North Walsham & District Community Archive

History of a turnpike


Nothing was more familiar to our grand-sires than the turnpike road, but the persons who still remember them must be a small company. By 1864 these roads, once so numerous, had dwindled to 1000, and by 1890 only two remained, the last turnpike toll being collected in 1895. The bridge toll has, of course, survived. I think I can remember a toll being payable at old Carrow Bridge in the early nineties, and only recently Guist Bridge has been treed of this, levy.
Up to the 18th century the maintenance of main roads fell upon the parishes through which' they passed. Their condition was deplorably bad, though less felt, of course, by the ubiquitous horseman, and repairs were often half-hearted and irregular, as they depended upon the resources and activity of the parish. It was manifestly unjust that a country parish should carry the heavy burden of maintaining a highway which ran through it and was a main artery of traffics to relieve the parishes of some of this burden and to place it on actual users, the turnpike system was brought into operation. Turnpike meant originally a defensive frame of pikes to prevent passage.
The promoters selected a stretch of main road which carried a through traffic, and applied to Parliament for an Act to set up a Turnpike Trust. This appointed a body of trustees, representative of the townships and landowners, benefiting from the undertaking and charged with the duty of improving and, maintaining the road and empowered to erect tollgates, at which tolls, according' to scale, were to be collected. These tolls were the security upon which the subscribers to the trust advanced their money required for capital purposes.

Heath Cottage, North Walsham


I have not the date of the Norwich-North Walsham Turnpike Trust Act, but the first two minute books are in my possession and they show that it came into force on 1st January, 1797. Colourless as they must have seemed to the clerk who drafted them, they nevertheless contain some local History, which may be of interest to your readers. They certainly show that our forebears of five generations back were not without their traffic problems.

I may, perhaps, be forgiven a, personal allusion to the sentimental attachment I have to this ancient highway Since 1735 to the present day my forebears and collaterals, first from Westwick and Coltishall and then from Sprowston have without intermission almost daily passed along this road. The trust was to put into "execution an Act for amending, widening and keeping in repair the road from Magdalen Gate in the city of Norwich to the King's Arms Inn in North Walsham". Meetings of the trustees were held quarterly, two successively at the Guildhall, followed by one at the King's Arms. Though the usual attendance was under ten, the trustees seem to have numbered thirty-two, half forming the Norwich rota and the other half acting at North Walsham. The first trustees appear to have been:-

Dr. John Beevor
Charles Harvey
Thomas Blake, jun.
Rev. John Wells
John Wells
Elisha De Hague
George Wymer
John Morse
William Foster, jun.
Richard Gurney
John Micklethwaite
William Herring
Joseph Geldart
Jeremiah Ives Harvey
Aid. Robert Harvey
Thomas A. Kerrison

John B. Petre, Westwick
Rev. P. Gardiner, Gimmingham
Siday Hawes, Coltlshall
Rev. Thos. Lloyd, N. Walsham
Robert Baret, Horstead
William Bird, Worstead
Rev. Thomas Meux, Swafield
William Brown, Scottow
Rev. Marmaduke Ward
Sir  Thos. Durrant, Scottow
Charles Stewart, Worstead
Wm. Blake, jun., Swanton Abbot
Thos. Blake, sen., Scottow
Wm. Lubbock, Lammas
Rev. Jos. Church, Coltishall
Rev. Jos. Hepworth, Hanworth

At the outset of each meeting each trustee had to take oath of qualification, viz:—£40 a year in land or £800 in value of personal property. It is noted that Richard Gurney and Joseph Geldart instead of the oath made a solemn affirmation.
At the first meeting on 21st January, 1797, held at the Guildhall, the Hon. Henry Hobart presided, and George Wymer, jun., of Reepham was appointed clerk at a salary of £20, and Roger Kerrison, the banker was made treasurer. The important post of surveyor was filled by John Hare, who was to receive "one guinea a week for so long time as he shall be actually employed in making the said roads." The cost of getting the bill through Parliament worked out at £211 to Mr. Edward Benson (Clerk in Parliament) and £100 to Mr. Wymer for "soliciting the said Act."


