The following are extracts
from the appendix to volume 2 of Daniel Defoe’s Tour Through the Whole
Island of Great Britain, first published between 1724 and 1726.
Defoe, the author of Robinson
Crusoe, Moll Flanders, and A Journal of the Plague Year, made
13 tours through England and Scotland, in the early 18th century.
Each journey, which by car
today could be accomplished in a weekend, was a major expedition by horse or
carriage over the roads of the time.
The agricultural revolution
had already occurred and the industrial revolution was just starting.
The ancient tracks, which had sufficed for farmers to carry their goods
to the local market, were totally inadequate for the newly productive farmers of
the shire counties. Vast quantities of cattle, sheep and dairy produce had to be
transported to feed the new London masses.
Defoe did not need to
speculate about what should be done. He only needed to look about him.
Previously roads had been
built and maintained by local parishes and travellers used them without charge.
In 1667 Parliament had started passing Turnpike Acts to encourage the
construction of toll roads all over the country. By 1720 many had been
built but many more were still needed.
There was no comparison
between collective and private provision. The latter resulted in better
roads, and the resulting time savings and improvement in the condition of goods,
more than outweighed the modest tolls.
We need a Defoe today to
explain how paying for roads would again benefit us all - how charges would
discourage frivolous trips, pay for themselves in time saved if the journey was
important, and limit the pollution of this beautiful country by tarmac and car
Jim Thornton 31 May 2004
The reason for my taking notice of this
badness of the roads, through all the midland counties, is this; that as these
are counties which drive a very great trade with the city of London, and with
one another, perhaps the greatest of any county in England; and that, by
consequence, the carriage is exceeding great, and also that all the land
carriage of the northern counties necessarily goes through these counties, so
the roads had been plow'd so deep, and materials have been in some places so
difficult to be had for the repair of the roads, that all the surveyors rates
have been able to do nothing; nay, the very whole country has not been able to
repair them; that is to say, it was a burthen too great for the poor farmers;
for in England it is the tenant, not the landlord, that pays the surveyors of
This necessarily brought the country to bring these things before the
Parliament; and the consequence has been, that turnpikes or toll-bars have
been set up on the several great roads of England, beginning at London, and
proceeding thro' almost all those dirty deep roads, in the midland counties
especially; at which turn-pike all carriages, droves of cattle, and travellers
on horseback, are oblig'd to pay an easy toll; that is to say, a horse a
penny, a coach three pence, a cart four pence, at some six pence to eight
pence, a waggon six pence, in some a shilling, and the like; cattle pay by the
score, or by the head, in some places more, in some less; but in no place is
it thought a burthen that ever I met with, the benefit of a good road
abundantly making amends for that little charge the travellers are put to at
Several of these turn-pikes and tolls had been set up of late years, and great
progress had been made in mending the most difficult ways, and that with such
success as well deserves a place in this account: And this is one reason for
taking notice of it in this manner; for as the memory of the Romans, which is
so justly famous, is preserv'd in nothing more visible to common observation,
than in the remains of those noble causeways and highways, which they made
through all parts of the kingdom, and which were found so needful, even then,
when there was not the five hundredth part of the commerce and carriage that
is now: How much more valuable must these new works be, tho' nothing to
compare with those of the Romans, for the firmness and duration of their work?
So that on the whole, this custom prevailing, 'tis more probable, that our
posterity may see the roads all over England restor'd in their time to such
perfection, that travelling and carriage of goods will be much more easy both
to man and horse, than ever it was since the Romans lost this island.
Nor will the charge be burthensome to any body; as for trade, it will be
encourag'd by it every way; for carriage of all kind of heavy goods will be
much easier, the waggoners will either perform in less time, or draw heavier
loads, or the same load with fewer horses; the pack-horses will carry heavier
burthens, or travel farther in a day, and so perform their journey in less
time; all which will tend to lessen the rate of carriage, and so bring goods
cheaper to market.
