Many main roads (non-motorways), as we know them today, were originally dirt tracks that evolved by folk going from place to place using the easiest possible route. When the Romans invaded the island they straitened and paved roads to enable their armies to move fast – Watling Street from Dover to London (A2) and the Great North Road between London and York (A1) are classic examples of these. From Dover, there were two Roman roads. The first was Watling Street that crossed the River Dour by a ford where Buckland Bridge is today, up Crabble Hill, through Kearsney, Temple Ewell, Lydden and on to Canterbury.
The second road went to Richborough, probably crossing the River Dour where Bridge Street bridge is today and then ran up Frith Road, Old Charlton Road and east over the Downs. Indeed, this is now part of the North Downs Way and a section is still called the Old Roman Road. It is believed by some archaeologists that there was a third Roman Road that went westward, over the cliffs from the town towards the Roman settlement of Lympne.
Travelling, in Saxon and medieval times, was mainly on horseback with merchandise been carried on a packsaddle. The roads followed broadly existing routes but as horses did not like walking on the stone roads that the Roman’s had left the long-term effect were meandering routes. The main road out of Dover was through Biggin Gate and passing between the Maison Dieu and St Martin’s Priory. A record of 1229 refers to a ‘Grant to the Brothers of the Maison Dieu of the porch which they have built in the King’s highway in front of the hospital.’ (Calendar of Charter Rolls 1226-57, p98). The road then continued to the modern junction of Bridge Street and London Road where it split following the two ancient routes.
It was by a third route from the west, over the cliffs to Shakespeare Cliff; across to the Western Heights and entering the town through the Cow Gate, that Elizabeth I (1558-1603) came in the autumn of 1573. From Cow Gate, her entourage passed down a thoroughfare that was then renamed Queen Street in her honour. There were other ways from Folkestone, through Elms Vale and the Dover Priory or via Alkham and Swingfield Minnis.
By this time not only did the roads meander they were almost impassable in wet weather and when it was in dry, they were dusty and very uneven. Under the 1555 Statute of Highways, each person within a parish had to help to repair the roads within for six days under the supervision of a Highway Surveyor. He was chosen each year from among the parishioners but was not paid and often did not feel obliged to maintain the roads to a higher standard than needs of the parish necessitated.
During the Interregnum (1651–1660), Oliver Cromwell tried to introduce a ‘Minister of Roads’ to co-ordinate and oversee for road maintenance but was not successful. Following the Restoration (1660), with the increase use of coach and carriage traffic, it was recognised that something must be done. From 1663 a series of individual Turnpike Acts were passed giving the right to trustees, usually local gentry, employers or/and merchants, to collect tolls to pay for the repair of lengths of roads. The office was a public service and very few trustees expected a return but if any profits were made, they were allowed to keep them. Of interest, the word turnpikes came from the medieval barriers used to prevent animals from passing and were made of two bars topped with pike heads.
The first two Turnpike Acts appertaining to Kent were passed in 1709 and 1711; these were applicable to the west of Kent. By the middle of that century, many other stretches of roads had been turnpiked including, in 1753, the Dover to Barham Downs part of the London road. The first tollhouse in Dover was opposite the present Eagle Inn on London Road that had long marked the boundary of the town. Indeed, it was here that the gallows were erected.
The road, under the jurisdiction of Act, followed the old road crossing the River Dour at Buckland. There in 1799, the River Dour was deepened and narrowed in order to build the brick bridge paid for out of the toll money. The first two Turnpike Acts appertaining to Kent were passed in 1709 and 1711; these were applicable to the west of Kent. By the middle of that century, many other stretches of roads had been turnpiked including, in 1753, the Dover to Barham Downs part of the London road. The first tollhouse in Dover was opposite the present Eagle Inn on London Road that had long marked the boundary of the town. Indeed, it was here that the gallows were erected. The road, under the jurisdiction of Act followed the old road crossing the Dour at Buckland over a brick bridge paid for out of the toll money. For those who wished to avoid paying tolls, they could still follow the old route through the ford at Bridge Street. That is until the tollgate was erected on Crabble Hill and from that money the bridge on Bridge Street was built in 1829.
The Act to turnpike the stretch of the Dover-London road, like most other turnpike acts, provided for the appointment of four paid officers – the clerk, treasurer, surveyor and the collector of tolls. The clerk’s duty was overseeing the accounts and, in most cases, they were solicitors by profession. In the majority of cases, the treasurer was a banker while a highway surveyor undertook the maintenance.
He would employ the men to carry out the road maintenance and they would come from all sorts of backgrounds. In Dover, besides the Elizabethan statutory 6 days a year for every resident to maintain roads, most road workers were prison inmates from either the town gaol or prisoners of war held at the Castle. However, the weight and width of vehicle wheels regularly using a road would cause it to disintegrate. For this reason, the General Turnpike Act of 1773 was introduced to standardise a series of additional tolls based on the width of the wheel and the weight of the loads a vehicle was carrying. Assessing the latter, however, was fraught with difficulties.
