Toll roads in Great Britain

Last updated

Toll roads in Great Britain, used to raise fees for the management of roads in the United Kingdom, were common in the era of the turnpike trusts. Currently there is a single major road, the M6 Toll and a small number of bridges and tunnels where tolls are collected. In addition, there are also two UK road pricing schemes, the London congestion charge and the Durham congestion charge.



Original board of Toll Road charges, from Hammerhead Toll, Fife, east of Auchtermuchty (1871) Fife Folk Museum Original board of Toll Road charges, from Hammerhead Toll, Fife, east of Auchtermuchty (1871) Fife Folk Museum.jpg
Original board of Toll Road charges, from Hammerhead Toll, Fife, east of Auchtermuchty (1871) Fife Folk Museum

Medieval period

In the 14th century, pavage grants, which had previously been made for paving the market place or streets of towns, began also to be used for maintaining some roads between towns. These grants were made by letters patent, almost invariably for a limited term, presumably the time likely to be required to pay for the required works.

Responsibility for the upkeep of most roads seems to have rested with landowners, however. This was probably not easily enforced against them. The Parliament of England placed the upkeep of bridges to local settlements or the containing county under the Bridges Act 1530 and in 1555 the care of roads was similarly devolved to the parishes as statute labour under the Highways Act 1555. Every adult inhabitant of the parish was obliged to work four consecutive days a year on the roads, providing their own tools, carts and horses. The work was overseen by an unpaid local appointee, the Surveyor of Highways.

It was not until 1654 that road rates were introduced. However, the improvements offered by paid labour were offset by the rise in the use of wheeled vehicles greatly increasing wear to the road surfaces. The government reaction to this was to use legislation to limit the use of wheeled vehicles and also to regulate their construction. A vain hope that wider rims would be less damaging briefly led to carts with sixteen inch wheels. They did not cause ruts but neither did they roll and flatten the road as was hoped.


Toll Gate tickets, c.1830 Cardigan Gate 183. Toll gate tickets c.1830.jpg
Toll Gate tickets, c.1830

The first turnpike road, whereby travellers paid tolls to be used for road upkeep, was authorised in 1663 for a section of the Great North Road in Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Huntingdonshire. [1] [2] [3] The term turnpike refers to the military practice of placing a pikestaff across a road to block and control passage. Upon payment of the toll, the pike would be "turned" to one side to allow travellers through. Most English gates were not built to this standard; of the first three gates, two were found to be easily avoided.

The early turnpikes were administered directly by the justices of the peace in quarter sessions. The first trusts were established by Parliament through an act of Parliament in 1706,[ which? ] placing a section of the London-Coventry-Chester road in the hands of a group of trustees.

The trustees could erect gates as they saw fit, demand statute labour or a cash equivalent, and appoint surveyors and collectors, in return they repaired the road and put up mileposts. Initially trusts were established for limited periods – often twenty one years. The expectation was that the trust would borrow the money to repair the road and repay that debt over time with the road then reverting to the parishes. In reality the initial debt was rarely paid off and the trusts were renewed as needed.

Shortly after the creation of Great Britain in 1707, turnpike acts began to be passed by Parliament to encourage the construction of toll roads in Scotland in the same way they had been used successfully in England and Wales. The first turnpike act[ which? ] for a road scheme in Scotland was passed in 1713 for the construction of a road in Midlothian. [4]

Although in the south of England common carriers' carts became frequent, they were not seen for a long time north of York or west of Exeter. Long trains of packhorses still carried goods through Settle until the Keighley and Kendal Turnpike was started in 1753. [5] :p.6

The decline of turnpikes

The rise of railway transport largely halted the improving schemes of the turnpike trusts. The London-Birmingham railway almost instantly halved the tolls income of the Holyhead Road. The system was never properly reformed but from the 1870s Parliament stopped renewing the acts and roads began to revert to local authorities, the last trust vanishing in 1895. However, some bridges continue to be privately owned and subject to tolls.

The Local Government Act 1888 created county councils and gave them responsibility for maintaining the major roads. The abiding relic of the English toll roads is the number of houses with names like "Turnpike Cottage", the inclusion of "Bar" in place names and occasional road name: Turnpike Lane in northern London has given its name to an Underground station.

Since the 1960s

Following the abolition of turnpikes a few private roads and toll bridges remained. Some bridges of the turnpike era were built by companies (rather than trusts) and have continued to charge tolls. Tolls on some bridges were abolished by county councils buying up the tolls and then declaring them county bridges. A recent example of this relates to the well-known Cob at Porthmadog, where tolls ceased in 2006, when it was nationalised by the Welsh Assembly. [6]

Tolls are similarly collected to finance the cost of building the Humber Bridge and Severn Bridge. In recent times, the concept of charging tolls to finance the building of roads has been revived, but so far the only new toll road is M6 Toll.

