Did you know that by 1730 Herefordshire had the largest turnpike system in Britain? An act of parliament was passed which allowed local groups (turnpike trusts) to take over the maintenance of roads in the county. In return the trusts were allowed to install turnpikes and tollgates and charge people for using the routes. At this time 118 miles of road was controlled by the Hereford Trust. However the turnpike revolt was coming.
We often revel at finding some of the historic milestones dotted around our beautiful county’s lanes. However in 1766 they were deemed compulsory on all turnpike roads and a very common sight indeed. Turnpike trusts were then required to mark every mile along a route so that accurate timing of journeys and prices could be estimated.
Many of our Herefordshire towns were surrounded with toll gates and for non tax payers routes to market were blocked. So as you can imagine the tolls were not popular. In fact the turnpike laws were hated and reviled by locals and visitors alike as they were fiercely enforced with very few exceptions. The poor resented them just as much as the farmers whose trading was significantly disrupted. So consequently the hustle and bustle of markets dwindled. Farmers and tradesmen found other places to trade and sell their goods without having to pay the turnpike fees.
The Turnpike Revolt Begins
The turnpike revolt was not long off. Frustrations ran high, anger was at its peak and outbursts of violence and revolt were commonplace. Raging mobs gathered at the turnpikes at night and attempted to dismantle and burn them. Spirited forays of destruction were made by Welshmen. They would venture across the border in Herefordshire dressed in women’s clothes with their faces blacked ready to burn the turnpikes to the ground. These men were known as ‘Rebecca’s Daughters’. Visions of Monty Python are now coming to mind. So we hope you don’t mind while we have a quiet giggle at the imagery as we write this!
Feelings ran strong. Even after an act of parliament in 1734 which instructed the death penalty for those who destroyed turnpikes, the lawbreaking continued with even more fervour. Sympathetic locals began to support raiders and offer their assistance as look outs.
A Harsh Sentence
Those who were caught in the act of destroying toll gates were sent to the gallows either in Worcester or Hereford. Their very public demise was used as a deterrent to quell the frequency and ferocity of the attacks. In 1867 the turnpike gates were finally abandoned much to the delight of everyone.
There are only eight privately owned Toll Bridges left in the UK one of which is at Whitney in Herefordshire. 245 years on it still spans the beautiful River Wye as a fantastic reminder of our history and the tumultuous times gone by. How fantastic is that?
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