The pressing thing was to get the tolls going:—
Ordered that the turnpike gate mentioned in the said act to be placed at or near the 3 mile stone be placed on the Norwich side of the two cross roads near the said 3 mile stone.
This is the cross ways near Red Hall. Beeston.
Ordered that the gate mentioned In the said act to be placed between the 12 mile stone and the 13 mile stone in parish of North Walsham be placed at or near where the present foldgale now hangs going off North Walsham Heath.
This is to the north of Westwick Woods.
Ordered that temporary Toll gates be erected at the places above ordered before the 1st March next, and that tolls be taken on and after that day.
Ordered that Toll houses be erected for each Toll gate upon the plan of the Toll house near the 2 mile stone upon the Aylsham Road and that tenders be advertised for.
This toll house until about 1925 stood near the Boundary Inn at Mile Cross.

But neither of the sites above selected became permanent. Wherever a toll gate was erected it worked hardly upon those who lived Just "yen side of it," as the countryman would say, end there was at once an objector in the person of John Micklethwaite, Esq., of Beeston Hall, who applied that the situation of the former gate be changed to the crossways by the four mile stone (which would, of course, enable him to avoid toll when going to Norwich). This request was granted on payment of a composition for tolls, which he offered, and which was assessed at £14 for him and his "two tenants. The tollhouse was accordingly erected, and indeed still stands in.Crosrwlck flush with the corner near the four mile stone. The contract for work here and at the other tollhouse was given to Jeremiah Huson of North Walsham, bricklayer, and William Gill of Aylsham, carpenter, who tendered at £123 for each tollhouse, including the gate, a well, and a "necessary house" With each went 30 perches of land, for which Francis Longe, of Spixworth, received £5 18s. and John Berney Petre £5 12s. This works out at £30 per acre. The tollhouse beyond Westwick was used until 1814, when J. B. Petre as an exchange erected a tollhouse, still standing flush with the road, to the north of the "road leading from the said turnpike to White Horse Common." These toll houses are illustrated elsewhere In this issue.


The collection. of tolls now occupied the attention of the trustees. They appointed Cornelius Culley of North Walsham, as collector at that gate at a wage of £20 a year on the terms that he "do attend at the said gate every morning at five o'clock and not leave the same till nine at night" Presumably during the night there was free passage. John Osborne became the collector at the Crostwick gate at £22 a year By 1790 the trustees had sufficient experience to let the tolls to farm by auction, and in doing so they had to observe the provisions of the Turnpike Road Act, 1773, as followes-

To prevent fraud or any undue preference in the letting thereof the trustees are hereby required to provide a Glass with so much sand in it as will run from one end of it to the other in one minute! which Glass at the time of letting the said tolls shall be set upon a table and immediately after every bidding the Glass shall be turned and as soon as the sand is run out it shall be turned again, and so for three times unless some other bidding intervenes: and If no other person shall bid until the sand shall have run through the Glass three times the last bidder shall be the farmer or renter of the said tolls and shall forthwith enter into a oroper agreement for the taking thereof.

There could thus be an interval of almost three minutes between each bid. It would be interesting to know if any of the minute glasses survive, The result of the first auction was that Crostwick gate let for £90 and North Walsham for £38. By 1820 they let for £280 and £121 respectively, so greatly had traffic increased.

The toll collection had early problems to face. No sooner had the gates been erected than wayfarers sought to by-pass them. People from Coltishall bound for Norwich avoided the Crostwlck gate by branching off at Horstead through Frettenham or came right up to the gate and then turned west to Spixworth. To counter this, side-gates were erected at Horstead corner and by the Crostwick gate. Another case was dealt with thus—

Ordered that Mr. Wymer, the Clerk, applies to the acting magistrates of the Hundred of Tunstead to procure a riding way from North Walsham through the grounds of the Right Honourable Lord Suffleld to Swanton Abbott and Skeyton to be stopped up as a riding way and Kept open as a foot way only.