Tolls for the Forth Road Bridge were removed in 2008 following a divisive three-year political debate during which it was proposed that variable congestion pricing tolls would be introduced. [7]

Current tolls


Bridges and tunnels

Congestion and emission pricing zones

Future tolls

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road transport</span> Collective term for all forms of transport which takes place on roads

Road transport or road transportation is a type of transport using roads. Transport on roads can be roughly grouped into the transportation of goods and transportation of people. In many countries licensing requirements and safety regulations ensure a separation of the two industries. Movement along roads may be by bike, automobile, bus, truck, or by animal such as horse or oxen. Standard networks of roads were adopted by Romans, Persians, Aztec, and other early empires, and may be regarded as a feature of empires. Cargo may be transported by trucking companies, while passengers may be transported via mass transit. Commonly defined features of modern roads include defined lanes and signage. Various classes of road exist, from two-lane local roads with at-grade intersections to controlled-access highways with all cross traffic grade-separated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dartford Crossing</span> Tunnel and bridge between Kent and Essex, UK

The Dartford–Thurrock River Crossing, commonly known as the Dartford Crossing and until 1991 the Dartford Tunnel, is a major road crossing of the River Thames in England, carrying the A282 road between Dartford in Kent in the south and Thurrock in Essex in the north.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Toll road</span> Roadway for which a fee (or toll) is assessed for passage

A toll road, also known as a turnpike or tollway or toll gate, is a public or private road for which a fee is assessed for passage. It is a form of road pricing typically implemented to help recoup the costs of road construction and maintenance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Lancaster Canal</span> Canal in Northwest England

The Lancaster Canal is a canal in North West England, originally planned to run from Westhoughton in Lancashire to Kendal in south Cumbria. The section around the crossing of the River Ribble was never completed, and much of the southern end leased to the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, of which it is now generally considered part.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road pricing</span> Revenue generation for road infrastructure

Road pricing are direct charges levied for the use of roads, including road tolls, distance or time-based fees, congestion charges and charges designed to discourage the use of certain classes of vehicle, fuel sources or more polluting vehicles. These charges may be used primarily for revenue generation, usually for road infrastructure financing, or as a transportation demand management tool to reduce peak hour travel and the associated traffic congestion or other social and environmental negative externalities associated with road travel such as air pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, visual intrusion, noise pollution and road traffic collisions.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Blackwall Tunnel</span> Pair of road tunnels underneath the River Thames in London

The Blackwall Tunnel is a pair of road tunnels underneath the River Thames in east London, England, linking the London Borough of Tower Hamlets with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, and part of the A102 road. The northern portal lies just south of the East India Dock Road (A13) in Blackwall; the southern entrances are just south of The O2 on the Greenwich Peninsula. The road is managed by Transport for London (TfL).

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A2 road (England)</span> Road in southern England

The A2 is a major road in south-east England, connecting London with the English Channel port of Dover in Kent. This route has always been of importance as a connection between London and sea trade routes to Continental Europe. It was originally known as the Dover Road. The M2 motorway has replaced part of the A2 as the strategic route.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">A487 road</span> Trunk road in Wales

The A487, officially the Fishguard to Bangor Trunk Road, is a trunk road in Wales that follows the coast from Haverfordwest, Pembrokeshire, in the south, to Bangor, Gwynedd, in the north.

Shunpiking is the act of deliberately avoiding roads that require payment of a fee or toll to travel on them, usually by traveling on alternative "free" roads which bypass the toll road. The term comes from the word shun, meaning "to avoid", and pike, a term referring to turnpikes, which is another name for toll roads. People who often avoid toll roads sometimes call themselves shunpikers. Historically, certain paths around tollbooths came to be so well known they were called "shun-pikes".

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Open road tolling</span> Boothless toll collecting

Open road tolling (ORT), also called all-electronic tolling, cashless tolling, or free-flow tolling, is the collection of tolls on toll roads without the use of toll booths. An electronic toll collection system is usually used instead. The major advantage to ORT is that users are able to drive through the toll plaza at highway speeds without having to slow down to pay the toll. In some installations, ORT may also reduce congestion at the plazas by allowing more vehicles per hour/per lane.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Roads in the United Kingdom</span>

The United Kingdom has a well developed and extensive network of roads totalling about 262,300 miles (422,100 km). Road distances are shown in miles or yards and UK speed limits are indicated in miles per hour (mph) or by the use of the national speed limit (NSL) symbol. Some vehicle categories have various lower maximum limits enforced by speed limiters. A unified numbering system is in place for Great Britain, whilst in Northern Ireland, there is no available explanation for the allocation of road numbers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Motoring taxation in the United Kingdom</span>

