Thomas Mace used the term “High-way” to describe the road to Scotland. And the first Turnpike Act refers to the North Road as “the ancient highway and post-road leading from London to York and so into Scotland.” Today, the words “highroad” and “highway” are very familiar. But what really is - or was - a highroad?
The ancient meaning comes from the fact that roads were originally higher than the surrounding land. They were causeways constructed across, and above the level of, marshes and low-lying lands, and the term was therefore excellently descriptive.
Having the road higher than the surrounding land is beneficial for drainage and in some countries this was the norm. Foreigners were sometimes amazed to find that, because of general wear and tear, English roads tended to be below the level of the surrounding land.
In mediaeval times, there were very few main roads and they were used first and foremost by the king. As a result, they became known as the King’s Highway and this term remained in use for many years.
In fact, it really only changed when the first Turnpike Acts began to be passed. They authorised the building of Toll Gates to collect money and the requirement to use it to improve the roads.
The wording in the the acts referred to all roads as “highroads” or “highways”.
Nowadays, pretty well any road or street is referred to as “the highway”.
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Britain’s roads were pretty impassable for most of our history. Coach travel was very difficult until they improved
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