views updated May 23 2018

turnpikes were a means of financing road maintenance by tolls charged on users, named from the gate used to restrict access. First applied to part of the Great North Road in 1663 on a temporary basis, the principle was employed from 1695 in a series of private Acts to supplant inadequate parish repair under the statute of 1555. Initially administered by justices of the peace, management by trustees was introduced in 1706, and generalized by 1714. Trusts covered on average 30 miles of road, and were a systematic response to traffic growth: most of the thirteen radial routes from London had been turnpiked by 1750, as had much of the network centred on the leading provincial towns of Bristol, Hereford, Worcester, and Leeds. ‘Turnpike mania’ 1750–72 saw the addition of 500 trusts, covering 15,000 miles, and the spread of the system into Wales and Scotland; further peaks occurred in the mid-1790s and 1820s, one-third in the industrial districts of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Turnpiking was limited to trunk and busy urban routes, and covered only 17 per cent of over 126,000 miles of roads by 1838.

Turnpiking represented a major transport innovation in applying use-based revenues to the increased investment that improved road quality. Mortgage finance was used from the 1750s to permit large-scale engineering work, bridge-building, and improvement of both surfaces and lines. The benefits were reflected in reduced travel times: Edinburgh, ten days from London by the fastest coach in 1754, was only four days away by 1776, and 40 hours by 1840. The cost of travel fell substantially in real terms, and road transport became up to three times more productive between the 1690s and the 1840s as a result of turnpiking. National perceptions of distance shifted fundamentally, and travel began to become a consumer good.

J. A. Chartres


views updated May 29 2018


Turnpikes are toll roads: the user pays a fee to travel the road. Only after the user paid the toll would the gatekeeper turn the "pike" or gate to allow the wagon or carriage on to the road. This practice, which was established in England in the 1700s, arrived in the United States in the late 1700s when turnpike companies began surfacing roads and building bridges for a profit. The first American turnpike was built in 1785 in Virginia. The first major U.S. turnpike that was publicly financed was Pennsylvania's Lancaster Road: some 5,000 investors subscribed 30 dollars each to buy shares in the turnpike that was made of stone and gravel and connected Philadelphia to Lancaster. It opened in 1794 after two years of construction. The project inspired similar projects and around the turn of the century hundreds of turnpike companies emerged. They improved existing routes and established new ones; stagecoach travel increased as a result. As a transportation improvement, the toll roads were a big success for the developing nation. As a private business endeavor, however, toll roads proved a failure. Traveler's fees usually covered only maintenance. By 1825 turnpike companies' stocks had become worthless and most companies folded. Thereafter the government began operating toll roads as a way to finance pike projects: those who would use them had to pay fees. In this way, the taxpayer's burden was reduced.

See also: National Road, Wilderness Road


views updated Jun 11 2018

turn·pike / ˈtərnˌpīk/ • n. 1. an expressway, esp. one on which a toll is charged. ∎ hist. a toll gate. ∎  (also turnpike road) hist. a road on which a toll was collected at such a gate.2. hist. a spiked barrier fixed in or across a road or passage as a defense against sudden attack.


views updated Jun 08 2018

turnpike Tollgate or barrier across a road to prevent the passage of travellers or goods until a toll had been paid. The money raised was used to keep main roads in repair. In the UK, the first Turnpike Act (1663) covered only three counties, but turnpike roads became widespread in the 18th century. In 1895, the last turnpike trust closed, although tolls are still levied on certain British roads and road bridges.


views updated May 11 2018

turnpike. See stair.