Motoring taxation in the United Kingdom consists primarily of vehicle excise duty, which is levied on vehicles registered in the UK, and hydrocarbon oil duty, which is levied on the fuel used by motor vehicles. VED and fuel tax raised approximately £32 billion in 2009, a further £4 billion was raised from the value added tax on fuel purchases. Motoring-related taxes for fiscal year 2011/12, including fuel duties and VED, are estimated to amount to more than £38 billion, representing almost 7% of total UK taxation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Turnpike trust</span> Bodies established to run toll roads and improve transport routes

Turnpike trusts were bodies set up by individual acts of Parliament, with powers to collect road tolls for maintaining the principal roads in Britain from the 17th but especially during the 18th and 19th centuries. At the peak, in the 1830s, over 1,000 trusts administered around 30,000 miles (48,000 km) of turnpike road in England and Wales, taking tolls at almost 8,000 toll-gates and side-bars.

A toll road is a road over which users may travel over on payment of a toll, or fee. Tolls are a form of use tax that pays for the cost of road construction and maintenance, without raising taxes on non-users. Investor's bonds necessary for the construction of the roads are issued and sold with the expectation that the bonds will be paid back with user tolls. The toll roads may be run by government agencies that have bond issuing authority and/or private companies that sell bonds or have other sources of finance. Toll roads are usually a government guaranteed road monopoly that guarantees limited or no competing roads will be built by government agencies for the duration of the bonds. Private toll roads built with money raised from private investors in expectation of making money from the tolls probably dominated early toll roads. Government sponsored toll roads often guarantee a minimum payment to the bond holders if traffic volume and toll collections are less than predicted. If the toll authority is a private company there is often a maximum amount of fees that they may extract from users. Toll road operators are typically responsible for maintaining the roads. After the bonds are paid off the road typically reverts to the government agency that authorized the road and owns the land it was built on. Like most government taxes it is not unusual for tolls to continue to be charged after the bonds have been paid off.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">New Road, London</span> Historic London road

The New Road was a toll road built across fields around the northern boundaries of London, the first part of which opened in 1756. The route comprises the modern-day A501.

The Sheffield to Hathersage turnpike was an early road through the English Peak District, which was improved by a turnpike trust in the 18th century. The road may have originated as a Roman road.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Road pricing in the United Kingdom</span> Overview of road pricing in the United Kingdom

Road pricing in the United Kingdom used to be limited to conventional tolls in some bridges, tunnels and also for some major roads during the period of the Turnpike trusts. The term road pricing itself only came into common use however with publication of the Smeed Report in 1964 which considered how to implement congestion charging in urban areas as a transport demand management method to reduce traffic congestion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Keighley and Kendal Turnpike</span>

The Keighley and Kendal Turnpike was a road built in 1753 by a turnpike trust between Keighley in the West Riding of Yorkshire and Kendal in Westmorland, England. The primary instigators were in Settle. The road followed a modified ancient route through Craven. It necessitated bridge widening, reorientation in some of the towns it passed and the relocation of inns and stables. The road was of great benefit to commerce in the northwest but proved a financial loss as the cost of repairing wear caused by heavy traffic was underestimated. The trust's records were lost when it closed.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike</span> Former road in Northern England

The Richmond to Lancaster Turnpike, was a road that was opened in the second half of the 18th century between Richmond, in the North Riding of Yorkshire and Lancaster in Lancashire, Northern England. The turnpike was built to allow goods to be taken from Yorkshire to the port of Lancaster. It was approved in 1751, but was not wholly completed until 1774.


  1. Statute 15 Cha. 2. c. 1 (private)
  2. 16 & 17 Cha. 2. c. 6
  3. E. Pawson, Transport and Economy: the turnpike roads of 18th century England (Academic Press, London 1977), 77.
  4. Roads, accessed 4 April 2010
  5. John F Curwen, ed. (1926). "Records of Kendale: The main roads". Records Relating To the Barony of Kendale. Vol. 3. Kendal. pp. 1–20. Retrieved 9 June 2023.{{cite book}}: |website= ignored (help)
  6. "cob at porthmadog" . Retrieved 17 April 2010.
  7. "Tolls removed from Scots bridges". BBC News.
  8. "Tollgate and roads".
  9. "Charging regime at the Dartford -Thurrock river crossings". Statement by The Minister of State for Transport (Dr Ladyman). Department for Transport. 19 October 2006. Archived from the original on 16 July 2007. Retrieved 18 November 2007.
  10. David Houston (5 March 2021). "Silver Jubilee Bridge toll charges explained". Cheshire Live.