An Article submitted by Tony Boyce from the KINGTON TURNPIKE TRUST
In 1555 an Act of Parliament made individual parishes responsible for road maintenance, but this system was inefficient and, away from Britain’s navigable rivers, the country’s transport was slow, expensive and unreliable. Road conditions were abysmal, particularly during the winter. In the Herefordshire market town of Kington, for instance, the sight of a gentleman’s carriage in times past was so rare that, when one did appear, curious folk followed it for a considerable distance. This, an historian observed, “they were well able to do owing to its slow progress.”
However, things began to change in the second half of the 18th century when turnpike trusts started to make urgently needed improvements. By the mid-1830s some 1,000 trusts controlled 20,000 miles of roads but, with the arrival of the railways, the second half of the 19th century saw a steady decline in their fortunes. Kington Turnpike Trust was no exception in this respect. Established by an Act of 1756, its very early trustees included the Earl of Oxford (a local landowner), Sir John Morgan of Kinnersley Court, John Greenly of Titley, Rev William Bach of Kington, Thomas Prichard of Almeley parish, Henry Mason of Almeley parish, and – all from Kington – John Watkins, James Lloyd Harries, John Griffiths and Richard Hooper. In all, according to Richard Parry in his History of Kington (1845), 86 trustees were appointed. The trust’s first clerk and treasurer was John Jones of Kington, the inaugural meeting being at the White Talbot (now the Lion) in Bridge Street on 24 June 1756, although a few days beforehand the Earl had sought a postponement. This body kept going for 121 years but few of its papers seem to have survived, unlike those of some adjoining trusts.
However, in 1987 David Viner, who went on to become founder chairman of the Milestone Society, produced an article for the Woolhope Naturalists’ Field Club on the subject of the trust and its Kingswood tollhouse, which had been threatened by a road scheme that never came to fruition. In 1995 Jim Sinclair and the Rev Dr Roy Fenn provided further information in The Border Janus: a New Kington History., followed by Muriel Tonkin’s examination of Herefordshire Toll Houses – Then and Now (Woolhope Club Transactions, 1996) .
The trust was responsible for the following roads from Kington:
- To Brilley Mountain (this being part of the road to Hay);
- To Eardisley via Bollingham (extended to Willersley in 1773);
- Through Spond to Almeley Wootton;
- Through Holmes Marsh to Almeley;
- To Eccles Green at Norton Canon via Lyonshall and Sarnesfield;
- To Eardisland via Pembridge;
- Through Titley and Stansbatch to Staple Bar (near Byton Hand);
- To Milton House (near Milton Cross) via Noke Bridge; and
- Along Welch-Hall Lane to the county boundary.
Welch-Hall no longer exists as the name of a lane, but presumably the route (the line of which was amended in the 19th century) was to the Herefordshire-Radnorshire border at Stanner, along either Yeld Lane or what is now the A44. (In his history, Parry states that, according to tradition, originally the only road in this direction was by way of the Yeld, entering Old Radnor parish near Worsel. He refers to_ “an ancient high road to Yeld, Bearsty and Worsel”).
Of these routes, that to Almeley via Spond has fallen by the wayside and the first part of the road to Eardisley has changed course. Originally it left by way of Kingswood Road, but a new line, passing what is now Kington cemetery, was engineered in 1827-8. In the 21st century an octogenerian originally from Almeley recalled his grandparents referring to this as the New Road.
As well as these main routes, the trustees turned their attention to various side roads in order to lessen the avoidance of tolls. Thus, for instance, in 1794 the trust added to its network the road from Pembridge to Stansbatch via Milton Cross and Stockley Cross; the lane from Lyonshall to Titley; and the road from Legion Cross (near Eardisland) to Stretford Bridge.
From the Brilley turnpike, a branch to Huntington was added. The absence of a route to Presteigne will be noted, although there did exist a milestone road from Kington to Radnorshire’s county town via Barton Lane and over the hills to Nash Ford (a Presteigne & Mortimer’s Cross trust road). It was abandoned because of its steep gradients in favour of an easier course through Titley in the 1820s. An isolated Turn Pike Cottage remains at Nash which, when eventually sold off by the Presteigne trust, realised £40.
In 1769 Kington the trustees (also known as commissioners) empowered Richard Hooper to continue a small enclosure made from the turnpike road leading from Weston towards Pembridge and to enclose another small parcel of land in consideration of the fact that “without any gratuity” he had given several parcels of his ground to allow road widening, as well as donating at least 800 cartloads of stone for the completion of 1,300 yards of highway. Sir Thomas Frankland Lewis of Harpton Court in the Radnor Valley recalled that in 1848 when the Kington-Leominster road was under repair, conditions were so bad that the leader of a team of 16 horses hauling stone fell into the mud and had to be pulled out by the other 15 – a spectacle watched by some of the people of Kington.
