Paving the way for Bath’s visitors.

Nice to welcome a new contributor to the Virtual Museum of Bath. Ken Tatem is a local historian  who retired after 41 years in the Environment Agency and its predecessors. He was a Flood Risk Manager and Technical Specialist with particular expertise in the Bristol River Avon and is still consulted on flood issues. Ken is a member of the Mayor of Bath’s Corps of Honorary Guides – something he has enjoyed doing for the last three years. 

It’s interesting to read how local roads were funded and  managed. Maybe – if a future local administration ever considered ‘congestion charges’ the toll booths of old might re-open!

Once upon  time you had to pay to use this route into town!
Once upon time you had to pay to use this route into town!

In the 17th and 18th centuries, Bath’s need for visitors resulted in the roads leading into Bath being amongst the first in England to be turnpiked. This involved an Act of Parliament setting up a Trust empowered to erect gates for the collection of tolls for road improvement and maintenance. In 1707, Bath’s Turnpike Trust was set up for the purpose of improving the narrow, rutted, stony and flooded roads, which could be impassable in winter. The early responsibility was for the western end of the Great Western Road from London to Bath Spa, and a network of roads radiating into North Somerset and South Gloucestershire. Within Bath itself, turnpike gates were situated at Widcombe, on the Upper and Lower Bristol Road, on Lansdown Hill, and on the London Road.

Later important Turnpike Trusts controlling roads in Bath’s vicinity included the Bristol Trust on the A4 west in 1727, Cirencester and Bath Trust on the old A46 in 1743, Black Dog Trust on the A36 in 1752, and the Bradford Trust on the A363 in 1792. The 1757 Bricker’s Barn Trust from Box was taken over by the Bath Trust in order to improve the Box Hill Road as the alternative to the Kingsdown Road as the principal road from the east.

Daniel Defoe, writing between 1724 and 1726, says “turnpikes or toll-bars have been set up on several great roads of England, beginning at London, and proceeding thro’ almost all those dirty deep roads,….the benefits of a good road abundantly making amends for that little charge the travellers are put to at the turnpikes.” Whatever Defoe thought, from the outset, turnpikes were deeply unpopular. Occasionally, mobs would set out to smash the gate, the gatekeeper’s life sometimes being at risk. Often, gates were closed at night whilst the gatekeeper got a good night’s sleep.

Travel in the 18th Century was also at risk from robbers, and Bath was not without its Highwaymen. In December 1746, the Bath Journal reported that the Bristol stage was held up by two highwaymen. One notorious highwayman, John Poulter, who was eventually caught and hanged, lived in the old chapel at Chapel Plaister near Box. Beau Nash employed agents to try to catch robbers operating close to the city.

John Palmer’s Royal Mail coaches became a regular service, with the first coach passing through Bath in August 1784, and it was decided that they would pass through turnpikes free of charge. They blew horns to warn of their imminent arrival at toll-gates, and gate keepers were expected to open the gates without delaying the coaches. Obviously this led to some disagreements between coach drivers and gate keepers, and one recorded incident of a coach guard killing the toll-keeper by discharging his blunderbuss during an argument.

Because of the concern for security of the tolls collected at tollgates, the trusts constructed tollhouses next to the gates. The distinctive shape of toll-houses is to provide a bay window to give a view up and down the road. The position of the windows also discourages toll paying avoidance, as passers-by are aware that they can be seen. Although most toll-houses around Bath have been demolished, the structures of some can still be seen.

Bath Turnpike Trust

The 1841 census shows that gate keepers living in the toll-houses were often female, sometimes living alone, sometimes with their family including a husband pursuing some other occupation. Early 19th Century toll leases for many of the toll-houses describe them as having ‘a weighing machine and wash-house.’

As travellers neared Bath from London on the Box Road, they passed a series of toll-houses. The first of these was the now demolished Bathford Toll-house, situated between Eastwoods and the Bathford Nurseries. Mentioned in ‘Paterson’s Roads’ of 1829, but not in the 1841 census, it was probably short-lived. Further on in Batheaston they would encounter the ‘Batheaston Bar’ shown on George Manners’ 1827 map at the junction with Bannerdown Road.

Grosvenor Toll House 1862
Grosvenor Toll House 1862. Click on images to enlarge.

Next they would reach the Bailbrook Toll-house near the parish border between Swainswick and Batheaston. The toll-house is depicted in an 1830 lithograph which shows Brown’s Folly in the distance, thus fixing it to the south side of the London Road.
Further west, travellers would meet the Grosvenor Toll-house, built in the 1820’s, and situated on the north side of the road at the junction with St Saviours Road. In 1819 the toll-gate is called ‘London Gate, Parish of Walcot’, and is described as having a weighing engine and a brewhouse.

What's left of the former Grosvenor toll house.
What’s left of the former Grosvenor toll house.

There are earlier references to ‘London Gate’ and ‘Walcot Turnpike’ before the Toll-house at no. 1 The Balustrade, now occupied by estate agents, was built.
The historical map of Georgian Bath also shows a turnpike on the London Road at the junction with Snow Hill, with a possible toll-house on the north side, but no other source mentions this.

On the road from Westgate, towards Bristol, a long-lost Toll-house and smithy is shown in a 1903 photo on the north of the road, at the junction with Marlborough Lane. On the western side of the junction with Park Lane, Manners’ 1827 turnpike map shows a toll-house. Searle’s 1930s book mentions a toll-house on the Upper Bristol Road in 1770, but it’s not known which one he’s referring to. 1823 toll returns refer to the ‘Blue Lodge Toll Gate’ or ‘Upper Bristol Road Toll Gate’. Blue Lodge itself was a short distance up Park Lane, then known as Weston Lane. Both the 1841 and the 1871 Census mention a ‘Toll House’ in the Ecclesiastical District of All Saints Weston. This was probably on the Upper Bristol Road towards Newbridge, but its location is unknown.

