Reference NumberL/MET
TitleRecords of the Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Roads Trust
DescriptionFinancial records and bound agreements and reports relating to Bow Bridge
Extent3 volumes, 1 bundle
AdminHistoryBy the middle of the 17th century, effective maintenance of heavily used roads - supposedly the responsibility of the vestries of the parishes through which they passed - had become so problematic that Parliament was invited to step in to try and solve the problem. The first such Act, which authorised Justices of the Peace on the Hertfordshire-Cambridgeshire-Huntingdonshire Circuit to establish and administer toll gates between Wadesmill in Hertfordshire, Caxton in Cambridgeshire and Stilton in Huntingdonshire, was passed in 1656. The gate at Stilton was never constructed because of local opposition and the Caxton gate proved to be ineffective.

Similar legislation eventually followed for other parts of the country in the 1690s, but the first Acts of Parliament which created statutory bodies comprising people who were not necessarily JPs date from 1706-10. Numerous Acts then followed that created turnpike trusts with almost identical constitutions and functions. The legislation empowered trustees to appoint surveyors, erect gates and charge tolls for the upkeep of and improvement of stretches of road. The trustees were also allowed to mortgage the tolls and elect new trustees. Powers were usually granted for 21 years, after which a renewal Act was required. The system gathered pace in the 18th and 19th centuries and peaked in the 1830s with some 1,100 trusts responsible for the upkeep of about 30,000 miles of road in England and Wales.

The quality of the roads maintained by the turnpike trusts varied, but the trusts themselves were highly successful in the sense that they were a lucrative source of income and became highly prized; as businesses, turnpike trusts were auctioned and bidding was often fierce.

The first Act of Parliament covering maintenance and repair of the main roads from Whitechapel Church out into Essex was passed in 1722, and the Act was updated and renewed in 1743, 1764 and 1785. Imprudent borrowing by the trustees on the credit of the tolls seems to have occurred in the late 18th century, causing considerable problems and prompting further legislation in 1803 and 1823. What was possibly the final Act governing the operation of the Middlesex and Turnpike Roads was passed in 1834.

The decline of the turnpike system set in with the coming of the railways, but the Mile End Gate (which may have been in place by as early as 1714) remained one of the busiest in London. Indeed it was the last of the main thoroughfare turnpikes to come down in November 1866 following recommendations made in the 1850s by a Toll Reform Committee that all turnpikes should be removed when their leases expired (a number of smaller turnpikes remained in place).

T. F. T. Baker (ed.), The Victoria History of the Counties of England: A History of the County of Middlesex: Vol. XI Early Stepney with Bethnal Green (Oxford: published for the Institute of Historical Research by Oxford University Press, 1998)

Stephen Friar, The Local History Companion (Stroud: Sutton Publishing, 2001)

David Hey (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010)

Sidney and Beatrice Webb, English Local Government: Statutory Authorities for Special Purposes (London: Longmans, Green and Co: 1922)

Ben Weinrab, Christopher Hibbert, Julia Keay and John Keay, The London Encyclopaedia, 3rd edn (London: Macmillan, 2008)

Middlesex and Essex Turnpike Trust Acts, 1773-1812 and 1823 (copies available in the Local History Library, classmark 343)
Access StatusOpen
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