Last was the Toll Collector who was in charge of the gatekeepers who actually manned the gates. The Toll Collector’s job was to police the gatekeepers and the travellers. The gatekeepers were on duty 24/7 so his residence was the tollhouse. If he was caught being dishonest, for instance misrepresenting the amount of money he had collected, then he would loose both his job and his home. Travellers would try to misinform the gatekeeper in order to pay less, or one would distract him while others sneaked passed or, worse still, physically attack the toll keeper and steal his takings.
The Collectors would often misrepresent the amount they had collected from the individual tollhouses. To try to stop such abuses and to ensure that Collector was efficient at policing the system was modified by the Toll Collector’s position being put out to tender. The Collector paid an agreed sum to the trustees for his position and it became his vested interest to ensure that the takings exceeded the amount he had paid.
Some towns put the toll gate system to other uses. The Dover Paving Commission, set up in 1778, concluded that the sanitary arrangements, pavements and street lighting in the town left a lot to be desired. Except for street lighting, which would have made smuggling difficult, they introduced a number of reforms. To pay for these ‘Coal Dues’ were introduced on coal transported through the town. One of the main collecting points was the Crabble Hill tollhouse, owned by the Turnpike Trust. This was on the corner of Dodds Lane further down Crabble Hill from the old Gate Inn.
In 1810 the Paving Commissioners were authorised to raise £11,000 and double their former duties and in 1830 a third act was passed enabling Commissioners to raise £10,000 on the security of the turnpike tolls and the rates. In 1835 a fourth act was obtained for three years only to raise £5,000 on the security of the rates for the specific purpose of making improvements to certain street. The turnpike tolls to be appropriated to paying off an outstanding debt of £10,000, and when this was paid, the tolls were to be discontinued. In realty the Paving Commission ceased before the debt was paid.
The introduction of the mail coach in 1784 was the catalyst for improvements in stagecoach design and adherence to maintaining tight schedules. Increased speed, which in turn increased demand, meant the increase in the number of stages and changes of horses. These led to a change in attitude of Turnpike Trusts and stones were used to provide a solid road surface while reducing steep gradients was undertaken where possible. This was the reason why the then very steep London Road between Crabble and Kearsney, was excavated to the present road.
It was not until the reign of Henry VII (1485-1509) that the area under the cliffs to western side of the town became passable. There, in what became known as the Pier district, locals built their dwellings and thoroughfares evolved. One such thoroughfare passed close by the cliffs where the chalk, excavated from the cliffs, was turned into lime and appropriately the thoroughfare became known as Limekiln Street. By the 17th century, the exit route from the town westward was leaving by the Snar Gate, near the shore, along a track that evolved into Snargate Street and then past the limekilns.
From there, the track that went by Hay Cliff (Haycliffe and now Aycliffe) eventually became the Folkestone Road. By the middle of the eighteenth century, the Pier district was the busiest part of Dover. Captain John Bazely was elected Mayor for the second time in 1761 and he succeeded in piloting through Parliament clauses in a Turnpike Bill. These resulted in the making of the first turnpike road from Dover to Folkestone, along this route, in 1763. The toll road eventually joined up with the Sandgate turnpike of ten years before and thus the new toll road became known as the Dover-Sandgate Turnpike.
The exit from Dover eastwards, for centuries, had been by the narrow, winding St James Street followed by a steep ascent landwards of the Castle and along the Downs following a similar route to the present A258 to Deal and Sandwich or through Guston to Whitfield and on to Sandwich. In 1797, the road from Dover to Sandwich via Deal was turnpiked. The Guston turn-off on the A258 is approximately, where the tollhouse stood and the next one along the Deal Road was near the present Swingate inn – where the A258 still kinks slightly. From the tolls collected, the gradient up Castle Hill was made easier by the cutting of a zigzag route towards the top of a lane that became Laureston Place.
Besides making it easier for horses to climb the hill, the zigzag slowed descending the vehicles going down. Banker, John Minet Fector junior (1812-1868), built a mansion for his mother part way up the hill. Her maiden name was Laurie from which Laureston Place was derived. In 1797, during the Napoleonic Wars (1793-1815), a military road was laid from Western Heights to the Castle cutting across the Stembrook marshland. Following the Wars, the Military Road was handed over to the Dover and Deal Turnpike Trust and it eventually became Castle Street. The Dover turnpike to Sandwich through Waldershare went by way of the London Road turnpike to Kearsney, then up Whitfield Hill to Whitfield and on to Waldershare, was enacted in 1801.
