consideration of the petition but scheduled it for the following Tuesday, and with the arrival of troops, the crowd was peaceably dispersed.

The riots

Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots
But that was not the end of it. That night, huge numbers of people reassembled and started on a destructive rampage. They destroyed two Catholic chapels, one belonging to the Sardinian ambassador in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and the other, to the Bavarian ambassador in Warwick Street, near Golden Square.

Thirteen of the perpetrators were arrested and three of the most notorious were incarcerated in Newgate Prison.

The violence continued as the rioters targeted both prominent Catholics and those responsible for making and upholding the law. One of the first homes to be destroyed was that of Sir George Savile who had been responsible for instigating the hated Catholic Relief Bill. The iron railings of his house became the mob’s chief weapons.

The Bow Street offices and home of Sir John Fielding were likewise attacked, as were the shops of Mr Rainsforth, the king’s tallow chandler, and Mr Maberly for bringing evidence against the rioters.

Lord Mansfield’s house destroyed

Lord Mansfield from a miniature at Kenwood House  © Photo A Knowles
Lord Mansfield from a miniature at Kenwood House
© Photo A Knowles (2019)
Perhaps the worst of the protestors’ anger was directed at Lord Chief Justice, Lord Mansfield. They ransacked his home in Bloomsbury Square.
The furniture, his fine library of books, invaluable manuscripts, containing his lordship's notes on every important law case for near forty years past … were by the hands of these Goths committed to the flames; Lord and Lady Mansfield with difficulty eluded their rage, by making their escape through a back door, some minutes before the savages broke into, and took possession of his house. So great was the vengeance with which they menaced him, that, if report may be credited, they had brought a rope with them to have executed him: and his preservation may be properly termed providential.4
A group of rioters went out to Hampstead to similarly destroy Kenwood House, Lord Mansfield’s country residence. They were not successful. A guard was there before them and the rioters were diverted by being plied with free ale at nearby Spaniards Inn.

Spaniards Inn, Hampstead © A Knowles (2019)
Spaniards Inn, Hampstead © A Knowles (2019)
Prisons and property under attack

Spurred on by alcohol, the rioters continue to cause havoc for several days. They attacked the property of wealthy Catholics, destroying houses, chapels and businesses including Irish merchant James Malo’s house and Mr Langdale’s Holborn distillery.

The mob attacked Newgate Prison and released the prisoners before burning it to the ground. The Clink Prison and the Fleet Prison suffered similar fates whilst other prisons were severely damaged.

Attempts were made on Prime Minster Lord North’s house in Downing Street and the Bank of England, but these were unsuccessful.

Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots
Why did it take so long to stop the riots?

Lord Shelburne was not alone in thinking that Parliament had failed to take preventative measures against the possibility of mob violence. He complained that though
… notice was given to the ministry, that a large body was to assemble in St George's-fields, no measure, no precaution was made use of to stem the torrent of outrage, which might be expected to join those who had too much religion, tho' they themselves had none.5
There seemed to be a remarkable reluctance to call in the militia and give them the authority to forcibly disperse the mob. When troops arrived, there was often no magistrate at the scene of the riot prepared to give them the order to shoot. This arose because of a widely held belief that soldiers had no legal right to open fire on a lawless mob unless specifically instructed to do so.

Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots

The end of the riots

By Wednesday 7 June, the number of troops in the city had swelled:
The guards being found to be insufficient to defend the various parts of the metropolis, all the troops and militia within thirty miles were, the preceding day, sent for. A strong guard was placed at Buckingham-house, now called the Queen's Palace, their majesties town residence. A camp was formed in St. James's-Park, and a detachment of the marching regiments of militia formed another in Hyde-Park.6
According to Walpole, 12-14,000 soldiers were involved in quelling the tumults. These included those normally stationed in the city, such as the Horse Guards and the Foot Guards, as well as the militia from neighbouring counties.

The troops were ordered to fire on those who would not disband peaceably. Estimates vary as to how many people lost their lives in the riots. Hibbert estimated as many as 850; Pelham reckoned about 500. Some were killed by gunfire. Others died in fires or through alcohol abuse.

Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)   which was based on the Gordon Riots
Illustration from Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens (1841)
which was based on the Gordon Riots
Horace Walpole wrote to his friend, the Reverend Mr Cole, on 15 June:
You may like to know one is alive, dear Sir, after a massacre, and the conflagration of a capital. I was in it, both on the Friday and on the Black Wednesday; the most horrible sight I ever beheld, and which, for six hours together, I expected to end in half the town being reduced to ashes. I can give you little account of the original of this shocking affair; negligence was certainly its nurse, and religion only its god mother.7
In a letter to the Earl of Strafford, Walpole wrote:
Religion has often been the cloak of injustice, outrage, and villany: in our late tumults, it scarce kept on its mask a moment; its persecution was downright robbery; and it was so drunk, that it killed its banditti faster than they could plunder.8
What happened to Lord George Gordon?

Around 450 rioters were arrested, though only a handful were tried and convicted. Lord George Gordon was arrested and taken to the Tower of London where he was tried for treason. In Walpole’s opinion:
The Tower is much too dignified a prison for him — but he had left no other.9
Lord George was found not guilty and released. However, the eccentric lord continued his extremist political activity and was later charged with publishing a pamphlet criticising the administration of justice and for libelling Marie Antoinette, the Queen of France. He was convicted on both charges and imprisoned in the rebuilt Newgate Prison where he died in 1793.

The front of Newgate Prison from Old and New London by E Walford (1878)
The front of Newgate Prison
from Old and New London by E Walford (1878)
Notes
1. Lady’s Magazine (1780).
2. Ibid.
3. Whitehall Evening Post, June 1780 from British Library Collection.
4. Lady’s Magazine (1780).
5. Ibid.
6. Ibid.
7. Letter from Horace Walpole to the Reverend Mr Cole dated 15 June 1780 in The Letters of Horace Walpole.
8. Letter from Horace Walpole to the Earl of Stafford dated 12 June 1780 in The Letters of Horace Walpole.
9. Ibid.

Sources used include:
Dickens, Charles, Master Humphrey's Clock - Volume III - Barnaby Rudge (1841)
Gentleman’s Magazine (1780)
Hibbert, Christopher, George III (1998)
Lady’s Magazine (1780)
Pelham, Camden, The Chronicles of Crime or The New Newgate Calendar embellished with fifty-two engravings from original drawings by 'Phiz' (1841)
Walpole, Horace, The Letters of Horace Walpole, Earl of Orford, volume 6 (1840)
Gordon Riots on Wikipedia – a comprehensive and well sourced article that checks out with other sources.