Toll houses and milestones

Across the AONB

From : Valerie Belsey

There are 13 toll houses still standing within the South Devon AONB.

The first Turnpike (fee-paying road) to be constructed in the area ran from Totnes to Modbury in 1759. They were called turnpikes because originally you were stopped at their beginning by a man standing in the road with a spiked metal bar which he turned when you had paid your toll.

A-roads constructed by Turnpike Trusts

By 1827 all the roads today which are labelled as A-roads in our area had been constructed by Turnpike Trusts. The trustees who set them up were usually worthies and merchants living in towns who wanted to see the roads maintained in order to keep trade rolling. Up until this time roads had been maintained by mainly voluntary labour under Statutes set out in the reign of Elizabeth I.

The new Trusts gave roadmen, and not just surveyors, paid employment. The materials for the surfaces of the turnpike roads were provided by stone breakers who not only had to quarry the stone but split it into small stones measuring two and a half to four inches round.

The new turnpike system worked well initially but in this rural area the many exemptions from toll paying literally took their toll. Those exempt included Sunday church goers, coffin bearers and those carts carrying building materials.

Toll houses staffed by men and women

The toll houses were manned by those who often still kept their former jobs as farmers, quarrymen, spinners and weavers. Both men and women were employed by the trusts and there was usually just enough room in the yards attached to keep pigs and poultry. One of the more unusual ones is the Dunstone toll booth at Dunstone Cross near Yealmpton.

The Kingsbridge Trust employed, John, the son of the famous John Loudon Macadam. The milestones which were put up along these routes come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but unfortunately many have now disappeared.

Gara Valley

One of the best routes to take to get a feel for these turnpikes lies through the Gara valley from Totnes to Modbury. It dates back to 1759 but the bridge over the Gara itself appears in an Anglo-Saxon Charter of a much earlier date.

Consult the Popular Edition of local OS maps dating from c. 1907 or go further back to the original 1809 editions available in libraries and record offices to find more. Or you might find this Old maps website useful:

Researched and written by Valerie Belsey, (former Historic Highways Monument Surveyor at Devon County Council) for South Devon AONB Unit, January 2011.

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Toll houses and milestones

Tollhouses in the AONB

• Dunstone Toll Hut SX594521 on the A379, a rarity, belonged to the Modbury Trust.
• Ermington SX639530 on the A3121, belonged to the Modbury Trust.(1859-1879)
• Gara Bridge Toll House SX729534.
• Goutsford Cross SX631519 c. 1823.
• Milton Toll House, SX866509.
• Nethway SX898528 on the B3205, belonged to the Newton Abbot to Kingswear Trust.
• Prigdon Hill SX654610 Standing on minor road back to Bigbury, belonged to the Kingsbridge Trust, built c.1827.
• Stoliford SX664510, 1828, on the A379 belonged to the Kingsbridge Trust.
• Strete Gate, SX838464.
• Swannaton Toll House SX86950, c. 1824 on the A379.
• Townstal SX867514, c.1825.
• Torcross SX813427 on the A379, belonged to the Kingsbridge Trust.
• Yealm Bridge SX591519, 1809, on the A379. Belonged to Modbury Trust.

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