By act of parliament in 1555, the parish was made responsible for the upkeep of roads. It appointed a surveyor and all able-bodied men were required to give their labour each year for roads maintenance. As the size of parishes and their populations varied hugely, so did road standards, though mainly from the dire to the impassable.
In the seventeenth century, turnpike trusts, managed by justices of the peace and local worthies, began to take over responsibility for roads between major towns. They erected toll gates – physical barriers across the road – often on the edge of villages, and coaches, carts and those driving animals had to pay to pass through. Pedestrians passed without charge. The money raised was used to improve the road. Not surprisingly though, they were resented by many and, in some parts of the country, led to riots, convictions and even transportation to Australia.
The turnpikes must have led to some improvement as, in his General View of the Agriculture in Cheshire of 1808, Henry Holland felt able to write that: 'Though the roads in Cheshire are, generally speaking, far from being good, they are greatly better than they were 200 years ago'.
The arrival of the railways sounded the death knell for the turnpike trusts, with many running up huge debts as their income collapsed. The 1888 Local Government Act transferred responsibility for roads to county councils and county boroughs.
Audlem was at the junction of two turnpike roads which were created in 1767. The Whitchurch and Madeley turnpike (now the A525) and the Nantwich and Hinstock turnpike (now the A529). Tollgate Drive is a reminder of the toll gates which once existed at the junction of Shropshire Street, Green Lane and Whitchurch Road. Other visible local reminders include tollgate cottages in Hatherton and in Broad Lane, on the edge of Nantwich.
Thanks to Keith Lawrence for a fascinating and entertaining tour through a huge subject.
The next meeting is on 16 March when another well-known local historian, Graham Dodd, will give a talk entitled 'A celebration of salt: the Nantwich brine industry'.
Jeremy Nicholls. 27 February 2017
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