Extract from Daniel Defoe's
A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain

...The Reason of my taking Notice of this Badness of the Roads, through all the Midland Counties, is this; that as these are Counties which drive a very great Trade with the City of London, and with one another, perhaps the greatest of any Counties in England; and that, by consequence, the Carriage is exceeding great, and also that all the Land Carriage of the Northern Counties necessarily goes through these Counties, so the Roads had been plow'd so deep, and Materials have been in some Places so difficult to be had for Repair of the Roads, that all the Surveyors Rates have been able to do nothing, nay, the very whole Country has not been able to repair them; that is to say, it was a Burthen too great for the poor Farmers; for in England it is the Tenant, not the Landlord, that pays the Surveyors of the Highways.

This necessarily brought the Country to bring these Things before the Parliament; and the Consequence has been, that Turn-pikes or Toll-bars have been set up on the several great Roads of England, beginning at London, and proceeding thro' almost all those dirty deep Roads, in the Midland Counties especially; at which Turn-pikes all Carriages, Droves of Cattle, and Travellers on Horseback, are oblig'd to pay an easy Toll; that is to say, a Horse a Penny, a Coach three Pence, a Cart four Pence, at some six Pence to eight Pence, a Waggon six Pence, in some a Shilling, and the like; Cattle pay by the Score, or by the Head, in some Places more, in some less; but in no Place is it thought a Burthen that ever I met with, the Benefit of a good Road abundantly making amends for that little Charge the Travellers are put to at the Turn-pikes.

Several of these Turn-pikes and Tolls had been set up of late Years, and great Progress had been made in mending the most difficult Ways, and that with such Success as well deserves a Place in this Account: And this is one Reason for taking Notice of it in this Manner; for as the Memory of the Romans, which is so justly famous, is preserv'd in nothing more visible to common Observation, than in the Remains of those noble Causeways and Highways, which they made through all Parts of the Kingdom, and which were found so needful, even then, when there was not the five hundredth Part of the Commerce and Carriage that is now: How, much more valuable must these new Works be, tho' nothing to compare with those of the Romans, for the Firmness and Duration; of their Work?...

The Benefit of these Turn-pikes appears now to be so great, and the People in all Places begin to be so sensible of it, that it is incredible what Effect it has already had upon Trade in the Countries where it is more compleatly finish'd; even the Carriage of Goods is abated in some Places, 6d. per hundred Weight, in some places 12d. per hundred, which is abundantly more advantage to Commerce, than the Charge paid amounts to, and yet at the same Time the Expence is paid by the Carriers too, who make the Abatement; so that the Benefit in abating the Rate of Carriage is wholly and simply the Tradesmens, not the Carriers.

Yet the Advantage is evident to the Carriers also another Way; for, as was observ'd before, they can bring more Weight with the same Number of Horses, nor are their Horses so hard work'd and fatigued with their Labour as they were before; in which one Particular 'tis acknowledg'd by the Carriers, they perform their Work with more Ease, and the Masters are at less Expence.

The Advantage to all other kinds of travelling I omit here; such as the Safety and Ease to Gentlemen travelling up to London on all Occasions, whether to the Term, or to Parliament, to Court, or on any other necessary Occasion, which is not a small Part of the Benefit of these new Methods.

Also the Riding Post, as well for the ordinary carrying of the Mails, or for the Gentlemen riding Post, when their Occasions require Speed; I say, the Riding Post is made extremly easy, safe, and pleasant, by this Alteration of the Roads.

I mention so often the Safety of travelling on this Occasion, because, as I observ'd before, the Commissioners for these Repairs of the Highways have order'd, and do daily order, abundance of Bridges to be repair'd and enlarg'd, and new Ones built, where they find Occasion, which not only serve to carry the Water off, where it otherwise often spreads, and lies as it were, damm'd up upon the Road, and spoils the Way; but where it rises sometimes by sudden Rains to a dangerous Height; for it is to be observ'd, that there is more Hazard, and more Lives lost, in passing, or attempting to pass little Brooks and Streams, which are swell'd by sudden Showers of Rain, and where Passengers expect no Stoppage, than in passing great Rivers, where the Danger is known, and therefore more carefully avoided.

In many of these Places the Commissioners have built large and substantial Bridges for the Benefit of Travelling, as is said already, and in other Places have built Sluices to stop, and open'd Channels to carry off the Water, where they used to swell into the Highway: We have two of these Sluices near London, in the Road thro' Tottenham High-Cross and Edmonton, by which the Waters in those Places, which have sometimes been dangerous, are now carry'd off, and the Road clear'd; and as for Bridges, I have been told, that the several Commissioners, in the respective Districts where they are concern'd, have already built above three hundred new Ones, where there were none before, or where the former were small and insufficient to carry the Traveller safe over the Waters; many of these are within a few Miles of London, especially, for Example, on the great Road from London to Edgworth, from London to Enfield, from London to St. Albans, and, as before, from London to Croydon, where they are very plain to be seen, and to which I refer.

