In any survey of the historiography surrounding Scotland’s late modern era one can expect to find frequent and fleeting references to turnpikes or toll roads. This is also true of more modern popular literature, as mentions of this once extensive - but largely forgotten - road system punctuates Scotland’s many guide- books, travel aids, and outdoor works. Indeed, many of us today make use of the same roads that in the not too distant past made up the toll road network, or we are aware of one of the 400 or so surviving toll houses that can be found scattered across Scotland’s landscape.
That the legacy of Scotland’s turnpikes is hard to escape is testament to the sheer size of the network and the fact they were Scotland’s most important routes of transport for well over half a century. Indeed between 1750 and 1870 there were some 370 road and bridge acts passed in Scotland to establish turnpike trusts leading to a road network that ran for thousands of miles with construction costs running well into millions of pounds.
Unlike studies of their English counterparts, this road network has lain in relative obscurity, unmapped (until now), undiscussed, fleetingly referenced, and largely neglected.
Some of the significant findings of this study have been to identify the principal factors shaping turnpike development. In the early development years, the competing innovation of statute labour conversion, the county trust and opposition were all deemed to be important. The later turnpike boom was illustrative of the close relationship between turnpike development and the economy. The subsequent decline of Scotland’s turnpikes was not solely due to the arrival of the railways, but rather it was the growing unpopularity of the system on account of its flaws, coupled with its success as a transport innovation, that ultimately rendered it obsolete.
The historical sources coupled with the maps make it clear that turnpikes were economically influential. However, their impact cannot simply be restricted to the economy and Scotland’s turnpikes also played an influential role in the social and cultural transformations of their era and ultimately in transforming the very fabric of Scottish Life.
Many of these conclusions were aided by the toll road maps. The map in many ways demonstrates the scale and extent of Scotland’s first industrial revolution but also the importance of communications and connectivity in the formation of modern Scotland.
"Under the Turnpike system excellent roads have been provided throughout the three kingdoms; the toll-bars have done their duty; a change has come over the spirit of their dream; they can now well be wanted and contented with their past achievements, they should make their bow and retire from public life, bewailing their lost condition in the last words:
Tempora mutantur et nos mutamur in illis"
Times are changed, we also are changed with them.
Pagan, Road Reform, 1846
Images Courtesy of Canmore