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Preston’s early transport, toll roads and corrupt management

Posted on - 14th May, 2023 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Preston News, Roads, Transport
Walton Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Walton Bridge Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Preston has a long history of being a transport hub. It was an important road junction for the Romans. Later, in the 18th century, toll roads were introduced to improve the state of the main roads. The early toll turnpike trusts were badly regulated and often dishonest and incompetent. However only a few main roads around Preston were toll roads. Most were managed by the local parish and even more haphazardly organised. Transport began by using log boats along the coasts and rivers.

The first transport evidence in the Preston area is a prehistoric log boat found during the Preston Dock excavations. A boat like this would have been used for fishing as well as travelling inland along the Ribble. The prehistoric archaeology of the Preston region is scant, however. As woodland was cleared along the Fylde and the Lancashire plain, farming would have developed. This perhaps, extending back more than 3,000 years. The domestication of the horse, began in Britain at about the same time and chariots were in use by the native tribes when the Romans invaded.

Early roads around Preston

A Roman wagon or cart Pic: The Science Museum
A Roman wagon or cart Pic: The Science Museum

Roads existed in Britain before the Romans arrived and Preston was at an important crossroads. Preston’s location on high ground, near to an East-West and North-South route, was one of the main reasons for its founding. It was also situated on a tidal river and surrounded by good agricultural land. Carts were used by the native tribes, and they were probably similar to the Roman cart, above. However, roads before the Romans were little more than tracks and almost impassable in winter.

Roman road construction

Roman roads were very well built and not surpassed until the 18th century.

Roman road construction Pic: Wikimedia
Roman road construction Pic: Wikimedia

Preston’s early road layout

This map is from the 1600s but the roads were much older Pic: Preston Digital Archive
This map is from the 1600s but the roads were much older Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The early road layout around Preston is shown above. Its strategic location on high ground, becomes apparent.  On the right is the road that goes up the Ribble Valley towards Ribchester. The road on the left heads west, towards the Fylde coast, while the road going north heads towards Lancaster.

Preston’s turnpiked and un-turnpiked roads

Preston in 1863 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston in 1863 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Most roads were not turnpiked, only some of the main roads around Preston. The road towards Blackburn was one that was turnpiked. They were not very popular due to the cost.

The rather romanticised view of Preston, above, was issued by Meyer in 1863. It shows the town from the south. The main railway viaduct can be seen crossing the Ribble. The road in the foreground is unpaved. Un-turnpiked roads were looked after by the local parish. An unpaid, often corrupt surveyor, was appointed. Moreover, forced statute labour was used for maintenance. This involved unwilling paupers, who had to provide six days a year to work on the roads. 

By 1835 the money for road maintenance was raised by a ‘highway rate’, in other words a local tax, like the council tax. Additionally, the surveyor role became paid.

Gradually legislation led to the modern method of road management involving the County and local Councils.

Follow Geoffrey on Twitter for more Preston history.

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