TURNPIKE ROAD


Farnborough village could never have been isolated. It lay astride the ancient main route leading from London to the Kent coast and Hastings. This was 'turnpiked' to improve the conditions for travel in various stages, starting from the early years of the eighteenth century.

   

The first diagram shows the turnpike roads that developed surrounding London. The beginning of the Hastings Turnpike is shown in yellow leading from London Bridge to New Cross and Deptford.  The painting shows the entrance to the turnpike gates at New Cross,

Bromley to Sevenoaks Turnpike

Farnborough represented the approximate midpoint of the Bromley to Sevenoaks Turnpike, which was established by act of parliament in 1749.  It connected the New Cross to Bromley Turnpike that dated from 1719 with the Sevenoaks to Tonbridge Turnpike dating from 1709. 

The map extracts below are from "An Entirely New & Accurate Survey Of The County Of Kent, With Part Of The County Of Essex", by William Mudge, 1801. They show the roads and turnpike around Farnborough before the 1834 changes (see below).

  Maps: copyright David Hale and the MAPCO : Map And Plan Collection Online website at www.mapco.net.  

The route took the road directly along what is now the A21 Hastings Road from Bromley to enter Farnborough.  From the centre of the village it went down Church Road, past St. Giles Church, then up Old Hill to Green Street Green where it rejoined the line of today's main road.  Shire Lane runs left to right through the centre of the first diagram above. The road down Farnborough Hill is yet to be built.

Old Hill junction with Shire Lane Old Hill Green Street Green 

At this time the surface of Church Road would have been more or less on a level with the churchyard, as the lowering of the carriageway to make the gradient easier for the horses did not occur until 1833, see below. Thus the entire churchyard would require fencing. Today the road is in places several metres below the level of the adjoining surface to both sides.

At Pratts Bottom the Turnpike then turned to the right and proceeded via Knockholt to Dunton Green and Sevenoaks.  The ancient road down Polehill was much too narrow and steep for coaches, and the modern road was not built until the 1830's, see below..

1823 - Improvements in Bromley

 
In 1823 an act was approved to carry out changes in the middle of Bromley.  Several buildings were demolished and others altered. 

The objective was to widen and straighten the turnpike route to make passage easier.  The alterations can be seen in this plan, which reflects the road pattern still evident today
 
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1833 - Lowering of Church Road

In 1833 the level of the road running past St Giles church was lowered to make passage easier for the horse-drawn coaches. The lowered road level can be seen in the modern photographs below, originally the road would have been at the same level as the churchyard, immediately adjacent to the church.


This led to the resiting of the two entrances to St. Giles churchyard.  The original positions are indicated by two arrows pointing toward Church Road in the diagram below. Note that the main part of the churchyard shown in this diagram did not exist at this time. It was added at the very end of the nineteenth century.



1834 - Pratts Bottom to Dunton Green, also changes in Farnborough

This major change diverted the route for several miles between Pratts Bottom and Dunton Green, to use a new easily graded road that had been built down Polehill.  The original Old Polehill road was far too steep and twisty for use by large coaches. It still exists, although now since the advent of the M25 only usable as a cycle route. This change meant that the village of Knockholt no longer benefitted from trade associated with the turnpike, although ironically the new alignment does pass by the later Knockholt station, opened in 1868..

The old and new routes from Pratts Bottom Proposed change in Farnborough

  
Knockholt Station The new descent down Polehill

The second and more minor part of the proposal was to straighten the route through Farnborough Village, again presumably to make passage easier for the coaches.  The plan suggests that the new alignment would have been close to the rear of the New Inn (now the Change of Horses pub), which is known to have had extensive stabling for horses being used on the turnpike. This second change was never carried out.
 

1835 - New branch road near Dunton Green


Associated with this was the provision of a branch road to give access to the new route from  Chevening House

This 115-room mansion, situated near a lake in the midst of a 3,500-acre (1,400 ha) estate, is a three-storey, symmetrical red brick structure in the English Renaissance style. It may have been designed by 17th-century British architect Inigo Jones. . The house was the family seat of the Earls Stanhope. 

