The Turnpike Controversies

When the burghers of Bristol petitioned Parliament to be allowed to erect gates and turnpikes on the highways leading out of the city and to charge tolls for their maintenance, the grounds given in the subsequent Act of Parliament (13 Geo 1, c.12, 1726) was that they had become “ruinous and bad (in the winter season)”.  On the highway leaving the city to the southwest, they sought to do this as far as “Broadfield Down, in the parish of Winford”.  So, the last turnpike on this route would have been in the vicinity of the Airport Tavern at Lulsgate.

Although the Bristol Turnpike Trust was empowered by the Act to charge tolls for 21 years from 24 Jun 1727, the project did not fare well.  There was much, often violent, opposition especially from local mining and farming communities.  Both objected to being charged for moving their produce to market in order to make the highways more comfortable for the gentry to travel in their carriages.  Despite the imposition of increasingly onerous penalties, they repeatedly destroyed the turnpike gates and burnt down the turnpike houses.  The colliers of Kingswood at this time have been described as “a set of ungovernable people”.

The Trust fared no better after a second Act was passed in 1831 (4 Geo 2, c.22).  Its purpose was to “explain and amend” the earlier Act.  The Board of Trustees was increased in number and the various highways radiating from Bristol were subdivided.  Responsibility for the care of each one was allocated to a sub-group of trustees.  The right to levy tolls was granted for 21 years from 24 Jun 1731 and the Winford Road tolls again ended at Broadfield Down.  Beyond there, responsibility for the maintenance of the highway remained with the parishes through which it ran.

Hostilities continued and the Trust remained largely inoperable.  Towards the end of their concession, the trustees and wealthy citizens of Bristol petitioned Parliament to renew the Trust and to extend its control of the highways further into Gloucestershire and Somerset.  This resulted in a new Act (22 Geo 2, c.28), which was passed in 1748 and came into effect for 21 years from 24 Jun 1749.

Many new trustees were appointed and, in an attempt to defuse the hostility of the colliers, carts of coal were to travel free.  Elements of the rural population remained violently opposed.  They repeatedly attacked the newly installed turnpike at Ashton Gate (a highway not previously subject to tolls) and set fire to an official’s house in Dundry.  For this last offence, two men were hanged at Illchester Assizes.  Other rioters were indicted, some dying of smallpox in Taunton goal while awaiting trial.

It was this Act that extended the Winford turnpike road across Broadfield Down, down Redhill, over Perry Bridge, through Langford and Churchill to Cross and Weare, following the long-established coaching route.  In Wrington Village Records (1969, page 83)[1], Frances Neale records that the trustees wished to take a different route across Broadfield Down and through Wrington village.  This was supported by the inn keepers and tradesmen of Wrington but vehemently opposed by the rector, the Rev. Henry Waterland, whose view eventually prevailed.

A study of the John Rocque map of the Broadfield tithing of Wrington Estate,[2] surveyed in 1739, reveals four tracks radiating out over the Down from Lulsgate Bottom.  One goes to Winford, one along Downside to Brockley Coombe, the one marked “Road from Bristol to Exeter” follows the line of the A 38 (prior to its recent excursion around the end of the Airport runway), and the fourth is marked “Road from Bristol to Wrington”.  This last is the likely alternative route of the proposed turnpike.  On the Down, its line has long been lost, first through the 1813 Enclosures and more recently under the Airport apron and runways.  But it crossed to Goblin Coombe to pick up the track that leads onto Old Hill and down to Branches Cross.  Think how different our local landscape would have been if the A 38 had followed this route and it had been Wrington that needed to be bypassed in the inter-war years rather than Lower Langford.

When he was appointed general-surveyor to the Bristol Trust in 1816, John McAdam found it to be poorly managed and its roads in bad repair.  However, it had clearly overcome many of its earlier difficulties.  The resulting improvement to local transport must have been a factor that contributed to the building by minor gentry of a significant number of houses in and around Wrington and Langford in the latter part of the eighteenth century.

John Gowar
(23 Dec 2015)

[1] See the History pages of the Wrington village website:
Also Michael Lawder’s article of November 2000: “Why we have no main road through the village”

[2] An image of the map can be accessed via the Map section of this website.  Note that North is to the left.