Lavington toll gates

Previous entries on this blog, Stop the tolls, Market Lavington Turnpike Subscribers and More from the tollgate removal notebook have explained how Amram Saunders campaigned to have the local toll gates removed, by collecting money to pay off the turnpike companies. He succeeded in having the toll gates removed in 1825.

The local Women’s Institute history file, produced in 1953, gives us an idea of what travel was like under the turnpike system and why people disliked it so much.

The roads had been in a poor state, unmetalled and rutted and relying on six days a year of local unpaid labour organised by the parish surveyors. This had been unsatisfactory and so eleven toll gates were set up in the area, with a view to raising money to keep the roads in a better condition. (However, the WI file suggests that the tolls only really paid the expenses of keeping the gates and didn’t achieve road repairs.)

Paying the tolls was a real financial burden on local folk going about their business. The charges were typed up by the WI in their file.

There were exemptions. No charge was made for loads of manure, hay, straw and timber, road repair carts, farm implements and the post driver’s horse. Churchgoers, funerals, soldiers, horses and cattle going to pasture also escaped payment. People from Devizes taking the air were allowed through free for just two hours.

Despite these allowances, the people of Market Lavington and Easterton still objected to the system sufficiently to contribute to buying off the turnpike trust. There were great celebrations when this was achieved. There was a general holiday on 8th February 1825. The church bells were rung and flags were put out. There was a dinner at the Green Dragon and Amram Saunders was presented with a silver dinner service in recognition of his efforts. In the evening, vast crowds made their way up onto Salisbury Plain, where a huge bonfire burned the offending toll gates.

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