By the 17th century, roads throughout England were in a very poor state. In theory parishioners had to give three or four days free work for the maintenance of
high roads which passed through their parish. In practice, no-one likes to work for nothing, and maintenance was skimped.
By the turn of the 18th century a solution to the problem was found by groups of landowners and other wealthy people agreeing to finance the improvement and
resurfacing of roads in return for the right to charge each user. For each stretch of road an Act of Parliament was required to authorise what became know as turnpike trusts. Between
1708-1750 more than 400 Road Acts were passed.
Hungerford lay at an important junction of several roads:
- the east-west London to Bath road, which became
Speenhamland to Marlborough Turnpike,
- the north-south Oxford to Salisbury road, which
became the Besselsleigh to
Turnpike and the Hungerford to Leckford
Sousley Water Turnpike.
- the north-west road to Swindon, which
the Swindon to Hungerford Turnpike.
The setting up of Turnpike Trusts all took many years, partly due to opposition from users who did not wish to pay for improvements and from others with vested
interests. There were twelve Acts passed between 1707 and 1756 for improvements to the complete length of the road from London to Bath (via Chippenham) - and this for one of the country's
In rural west Berkshire and Wiltshire improvements came later than in towns. The road from Newbury to Marlborough, passing through Hungerford and Savernake was
said to be so dreadfully muddy that it was almost impassable in spring and autumn as well as in winter, and so narrow in places that coaches and carriages could not pass each other.
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The Speenhamland to Marlborough Turnpike:
An Act, the Speenhamland to Marlborough Turnpike Act, for repairing and widening this road was passed in 1726, but little seems to have been done to improve the road until a renewal act was obtained in 1744.
Until then an alternative route, known as the Ramsbury Narrow Way, continued to be well-used. This route split from the modern A4 east of Hungerford, passed
along Radley Bottom, Leverton, to Ramsbury, then from the west side of Ramsbury Manor along what is now named "Sound Bottom" on the OS maps.
It is marked clearly on Ogilby's map of 1670, part of which is shown on the right. Click the image for a higher quality image.
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The 1726 Speenhamland to Marlborough Trust included
two Earls, a Baron, a Viscount and four Baronets amongst its trustees, and the wording of their act made it clear that they intended to stand no nonsense from the peasantry! All
persons who by law were chargeable towards repairing the roads should remain chargeable and do their respective works as before they ought to have done, it said, and there was no mention
When this trust was renewed in 1744, another clause was inserted saying that parish surveyors must bring lists of names of persons obliged to do statue work
and that the trustees would allot work as they saw fit. Each team of men and horses was to work three days a year and the fines imposed for each day of absence were three shillings for
each horse and one shilling and sixpence for each labourer.
Toll gates were set up as soon as each trust went into action, and often consisted of a temporary barrier until a proper gate had been made and erected. The
gate-keeper too might have to put up with a makeshift shelter until his cottage was built.
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Each trust usually erected two main gates placed at strategic positions across their piece or road, but not necessarily at either end. Their
aims were to catch as many travellers as possible and to try to prevent them from taking alternative routes.
The Speenhamland to Marlborough Trust specified a gate on the section of road passing through the north of Kintbury parish, between the smith's shop and the
lane leading to Ramsbury (i.e. the old road through Radley Bottom and Leverton), but this gate was later moved a mile to the east into Welford parish near the Halfway House. This trust
also had a gate about 1½ miles west of Froxfield, near Harrow Farm.
The tollhouse near Halfway (about one mile east of the Kintbury crossroads) is thought to have been demolished c1962-64.
Milestones are another potent reminder of the days of turnpike trusts. Each trust adopted its own style of milestone. They began to be erected in the 1740s.
The adjacent photograph shows one of the Speenhamland to Marlborough Trust milestones near Hungerford.
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The Besselsleigh to Hungerford Turnpike: The road north from Hungerford towards Oxford (now the A338) passes
through Wantage, before joining the Swindon to Oxford road (now A420) near the village of Bessels Leigh before reaching the outskirts of Oxford.
This First Act to turnpike this route was passed in 11
Geo3 c97 - 1771, as the "Besselsleigh (or Besselsleigh to Hungerford) Turnpike Act". The Act expired in 1878. The interest bearing debt in 1824 was £4,000 and the income from tolls in the
same year was £325. The length was 22 miles. There were four main gates in 1840, with one side gate or bar.
The Hungerford tollhouse was on Eddington Hill, as the road rises up the
hill out of Eddington village. It is clearly shown (and labelled) on the 1882 OS map.
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The Hungerford to Leckford Sousley Water Turnpike: The road between Oxford and Salisbury was important in the 17th
century, and the road south of Hungerford was soon "turnpiked".
The road was turnpiked (as the "Hungerford to Leckford Sousley Water Turnpike Trust") in 1772 and disturnpiked in
1866 (VCH Wiltshire). (It is thought that Leckford Sousley Water refers to what is now known as Southly Bridge at Collingbourne Ducis). The route went past the Nags Head near Marten, and
on over Fair Mile and Collingbourne Shears. There are several milestones still visible on the verge of the A338 south of Hungerford, and one on the Fair Mile south of Marten
is a Grade II listed monument.
One record suggests that a tollhouse for this turnpike stood just south of Hungeford near the modern entrance to Beacon Farm (at OS ref SU6733), but
further research through original Turnpike Trust documents is needed to be confident on this subject.
There are several milestones still visible on the verge of the A338 south of
Hungerford, and one on the Fair Mile south of Marten is a Grade II listed monument.
The licence for the Hungerford to Leckford Turnpike was sold in 1800. The Reading Mercury of 13
Jan 1800 advertised:
Sale of the Hungerford to Leckford Turnpike licence: "To be Sold for £400: The principal Sum of £480 secured by mortgage of the Tolls,
arising from the Turnpike Road leading from Hungerford in the county of Berks to Leckford, otherwise Soudley Water, in the county of Wilts; Also the sum of £109 7s due on the
21st December 1799, for interest of the said sum of £480.
The Tolls (exclusive of the expences of collecting) amount annually to the sum of £80, and the whole principal
debt on the road amounts only to £986.
The Vendor for the last four years has received £36 9s per annum; and there is every reason to believe that a purchaser would for the
above sum of £400 receive for the Nine succeeding years the annual sum of £36 9s at which time the arrear of interest would be liquidated, and the purchaser will receive
5 per cent for the said principle sum of £486 till the same is paid off.
For the particulars apply to Messrs Hall and Ryley, Attornies, Hungerford.
The Swindon to Hungerford Turnpike:
The route north-west to Swindon (15 miles) was turnpiked in 1814. There were 5 main gates on the route.
The last toll-gate in England closed in 1895.
Water pumps were placed at strategic intervals, especially in towns, to damp the surface and reduce dust and dirt in summer months. Several
photographs of Hungerford show the pumps. One resident (later Mrs Barbara Hope) recalled that "the sound of the watering-cart going up and down the street heralded to us children the
start of summer".