While much was done to improve the area’s roads John Duncumb, in his 1805 report on Agriculture in the County of Herefordshire, remarked that “the north side of Herefordshire has the worst public roads”. John Clark, in a similar report 11 years earlier, was scathing about the county’s turnpikes and its “uncommon bad roads”. It was not altogether the fault of the turnpike trusts, however, as the upkeep of most roads remained a parish responsibility.
With mud on the roads a problem every winter, in 1845 the Kington trustees considered hiring a sweeping machine for four years (that being the length of time the equipment was estimated to remain in working order). A Manchester company quoted a hire charge of £110. An outlay of this order had to be considered carefully by the trustees, as their accounts for 1843 showed that, while the year’s revenue from tolls amounted to £1,496 19s 4d and overall income was £2,916 2s 9d, the trust’s debts totalled £6,403 5s.
Turnpike gates and cottages
Kington is remarkable in having its five turnpike cottages still intact and in private occupation. These are at:
- Floodgates on the present A44
- Kingswood a listed building at the junction of Bridge Street, Headbook and Kingswood Road
- Headbrook (just within the parish of Lyonshall). Referred to in an indenture of 1837 as “lately erected” by Thomas Griffiths, with the trustees paying an annual peppercorn rent
- Sunset on the road to Presteigne. Probably the last toll cottage to be built in the district, it replaced the original in 1875 and was sold three years later to Thomas Bowen of Portway Villa, Kington, for £35
- Hergest Road. This is some way out of Kington, its location possibly being due to the first part of the road to Brilley having taken another course originally. (Parry’s History of Kington states that, in the early part of the 18th century, the highway from Kington to Brilley and Hay commenced in Mill Street and ran to Hergest Mill. When that was written in 1845, this route had “been discontinued about 100 years”. Herefordshire Studies in Archaeology: the Arrow Valley (2003) notes that one road that did exist on Isaac Taylor’s 1754 map ran through what is now Newburn Farm and linked to the road over Hergest Bridge – on the way to Brilley – this also being marked on maps up to the 1830s as a major route towards Wales).
There was also a toll cottage at the junction of Church Road and Hergest Road, but this was taken out of use in 1857, to be replaced by those at Floodgates and Hergest Road. The building became a grammar school tuckshop, only to be demolished in the mid-1930s because of road widening.
Documents of the 18th and 19th centuries speak of Bridge Gate in Kington, which may be a reference to the Kingswood gate – in 1840 “commonly called Nanny Lane’s”. Away from the town there were many other gates, such as those outside Green Farm at Eccles Green, Norton Canon; Tram Square in Eardisley; close to the turn to Lyonshall at Titley; Legion’s Cross, Eardisland; and near Milton Cross. The precise location of some others is less certain, however. By 1840 the trust was responsible for 45 miles of road, controlled by 12 main gates and six side gates or bars.
These gates were let out to the highest bidder for periods of one or three years. At Kington in 1845 there were 11 categories of toll: by way of example, a horse or mule laden but not drawing a vehicle, paid “one penny half-penny” (1.5d or less than one modern penny) while a laden ass paid 1d. “For every ox, meat cattle, ass or dog drawing any waggon, train, cart, car, or other such carriage, the sum of threepence”. The trust’s last ticket was issued on 31 October 1877, as Kington draper Thomas Skarratt noted in his diary. At the time of its demise the trust had a dozen gates, including the five surrounding Kington.
Receipts from these town gates totalled £391 in 1790, £470 in 1800 and £800 in 1825.
In its final weeks the trust gave notice to highway boards of its intention immediately after winding up to sell its tollhouses, as a result of which Weobley Highway Board urged the trust not to sell the sites of its gates at Eccles Green, Legion’s Cross and a second one in Eardisland parish. Shortly after the trust’s expiry the highway board was informed of an arrangement whereby the house at Legion’s Cross would be allowed to stand, while the other two would be pulled down and their sites added to the road.
Drovers avoided turnpike roads wherever possible and, naturally enough, tolls were not popular with country folk generally, particularly when they had to stump up three times in as many miles, as was the case along the Presteigne-Kington road, on which Radnorshire Turnpike Trust maintained a gate at Corton, the Presteigne trust one at Roddhurst and the Kington trust a gate at Titley, in which village one of the Kington trust’s mileplates survives.
In 1837 Thomas Frankland Lewis told a Parliamentary committee that to take a waggon and five horses the 24 miles from his home in the Radnor Valley to Hereford would cost 12s 6d in tolls, and he argued against any increase in these charges. (The journey to Hereford, if via Norton Canon, would have passed through the territory of three trusts – the Radnorshire, Kington and Hereford, as well as across a Monkland & Parton road – or, if via Eardisley, four trusts)
Norton Canon became so fed up with the condition of the Kington trust’s turnpike through the parish that it removed itself from the trust’s jursidiction and a magistrate, Thomas Monington from Sarnesfield, was asked to bring about a reconciliation. He inspected the road in December 1842, telling the trustees’ clerk, James Davies, that, by this time, its condition had been brought to “a very fair state”. In 1844 Morris Sayce, a Kington land agent and the Wyeside Turnpike Trust’s surveyor, advocated the abolition of tolls in England and Wales, with the substitution of other means for the upkeep of public roads. He died four years later.
