Taking the Toll

The earliest recorded toll road in the world is the Susa–Babylon highway, when travellers paid a toll during the regime of Ashurbanipal (who conquered Egypt) some 2700 years ago.   Aristotle and Pliny both mention tolls in Arabia and other parts of Asia and their use was also recorded in India, before the 4th century BC.

Map of the Toll roads around Marlow
Map of the Toll roads around Marlow

In England, the upkeep of bridges was placed in the hands of local settlements by the Bridges Act of 1530 and, some 25 years, later Parliament (like today knowing a good cost-cutter when they saw it!) devolved the care of roads to parishes as statute labour.   Every adult in a parish was obliged to work for four consecutive days a year on the roads – and had to provide their own tools, carts and horses.  1663 saw a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire become England’s first road to charge a toll, and the first Turnpike trust was set up some forty years later in 1706.

Mail Coach
Mail Coach

The name “Turnpike” comes from the military practise of placing a pikestaff across a road to block it – it was “turned” to one side to allow travellers to pass.  Turnpike trusts became responsible for improving and maintaining most main roads in England and Wales  and eventually 1,000 trusts administered around 30,000 miles through some 8,000 toll gates.  They were gradually abolished starting in the 1870s, principally due to the growth of the railways.

During  the 1800s, Buckinghamshire had at least sixteen Turnpike trusts, including “Great Marlow and Stokenchurch,” which was incorporated in 1791 and had its term extended for a further 21 years in 1813.  It was responsible for 8.5 miles of road including two turnpikes and a side gate.  There is some evidence for a toll bar at Seymour Court in a Notice of Auction of Tolls in July 1821.  Two other gates are mentioned in the same notice and were at Penley Hills and Well End – which were both in Oxon until the boundary changed in 1896.

The A40 Toll Road.

The road between Beaconsfield and Stokenchurch was “turnpiked” in 1719, with other sections turnpiked later.  In 1751 it was added to the “Wendover to Buckingham Turnpike Trust” and remained part of it until 1852, when the Beaconsfield and Red Hill Trust was formed.

There were five toll gates along this road, starting with the Denham gate, opposite the “Dog and Duck” followed by the Red Hill gate near the 18th milestone.  The Holtspur gate collected tolls at the north end of the road from Hedsor.  High Wycombe’s gate was pulled down in 1826 and replaced by a new toll bar and although the toll house was eventually dismantled in 1978, it has now been re-erected at the Chiltern Open Air Museum, complete with its toll board.  Lastly, the West Wycombe gate was sited where the road splits off to Princes Risborough.

From Chenies through Amersham, High Wycombe, Marlow and on to near Henley-on-Thames.

This road was managed by the Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust, which was the very last trust in the county and continued until  as late as 1881.

A TurnpikeDebatably, there was a turnpike at the intersection of several lanes in Little Chalfont. But a statement of income and expenditure for the trust dated 31st October 1829 does not include it.  However a much altered toll house called Beel Lodge does survive there.  A “Whielden Lane” gate appeared on a 1985 0.S.map – but not on the earlier maps. It stood opposite the ‘Queen’s Head’ and seems to have been demolished for road widening in 1929.  The Terriers gate turnpike was probably sited west of Wycombe Heath – and the gate at Great Marlow was to be found north east of the town where the High Wycombe and Little Marlow roads meet.  The Bisham gate was north of Marlow Bridge and the Greenland gate was opposite Greenland estate. The Ordinance Survey also marks a turnpike at Medmenham, though there seems to be no reason for a gate to be there.

The Marquess of Salisbury and the Earl of Essex, were both afflicted by gout and made annual “treatment” visits to Bath.   To shorten the journey, their lordships actually built their own road from Hatfield!   It crossed the Thames at Marlow and joined the A4 at Knowl Hill – cutting their journey by some 20 miles.

The surviving mile posts on this road are all from an identical cast-iron mould and all show Reading, but give the distance to Hatfield at the top. One of these is still standing in St. Albans at the west end of St. Stephen’s Hill near the King Harry public house. Others are at Chenies, Little Chalfont, Medmenham and Greenlands. Two more have been found locally at the entrance to Bisham Church and at Burchett’s Green.

The Old Toll House at Bisham Gate
The Old Toll House at Bisham Gate

This cottage is of particular local interest and was probably built during the 19th century for the Reading and Hatfield Turnpike Trust. Over the years there have been numerous additions and alterations to the building.  Although there is no direct documentary evidence of a tollhouse at this location,  local oral tradition suggests it was a toll collection point.

I would carry on with this subject – but writing has taken it’s toll on me!

by Gerry Palmer

5 thoughts on “Taking the Toll”

  1. I have been investigating the R&H from the District 3 end. All of the mile markers between Hatfield and St Albans south remain in situ. The one on St Stephen’s Hill (St Albans south) is actually on the “wrong” side of the road. All of the other extant posts are on the left travelling to Hatfield. The distances are on the wrong faces – could be that it couldn’t be fixed in the correct position due to the steep bank beside the road on the hill. Others between St Albans and Watford either disappeared when development occurred adjacent to the road at that point, or the last map to show them was in the 1930s. Possibly removed along with other signs at the start of WW2?
    Bisham toll house is certainly mentioned in the 1823 and 1829 accounts, collecting £304 and £360 respectively. Only spasmodic accounts seem to have survived, unless there are any in Bucks, and none which I have seen include the side tolls (of which there were four between Hatfield and St Albans alone. And the accounts give no reference to the Hatfield toll at the Old Fiddle. Your reference to the Little Chalfont toll, seems to have been listed as Chorley Wood, which is nearby. There surely wouldn’t have been one in both places, so close.
    As to the legend about the involvement of the Cecils (gout road) I am rather suspicious. None of the major works on the family mention the road at all, and from the lists of Trustees (Hertfordshire Archives) there seem to have been no member of the family. It is, however, likely that, befitting his station in life, the 6th and 7th Marquess made some contributions towards additional improvements to the road.

    I understand that the mile posts were all cast in Reading.

    I would always be ready to learn of other sources which lead us to a more complete story of the R&H. There is a page on the R&H on my website – mileposts only at present – http://www.stalbansowneastend.co.uk

    I like your picture of one of the tolls (the round picture). Trying to work out which it was, or is this just a generic picture for illustrative purposes?

  2. Does anyone know when the White Hill cutting on that part of the Beaconsfield Turnpike between Holtspur and Wooburn Moor was dug.

    1. If this is the Beaconsfield to Stokenchurch Turnpike Trust, you could try the Centre for Buckinghamshire Studies at County Hall, Walton Street, Aylesbury,HP20 1UU Telephone: 01296 382 587, who hold the 1718 Trust Deed.

      Sarah Greenhous, Secretary, Archaeology in Marlow

  3. There are interesting photographs of tollhouses, on the Bucks SWOP project website, for sharing old photos. See:
    Details of RHW: 51141: Amersham Rd, Hazlemere. 1900’s
    Details of RHW: 20070; Tollgate keeper’s cottage, Aylesbury Rd, Great Missenden. c.1900.
    Details of BFP: 33410: the crossroads of Amersham Road, Totteridge Lane and Kingshill Road showing the Toll House at Terriers, Sept 1909.

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