The amount to be paid for tolls was in general a frequent source of dispute, involving at times litigation and depending upon the interpretation of a local Act. Were cattle going to pasture and having to pass through the gate liable? What was the position of the parson and his worshippers? Generally speaking the amount of the toll was regulated by the size of the vehicle and the breadth of the tire, narrow wheels cutting up the road. Indeed it was provided that wagons, carts, and carriages moving upon rollers of the breadth of 16 inches on each side thereof with flat surfaces should pay no more than half toll. Asses were charged at half the horse rate.

But tolls were not the only source of Income to the Trust. Each parish through which the turnpike passed had to perform "statute duty" that Is the surveyors of the parish highways, usually the leading farmers, had to provide so much labour in the way of carting materials or to pay a composition for it, and the money so paid had to be expended upon the turnpike in that parish. Some parishes were slow payers:—

1820. At this meeting the Clerk Informed the trustees that he had attended before the Mayor respecting the non-payment of the St Clements Parish, when after a hearing before him, Mr. Steward Alderson. Aldermen Rigby and Bolingbroke, in the presence of all parties, distress warrants were ordered for the composition for the year 1818 and to Michas last, and the composition for that parish for the year ensuing to be £5 10s This the parish of St Clement Without.


John Hare, the surveyor, was appointed in January, 1797. By September in the following year be was able to report that the turnpike road would shortly be finished. Judged by present standards this was a euphemism, because apart from the road works later referred to, it simply meant that the road surface had been uniformly treated over its length of 14 miles. It must be borne in mind that these were days before McAdam had invented macadamised roads, and the only treatment that the road received would be spreading ot gravel to fill up the ruts without any binding agency, wheels and hoofs doing gradually but ineffectively the work of the roller. There were compulsory powers to take and pay for gravel adjoining the road:—

The surveyor having complained that F. Horatio Batchelor. Esq. hath refused to suffer gravel and materials to be dug and carried away from certain lands in his occupation in Horstead, ORDERED that the surveyor give notice to the said F H Batchelor to suffer the same to be dug and carried away, or to proceed in case of refusal according to the directions of the said Act.

Gravel was paid for at the rate of 3d. a load of 20 bushels. A considerable amount came from Mousehold, and I think also from the rough land at the top of the hill beyond Crostwick Common, where there are signs of workings.
In places the road was diverted or straightened:—

1797. Ordered that the road be carried across the lands of John Morse. Esquire, in the parish of Sprowston, as the same is now set out and consented to by the said John Morse.

The disadvantage of overhanging trees was appreciated:—

1797. Ordered that the surveyor mark all such trees and pollards as stand on or near the said road within the distance prescribed by the General Turnpike Act, and give notice to the owners of such trees or the occupiers of the lands whereon they stand to take down same.

Judging by reprimands in the minutes there appears, to have been a praiseworthy reluctance on the part of some of the landowners to comply with this edict—some anxiety, let us hope, for the preservation of rural England.


The beck on Crostwick Common was a continual source of trouble. It was crossed by a ford only, and weeds below held up the water. The following orders tell the story:—

1793 Ordered that the surveyor give notice to the surveyors of the highways for the parish of Crostwick to open the river in a proper manner from the said turnpike road on Crostwick Common through the meadows of John Richard Dashwood and Henry Palmer Watts. Esquires, down to the cross-road and foot bridge between - the houses of Mr. Dashwood and Mr. Watts.

1800. Ordered that the treasurer pay Joseph Slipper £6 12s. 8d. for a bill for making a bridge of wood at Crostwick run of water.

1802. It having been found injurious to the road that there is no bridge over the water at Crostwick, Ordered that a bridge be built over the same and that proposals be received for building it and referred to Thomas Blake, jun., Esquire, to make an agreement for doing thereof, and that as the expence will fall heavy on the fund of. the trust, such gentlemen as are resident and travelling the said road be requested to join in a subscription towards the building same.

