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Stuart Period

Section 3:

The Roads

Introduction

The world of long-distance coach travel

Ancient Trackways

The first roads

Celtic Trading Routes

The Celts were trading across Europe and although nothing remains of their roads, they must have followed fixed routes

Roman Roads

The Romans built roads, famously straight. These are the first roads that we in England are familiar with

The Middle Ages

After the Romans left, our roads fell into disrepair. Find out what happened

The Tudors

After the dissolution of the monasteries, even the church’s work ended

The Stuarts

During the Stuart period the first beginnings of improvement appeared

Thomas Mace

The first proposal to improve Britain’s roads

The Blind Roadmaker

The first person to take active steps to improve the roads

Thomas Telford

As pressure for improved transport links grew, this engineer made a real difference

John McAdam

Perhaps the most famous roadmaker, His method is still essentially in use today

Turnpikes

Britain’s roads at last allow fast long-distance travel 

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 Part 1: Living Memories

Anecdotes written by people who actually travelled on the coaches

Part 2: The Age of Coaching

The coachmen, the inns, the coach proprietors - they’re all here. Come in and meet them

Part 3: The Roads

Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history.  Coach travel was very difficult until they improved

Part 4: The Coaches

Wheeled transport evolved over many years. Find out how coaches developed

Background

Sources and information about how I came to create this website

Home Page

Home Page of the Coaching Website

1603 - 1714: TheElizabeth I died without an heir and was succeeded by James Stuart. The era of the Tudors was over and the Stuart monarchs were now on the throne. But still nothing was done about the roads of England. They continued to be impassable for much of the year and badly rutted and muddy even in the best of weather. Despite their appalling state, nothing was done to improve them.

But change was in the wind. Oliver Cromwell’s son, Henry Cromwell, was sent by his father to Ireland, on a mission to improve relations between the two countries. As a result, more people were travelling between England and Ireland. They rode on horseback but there was a growing opportunity for some form of public transport.

A proposal to make road users pay for the upkeep of the roads was put before Parliament in the 1620 but was rejected. It did, however, pave the way to the Turnpike Acts which did this very thing from the late 1600s onwards.

In 1657, an enterprising businessman decided to set up what is probably the first timetabled coach service in Britain. It was hard and unsprung and the roads were dreadful. It ran between London and Chester, which was the main port of departure for Ireland at the time, and it was pulled by horses who made the entire journey and so had to be fed and rested regularly.

The service was scheduled to take five days for the journey which is an average speed of just two miles an hour; less than walking pace!

Amazingly, the coach was a commercial success and other coach services began between other major towns. It was the first sign of a change in the wind. 

Other changes were also beginning. The first Turnpike Act was passed in 1663. It covered the North Road (via Royston)  which joined the Great North Road at Alconbury Hill and it authorised toll-gates along the route, which travellers would pay to pass through, the proceeds being used for the improvement and upkeep of the road. 

This first coach service, together with the turnpikes system for funding road improvement were the beginning of a process that takes us to the modern day.

The stage was now set for travel in England to improve out of all recognition over the next three hundred years. 


Next: Thomas Mace

The Stuart monarchs - James I, Charles I, Charles II, 

James II, William II, Anne II and Anne