I know a lot about my maternal grandmother and I have some information about my great and even great, great grandmother. Yesterday I found my ggg grandmother on the 1861 census. She was living in a small village in Warwickshire her address being the ‘Toll Gate’; occupation ‘Toll Collector’.
Turnpike legislation came into effect in Britain during the middle part of the 18th century in an attempt to rectify the poor state of the roads. Tollhouses, fences and gates were built and the tollgate keepers were provided with accommodation, usually in a small house, next to the gate. Architecturally the often tiny houses were unusual in design, some with polygon front bays and often with large porches jutting out into the roadway. The nature of the job meant that the collector was on duty 24 hours a day, being woken at any time of the night and in all weathers to collect the toll and open the gate. Apart from the inconvenience it was also a dangerous occupation. Tollgates were the target of robberies as they were often in isolated places and it was known that cash was kept on the premises. Charges were levied on all except pedestrians and the Royal Mail coaches with exemptions also for funerals and soldiers. Various factors contributed to the amount that was charged, the size of the carriage, the number of horses pulling it, even the width of the wheels – narrower wheels being deemed to cause more damage. As a mail coach approached a toll gate the guard would blow his trumpet or post-horn to warn the toll keeper to open the gates in order not to delay the mail. If the gates were not opened promptly the keeper could be fined 40s, the equivalent of £150 today.
Although the quality of the roads improved, tollgates were not popular. They were a big expense for farmers who needed to use the roads to get to local markets and in fact this dissatisfaction had been the cause and focus of the Rebecca riots in Wales during the early 1840s. Avoidance was commonplace with nearby farmers allowing sheep to be driven through their fields and lone horsemen jumping the gate. With pay and conditions poor for most toll collectors there was an obvious temptation to ‘cook the books’ and the whole system eventually became uneconomical. By the 1870s they had been abolished.
I wonder what brought Ann Cooper to this job in 1861?