1802. Where as..... a bridge having been built in pursuance of an agreement made by the said J. Blake with Jeremiah Huson the expence whereof amounts to £46 5s. 0d., Ordered that the treasurer pay the same sum to Jeremiah Huson in honour of a draft drawn by the said J. Blake for the same.

The bridge met with disaster in 1809, as it was apparently destroyed in a flood in January, when Norwich suffered inundation. In January, 1810, the executors of Joseph Slipper, carpenter, were paid "£7. 10s. 81/2d. for materials and labour at the temporary bridge at Crostwick." When and by whom the permanent bridge was erected the minute books give no information.

The grading of hills and rounding of corners were undertaken by the trust:—

1826. Complaint having been made of the Hill at Coltishall being dangerous to travellers, and Mr. Atkins having consented to take away the spare mould without any expence to the trust, the same being filled for him, Ordered that Mr. Garratt Taylor Knott, the surveyor, be directed to proceed in lowering the Hill from 6 to 9 feet as may be most advisable.
1815. Ordered that the road at the angle at Scottow Horseshoes, be so rounded, off that the Turnpike road may more plainly appear.


There can be but few passers-by who have not asked the reason for the large arch which spans the road in Westwick. It appears now to perform no useful function whatever, A minute may possibly give a clue to the answer:—

1800. Complaint having been, made at this meeting that the swing gates across the road at the entrances of Mr. Petre's Park have been lately broken, pulled down, spoilt and injured. Ordered that the clerk cause notices to be placed upon the different gates on the said road for punishing such offenders according to the directions of the Act of Parliament.

It would seem and old estate maps can no doubt confirm or correct this statement—that then or at an earlier date this imposing archway, like those at  Gunton, formed the entrance to a large park, extending much further to the west and traversed by hedgeless highways. Later on the west part of this area was disparked and the roads enclosed. There must have been a swing gate at the arch and a corresponding one at the north side of Westwick woods, where now stand two cottages, one on each side of the road.

The Causeway - Westwick Pond / Captain's Pond

The road by Westwick Lake was early regarded as a danger point, and in 1798 the trustees ordered their surveyor to get out an estimate for and to erect "posts and a rail on each side of the road going between the ponds of John Berriey Petre Esquire," These proved insufficient: —

1799. Ordered that the posts and rails on one side of the road lying between the ponds be continued some way further towards North Walsham about 40 yards the road not being in the present situation safe for travellers, and the road to the same be levelled on the side of the same. (A photograph, of this causeway road appears elsewhere in this issue.)

Only once was there trouble at the northern extremity of the turnpike, and that was in connexion with the paving in North Walsham, where apparently that township and the trustees did not see eye to eye. The road here was probably paved with cobble stones, and was in need of repair, and the trustees decided to do the work, applying the park's composition money for statute duty towards the expense. What happened in the meantime is not disclosed by the minute books, but there was evidently some dispute as years later this minute occurs:—

1806. Ordered that the surveyor of the Highways for the parish of North Walsham be applied to to repair the pavement at the entrance of the town, and that unless the same is gone, in the course of one calendar month from the day of this meeting, it is further ordered that the surveyor of this road do cause the stones of the pavement to be taken up and sold under the directions of the Trustees and the road made good and put in proper repair up to the King's Arms.

As the Rev. Thomas Lloyd, the trustee presiding at this meeting, lived in North Walsham it is to be hoped that he was able to guide his townsmen and fellow trustees into the paths of peace.

In 1812 the term granted by the Act for making the road was drawing to a close, and it was decided to apply to Parliament for a renewal. A supplementary Act was passed, costing the Trust £401. During the 29 years covered by the minute books the subscribers received either 4 per cent or 5 per cent interest on their capital, which was not a bad return, having regard to the dearness of money during and after the Napoleonic wars. When the road was disturnpiked I have no information. Let us hope that the successors of the original public-spirited subscribers had their loans repaid in full.

Feeling that these books ought not to remain in private ownership I propose to consult with the Norfolk Record Society about their deposit.