The fat cattle will drive lighter, and come to market with less toil, and
consequently both go farther in one day, and not waste their flesh, and heat
and spoil themselves, in wallowing thro' the mud and sloughs, as now is the
The sheep will be able to travel in the winter, and the city will not be
oblig'd to give great prizes to the butchers for mutton, because it cannot be
brought up out of Leicestershire and Lincolnshire, the sheep not being able to
travel: the graziers and breeders will not be oblig'd to sell their stocks of
weathers cheap in October to the farmers within 20 miles of London, because
after that they cannot bring them up; but the ways being always light and
sound, the grasiers will keep their stocks themselves, and bring them up to
market, as they see cause, as well in winter as in summer.
Another benefit of these new measures for repairing the roads by turnpikes, is
the opening of drains and water-courses, and building bridges, especially over
the smaller waters, which are oftentimes the most dangerous to travellers on
hasty rains, and always most injurious to the roads, by lying in holes and
puddles, to the great spoiling the bottom, and making constant sloughs,
sometimes able to bury both man and horse; 'tis very remarkable that the
overseers of these works take effectual care to have bridges built in such
places, and currents made or opened for the waters to pass, by which abundance
of labour is sav'd in constantly tending the waters on such occasions; but of
this also we shall more presently. ...
This improving of the roads is an infinite improvement to the towns near
London, in the convenience of coming to them, which makes the citizens flock
out in greater numbers than ever to take lodgings and country-houses, which
many, whose business call'd them often to London, could not do, because of the
labour of riding forward and backward, when the roads were but a little dirty,
and this is seen in the difference in the rents of houses in those villages
upon such repair'd roads, from the rents of the like dwellings and lodgings in
other towns of equal distance, where they want those helps, and particularly
the encrease of the number of buildings in those towns, as above.
This probably has not been the least reason why such tolls are erected now on
every side of London, or soon will be, and I doubt not but in time it will be
the like all over England. ...
The benefit of these turnpikes appears now to be so great, and the people in
all places begin to be so sensible of it, that it is incredible what effect it
has already had upon trade in the countries where it is more compleatly
finish'd; even the carriage of goods is abated in some places, 6d. per hundred
weight, in some places 12d. per hundred, which is abundantly more advantage to
commerce, than the charge paid amounts to, and yet at the same time the
expence is paid by the carriers too, who make the abatement; so that the
benefit in abating the rate of carriage is wholly and simply the tradesmens,
not the carriers.
Yet the advantage is evident to the carriers also another way; for, as was
observ'd before, they can bring more weight with the same number of horses,
not are their horses so hard work'd and fatigued with their labour as they
were before; in which one particular 'tis ackowledg'd by the carriers, they
perform their work with more ease, and the masters are at less expence.
The advantage to all other kinds of travelling I omit here; such as the safety
and ease to gentlemen travelling up to London on all occasions, whether to the
term, or to Parliament, to court, or on any other necessary occasion, which is
not a small part of the benefit of these new methods.
Also the riding post, as well for the ordinary carrying of the mails, or for
the gentleman riding post, when their occasions requires speed; I say, the
riding post is made extreamly easy, safe, and pleasant, by this alteration of
I mention so often the safety of travelling on this occasion, because, as I
have observ'd before, the commissioners for these repairs of the highways have
order'd, and do daily order, abundance of bridges to be repair'd and enlarg'd,
and new ones built, wher they find occasion, which not only serve to carry the
water off, where it otherwise often spreads, and lies as it were, damm'd up
upon the road, and spoils the way; but where it rises sometimes by sudden
rains tpo a dangerous height; for it is to be observ'd, that there is more
hazard, and more lives lost, in passing, or attempting to pass little brooks
and streams, which are swell'd by sudden showers of rain, and where passengers
expect no stoppage, than in passing great rivers, where the danger is known,
and therefore more carefully avoided. ...
I could enlarge here upon the convenience that would follow such a restoring
the ways, for the carrying of fish from the sea coasts to the inner parts of
the kingdom, where, by reason of the badness of the ways, they cannot now
carry them sweet; This would greatly encrease the consumption of fish in its
season, which now for that very reason, is but small, and would employ an
innumerable number of horses and men, as well as encrease the shipping by that
These, and many others, are the advantages to our inland commerce, which we
may have room to hope for upon the general repair of the roads, ...