It seems that not even fire appliances were exempt from the payment of tolls as a notice published by the Kington Improvement Commissioners in 1859, setting out the scale of charges for calling out the fire brigade, refers to the need to meet incidental expenses such as turnpike tolls.
Parishes which failed to maintain their roads adequately suffered the consequences. Records for Lyonshall show that, early in the 19th century, legal bills were run up as a result of cases against the parish for not repairing its highways going to Hereford Assizes. In 1848 further legal fees had to be paid in connection with the parish surveyor’s appeal against an application by Kington Turnpike Trust for £98 payment from the Lyonshall highway rate. In 1860 four landowners called for “proper repairs” on the road from Strangworth (in Pembridge parish) to Hunton (in Lyonshall), as a result of which the Lyonshall surveyor, Roger Bryan, gave notice of a parish meeting the following April to consider the question of repairs and to examine his accounts for the past year.
Unlike the position in Radnorshire, none of the Kington trust’s minutes, few other papers and none of its milestones, apart from the Titley example, seem to have survived although, in Herefordshire as a whole, the Milestone Society estimates some 250 milestones are still in situ, including a few erected by rural district councils. Well into the 1970s two Kington trust mile markers – small plates attached to wooden posts – were evident at Norton Canon and Sarnesfield, while a milestone is rumoured to be buried in a verge at Lyonshall.
There is a particularly rare relic a little way out of Kington on the road to Presteigne. Under the Turnpike Act of 1767 stones or posts could be installed on those hills where horses over the stipulated number were allowed when hauling vehicles up an incline. Two white-painted boulders at Two Stone Pitch are among the few such “take-off” markers still to be seen in Britain.
On the England-Wales border at Stanner may be found a stone marking the boundary between Herefordshire and Radnorshire, and hence the national border between England and Wales, though not, at the time the stone was sunk, a parish boundary as Old Radnor parish took in land on both sides of the county boundary – still the case in an ecclesiastical context.
The Kington trust’s final treasurer was T.G. Sprague of Mill Street, who was also clerk of Kington Local Board and the Urban Sanitary Authority; the trust’s last clerk was Thomas Price, manager of the Kington & Radnorshire Bank. Mr Price’s Kington Highway Board counterpart was Edmund Hall Cheese, a solicitor who was also the deputy coroner for Herefordshire, clerk to Weobley Highway Board and several other public bodies in that former pocket borough, and secretary to the Kington & Eardisley Railway Co and the Old Radnor Lime, Roadstone & General Trading Co. Like many another highway board clerk, he had several strings to his bow! As well as the long-serving Mr Cheese, an 1891 directory lists the highway board’s chairman as Richard William Banks and Edward Delfosse as its surveyor. Mr Delfosse, who lived at Lyonshall, was also the Kington Improvement Commissioners’ surveyor. At this time the board met quarterly in the Oxford Arms, Kington.
Unelected highway boards, made up of magistrates and waywardens from their constituent parishes, were dissolved in 1894, with responsibility for district roads passing to newly-created and more democratic urban and rural district councils. In Kelly’s 1895 directory Thomas Grafton Sprague is shown as the treasurer of Kington RDC and as clerk to Kington UDC; he was also the Kington and Radnorshire Bank’s manager.
The Kington trust’s neighbours were the Hereford (at one time the most extensive in Britain), Leominster, Blue Mantle Hall, Wyeside, Presteigne, Radnorshire, Monkland & Parton and Kinsham, Kington, Radnor trusts. Running through Kington’s territory rather than adjoining it, the Monkland & Parton road crossed the Kington-Hereford turnpike at Sarnesfield Oak.
A good deal of today’s road network was set in place by such trusts, although the importance of some routes has greatly diminished. In the 21st century the road from Kington to Staple Bar is of no great significance; however, Staple Bar was on the original highway from London to Aberystwyth, which ran through Presteigne but no longer exists for a stretch west of Cascob. Although it can still be followed, the original turnpike from Kington to Builth Wells (a Radnorshire trust road) went through Gladestry and Colva – a hilly route that is little more than a narrow lane in places these days.
Between Hereford and Kington there was an alternative to what is now the main road through Norton Canon. This ran from the city along the Ten Mile Road (a hilly route via Wormesley) to Weobley and then through Bonds Green to Lyonshall. In 1806 Cary’s New Itinerary gave the distance from London’s Tyburn Turnpike to Kington, using this route, as 154 miles – the same as that via Norton Canon. An 1840 directory referred to Weobley as standing on this high road and today the route is all there apart from a short stretch in Lyonshall parish.
Turnpike roads in north-west Herefordshire were sufficiently improved by 1844 for an omnibus service to be started between Kington and Hereford. Its starting point was the Sun Inn, Duke Street (now the premises of Printex). The horse-drawn bus ran every Wednesday and Saturday, returning from the Maidenhead Inn, Hereford, the same evenings.