The house is now used by Government visitors as a London residence.

The original access to the house from the turnpike is now a 'green lane', but the extension road is now part of the A224.


1840s - Farnborough Hill

The final change was the diversion of the route after Farnborough High Street to use the newly built Farnborough Hill, to take turnpike traffic down into Green Street Green, by-passing the previous route past St. Giles Church.

Farnborough Hill Green Street Green

The new route rejoins the old at the site of the roundbout at Green Street Green by the Rose and Crown pub, which is also where the later Farnborough Bypass rejoins both earlier routes.

VILLAGE HISTORY


Turnpike Roads

Roads, for longer than people could remember, were nothing more than dirt tracks that turned to mud in the winter and baked rock hard in the summer. Either way, movement along these 'roads' was difficult and at certain times of the year, practically impossible.

By law, every parish had to look after the 'roads' that ran through their area. Men were meant to work for 6 days every year to maintain and repair the roads. However, very few villagers travelled, therefore they were not particularly interested in doing this task, especially as it - and roads - seemed to offer them no benefits.



But the growth generated by the start of the industrial revolution meant that a good transport system was needed.

In 1663 Parliament passed what was known as the Turnpike Act. This was originally only used in three counties to see if it worked. The act allowed magistrates to charge people for using roads, and the money raised was spent on properly maintaining them.

The success of this scheme meant that the 1663 Act was the first of hundreds throughout the country. After a slow initial takeup, all of the major routes out of London were turnpiked by 1730. The most rapid growth took place between then and 1770, "Turnpike Mania". By 1838, the peak of the network, there were 30,000 miles of turnpike road throughout England, with 8,000 toll gates and operated by over 1,000 Turnpike trusts.

Differences in topography, access to competing water-borne transport, sources of wealth in the area and proximity to the homes and resorts of the rich made for significant differences in the pattern of turnpike development between counties. The rapid rise in manufacture in the towns of Northern England led to the creation of many totally new routes in the 19th century, whereas in southern counties highways to markets were well established and improvements to existing routes were more likely. 

Coach traffic was likely to bring new business to intermediate towns and some trusts tried to make improvements that would attract traffic through their town. Success in persuading the Mail to use the road would be expected to increase overall traffic, bringing more wealth to the inns and those supplying these hostelries with food, provender and services.

Turnpike Trusts

The various Turnpike Acts empowered private companies called Turnpike Trusts to improve and operate the new roads. The first one was created in 1706, from which time the public was given the opportunity to invest in these companies. The money raised by charging people to use the roads was split between profits for the share holders and the cost of maintaining the roads in the control of the trust.

People had to pay a toll to use the roads. Toll gates were established through which people and carriages had to pass before continuing with their journey. Before turnpike trusts, people had been used to using what passed for roads for free. Now, the roads may have been better but many people objected to paying a toll. Some would even jump over the toll gate to avoid paying. To decrease the chance of this happening, spikes (or pikes) were put at the top of the gates - hence the title turnpike.

By the early Victorian period toll gates were perceived as an impediment to free trade. The multitude of small trusts were frequently charged with being inefficient in use of resources, and potentially suffered from petty corruption.

The railway era spelt disaster for most turnpike trusts. Although some trusts in districts not served by railways managed to increase revenue, most did not. The debts of many trusts became significant: forced mergers of solvent and debt-laden trusts became frequent, and by the 1870s it was feasible for Parliament to close the trusts progressively without leaving an unacceptable financial burden on local communities.



The Highways Act of 1873, and the Local Government Act of 1888 resulted in the winding up of the entire system. Responsibility for maintaining main roads was transfered to county councils and county borough councils. 

The legacy of the turnpike trusts is the network of roads that still form the framework of the main road system in Britain.

Many roadside features such as milestones and tollhouses have survived,despite no longer having any function in the modern road management system.

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