Charlton High Street abutted with London Road, Buckland at Bridge Street, opposite the Eagle and the road to Tower Hamlets. This, for centuries called ‘Paul’s Corner’ and the nearby pasture land was bought, in September 1647, by the Dover Alms House Trust. When the Turnpike Act came into force the land was let to the Turnpike Trust for a tollhouse and stone yard for road maintenance. In July 1840, the land adjoining the tollhouse was sold on a 62-year lease, and adjoining frontages as far up London Road as the Almshouses lands ran, on a building lease. The tollhouse and gate was removed in 1855 on which the Falcon Hotel, demolished in 1969, was built and the shops along London Road that we see today. The leases on the shops terminated in 1902 and reverted back to the Dover Municipal Charities who granted them for 99 years to the London, County & Westminster Bank Ltd. In 1904 the Bank advertised 4 and 5 London Road and became Turnpenny’s Furniture shop.
Most Turnpike Acts ran for twenty-one years under the misguided assumption that once an adequate road had been laid it would look after itself. The management of each gate was lasted a year and could be lucrative especially on main coach roads. Pigot’s Directory of 1824 lists two mail coaches leaving Dover from the Ship Inn, Custom House Quay, at 06.30hrs to Folkestone, Hythe and Romney and another at 08.00hrs to London. Other passenger coach services included a regular service to London picking passengers up at their homes, hotels or inns at 06.00hrs, 10.00hrs and 18.00hrs.
There was a regular service to Folkestone Sandgate, Hythe and Maidstone at 07.45hrs from the Gun Inn and Packet Boat Inn on both Strond Street and the Pilot Office by the harbour. In the afternoon, the coach left at 15.00hrs but only went as far as Hythe. The coach to Deal, Sandwich, Margate and Ramsgate left from Union Street at 10.00 and 16.00 daily and another to Deal left from Gun and Packet Boat Inns at 18.00hrs. During the summer season, additional coaches went to Brighton, Margate and Ramsgate throughout the day.
Carriers also operated out of Dover taking both personal and commercial goods along the turnpiked roads. Rutley and Co of Snargate Street operated vans daily to London. Grants van left from the Fountain Inn, in the Market Square, every morning except Sunday, to Canterbury. Another van left for Canterbury from the Plume of Feathers, Limekiln Street every morning except Sunday at 08.30hrs. Jones van left for Deal from the Fountain Inn and the nearby Fleur de Lis every morning except Sunday while another company had vans going to and from Deal on request and they left from the Fox, St James Street, every morning except Sunday at 09.30hrs. The Lydd and Romney cart left from the Packet Boat inn every morning except Sunday at 09.00hrs while the Folkestone, Sandgate and Hythe van went from the Gun and the Packet Boat Inns daily except Sunday at 15.30hrs. The van for Elham went from the Packet Boat Inn on Thursday afternoons – thus there were regular services!
By the 1830s, the development in road surfaces enabled even speedier and more comfortable travel. Initially, a Turnpike Trust’s well-laid road consisted of a foundation of large, ideally interlocking, stones placed broad end downwards. On these were smaller stones or in Dover, pebbles from the beach, were laid. The iron-shod wheels of the coaches would grind the stones into even smaller pieces creating a firm, waterproof surface. Roads had a slight camber to encourage rainwater to run to the side and occasionally there were cross-drains leading to ditches on either side of the roads. On country roads, these can still be seen.
John MacAdam (1756–1836) had, from 1816, revolutionised road building by doing away with the foundation stones as unnecessary. Instead, roads were laid on a ten inch thick layer of smaller stones that finished above ground level. They again were grounded in by the iron wheels of coaches. With Dover’s, pebble beach the turnpike roads were considered amongst the best and cheapest in the county!
In 1833, Alexander Bottle paid £198 for the post as Collector of the Castle Hill gate tolls. Six years later the bidding was such that he paid £326! This reflects the increase in the volume of traffic using the Dover-Deal Road and there was a similar rise in the amount paid for Dover’s other tollhouses. Nevertheless, the days of the mail and stagecoaches travelling along turnpikes were numbered. The first railway line to Dover was opened by South Eastern Railway, from London, in 1844.
Although the Dover-Deal railway line did not open until 1881, the Castle Hill tollhouse had closed in 1878. There had not been a bidder for that tollhouse for a number of years so the tolls had been collected at the expense of the Trust. The last toll keeper there was Thomas Munn while the occupant of the tollhouse went by the name of ‘Cock Linnet’, who also worked as a shepherd. After losing his home, Linnet became a night watchman with the Corporation.
The Folkestone Road via Limekiln Street was dis-turnpiked in 1783 due to it becoming ‘very dangerous from the falling cliffs.’ The present Folkestone Road through the Farthingloe Valley was built out of the proceeds and the new road opened in 1783. The tollhouse was at the junction of Folkestone Road with the then Elms Road, now Elms Vale Road. The turnpike continued until 1877 when the Trust applied for renewal to Parliament but a large body of Dover petitioners successfully opposed the application and the tollhouse was demolished. The present cottages were built shortly afterwards by Major Robert Lawes and the horse trough, or more correctly cattle and dog drinking fountain, that once stood nearby is now in the Market Square.
- Dover Mercury: 31 May 2007