And for farther Confirmation of what I have advanc'd above, namely, that we may expect, according to this good Beginning, that the Roads in most Parts of England will in a few Years be fully repair'd, and restor'd to the same good Condition, (or perhaps a better, than) they were in during the Roman Government, we may take Notice, that there are no less than twelve Bills, or Petitions for Bills, depending before the Parliament, at this Time sitting, for the Repair of the Roads, in several remote Parts of England, or for the lengthening the Time allow'd in former Acts; some of which, besides those hereafter mentioned, give us Hopes, that the Grants, when obtain'd, will be very well manag'd, and the Country People greatly encourag'd by them in their Commerce; for there is no Doubt to be made, but that the Inland Trade of England has been greatly obstructed by the exceeding Badness of the Roads


A particular Example of this, I have mention'd already, viz. the bringing of Fat Cattle, especially Sheep to London in the Winter, from the remoter Counties of Leicester and Lincoln, where they are bred; by which the Country Grasiers are obhg'd to sell their Stocks off, at the latter End of the Summer, namely September and October, when they sell cheap, and the Butchers and Farmers near London engross them, and keeping them 'till December and January, sell them, tho' not an Ounce fatter than before, for an advanc'd Price, to the Citizens of London; whereas, were the Roads made good and passable, the City would be serv'd with Mutton almost as cheap in the Winter as in the Summer, or the Profit of the Advance would be to the Graziers of Leicester and Lincolnshires, who were the original Breeders.

This is evidenc'd to a Demonstration in the Counties of Essex and Suffolk, from whence they already bring their Fat Cattle, and particularly their Mutton in Droves, from Sixty, Seventy, or Eighty Miles, without fatiguing, harrassing, or sinking the Flesh of the Creatures, even in the Depth of Winter.

I might give Examples of other Branches of Inland Commerce, which would be quite alter'd for the better, by this restoring the Goodness of the Roads, and particularly that of carrying Cheese, a Species of Provision so considerable, that nothing, except that of live Cattle, can exceed it.

This is chiefly made in the three North West Counties of England, viz. Cheshire, Gloucester, and Warwickshires, and the Parts adjacent. from whence the Nation is very meanly supply'd, by reason of the exceeding Distance of the Country where the Cheese is made, from those Counties where it is chiefly expended.

The Cheshire Men indeed carry great Quantities about by long Sea, as they call it, to London; a terrible long, and sometimes dangerous, Voyage, being thro' the Irish Channel, round all Wales, cross the Bristol Channel, round the Land's End of Cornwall, and up the English Channel to the Mouth of the Thames, and so up to London; or else by Land to Burton upon Trent, and so down that River to Gainesborough and Hull, and so by Sea to London.

Again, the Gloucestershire Men carry all by Land-Carriage to Lechlade and Cricklade on the Thames, and so carry it down the River to London.

But the Warwickshire Men have no Water-Carriage at all, or at least not 'till they have carry'd it a long Way by Land to Oxford; but as their Quantity is exceeding great, and they supply not only the City of London, but also the Counties of Essex, Suffolk, Norfolk, Cambridge, Hungingdon, Hertford, Bedford, and Northampton, the Gross of their Carriage is by meer dead Draught, and they carry it either to London by Land, which is full an hundred Miles, and so the London Cheesmongers supply the said Counties of Essex, Suffolk, and Norfolk besides Kent, and Sussex, and Surrey by Sea and River Navigation: or the Warwickshire Men carry it by Land once a Year to Stourbridge Fair, whence the Shop-keepers of all the Inland Country above-named, come to buy it; in all which Cases Land-Carriage being long, and the Ways bad, makes it very dear to the Poor, who are the Consumers.

But were the Ways from Warwickshire made good, as I have shewn they are already in Essex, and some other Places; this Carriage would be perform'd for little more than half the Price that it now is, and the Poor would have their Provisions much cheaper.

I could enlarge here upon the Convenience that would follow such a restoring the Ways, for the carrying of Fish from the Sea Coasts to the Inner Parts of the Kingdom, where, by reason of the Badness of the Ways, they cannot now carry them sweet; This would greatly encrease the Consumption of Fish in its Season, which now for that very Reason, is but small, and would employ an innumerable Number of Horses and Men, as well as encrease the Shipping by that Consumption.

(Source: Defoe, Daniel. A Tour Thro' the Whole Island of Great Britain, 1724-1727. and Microsoft� Encarta� Encyclopedia 2001 )