South of the River, a turnpike stood on the Lower Bristol Road, with a possible toll-house on the corner where 13 Angel Place stands. ‘Bristol Gate’ or ‘Twerton Gate’ Toll-house demolished in mid 20th century stood on the east corner of Brook Road.

On the road between Widcombe and the Old Bridge, Manners’ 1827 map, and Godwin’s 1816 map show Widcombe Gate or Claverton Gate on the junction of Claverton Street, Lyncombe Hill and St Mark’s Road, next to St Mark’s Church. Godwin’s and Manners maps also show ‘Bathwick Gate’, at the beginning of Pulteney Road, adjacent to Widcombe Baptist Church.

Bloomfield Road
Bloomfield Road

The road to Radstock had turnpikes at two locations near Bath. At the junction of Bloomfield Road and Englishcombe Lane on the Old Radstock Road, the toll-house building still exists as part of Westfield Cottage, no. 150 Bloomfield Road. Holloway Gates toll-house stood at the junction of Bloomfield Road and Wellsway. When Wellsway, then known as the new Wells Road, was built, it included New Wells Gate.

Bathwick Toll House
Bathwick Toll House

The ‘Lansdown Gate & Bar, Parish of Walcot’ toll-house was on the east side of Lansdown Road where it joined Richmond Road. Along with the family of the gate-keeper it housed a wash-house and well-house.

Combe Hill Gate and Toll-house stood where Brassknocker Hill meets Claverton Down Road, these two roads being turnpiked under the 1757/59 Acts. Closer to Bath, on the Avenue, opposite Copseland, The Roundhouse includes the building of the Bath to Claverton Down toll-house.
Bath’s Turnpike Trust continued to take tolls until 1878.

Other Trusts

Tollhouse at Lower Swainswick
Tollhouse at Lower Swainswick

The Cirencester and Bath Trust’s Swainswick Toll-House can be seen on the old A46 at Lower Swainswick, opposite Deadmill Lane. A 20th Century extension has been built on the rear of the 1784 original, whose door has been blocked in.

Black Dog Trust turnpiked the old Warminster to Bath road in 1752. The Midford Toll House built about 1770 still stands. It was attacked in 1853 by those who objected to tolls, damage including theft of the turnpike gates, and shooting out of the toll-house lamp and window. An 1852 map also shows that the Trust had a Bathampton Toll-house on the south side of what is now the A36, at St George’s Hill Bathampton.

What remains of Bradford Trust’s Toll House is a feature connected to a modern bungalow on the corner of the Bradford Road just past the turning to Warleigh on the right as you drive from Bathford. Built in the late 18th Century, the remains are roofless, and with blocked windows and door. The 1861 census calls it ‘Lime Pit Gate’.


Until Pulteney Bridge was built in 1770, the Old Bridge on the site of today’s Churchill Bridge was the only bridge over the River Avon. New bridges were built with associated toll houses, Cleveland Bridge 1827, North Parade Bridge 1835, Halfpenny Bridge 1862 and in the 1850s, Bathampton Toll-house.

Cleveland Bridge
Cleveland Bridge

H. E. Godridge’s 1827 Cleveland Bridge, connecting the Bathwick estate to the London Road included a Greek style lodge on all four abutments. Only one, most likely the lodge on the south-west corner, was the toll-house. June Ward’s article in Guidelines No. 67 describes the interior of the toll-house.

Cleveland Bridge - but no one is collecting tolls anymore!
Cleveland Bridge – but no one is collecting tolls anymore!

The 1835 ‘toll collector’s residence’ for North Parade Bridge was built in the north west corner of the bridge, and was matched by a building enclosing a staircase on the east.

The proprietors and toll-keeper of the Halfpenny Bridge or Widcombe Footbridge were found guilty of the manslaughter of up to 12 people who died in the 1877 collapse of the bridge. Some 100 people had arrived at Bath Spa station, and were crossing the bridge to reach an agricultural show on Beechen Cliff. Apparently the toll-keeper insisted on closing the tollgate and collecting the tolls, which led to the excessive number of people standing on the bridge. The 3 storey 1862 toll-house stands at the south-west corner of the rebuilt bridge.

The Bathampton toll-bridge dates from the 1850s. The house on the north-west side of the bridge was built for the Bridge Company Turnpike Trust, and tolls are still collected from there today.
Grid References:
Bathford ST 791674
Batheaston ST 781675
Bailbrook ST 769668
Grosvenor ST 759662
Snow Hill ST 754658
Upper Bristol Road ST 743651
Blue Lodge ST 737653
Lower Bristol Road ST 748643
Twerton ST 734646
Claverton Street ST 753643
Bathwick ST 755643
Old Radstock Road ST 744632
Holloway ST 746638
Lansdown ST 748660
Combe Hill ST 778632
Round House ST 770642
Swainswick ST 763673
Midford ST 762607
Bathampton ST 768659
Bradford Road ST 788663

Turnpikes and Toll-bars, Mark Searle 1930
The Toll-houses of Somerset Janet Dowding & Patrick Taylor 2013
Census 1871
Ordnance Survey Historical map & guide to Georgian Bath 1985
Travelling Hopefully, Kirsten Elliott Guidelines 60,61. in Somerset.htm