Monday, May 07, 2007

Turnpike Trouble 1846

In the mid-19th century (1839-44) the Rebecca riots took place in Wales, famously featuring men disguised as women to take direct action against turnpikes because of the high tolls on using roads. In South London, their example seems to have been followed in this case from 1846 in what is now Great Dover Street off Borough High Street:

'On Thursday morning, and to some extent during the day, a good deal of excitement was caused in that portion of the Great Dover Road from St. George's Church in the Borough to the Turnpike near Main's floor-cloth manufactory, in consequence of the demolition of a temporary bar placed opposite the Swan Inn, by some of the "Rebecca" party in that neighbourhood.

Since Saturday last posts have been driven into the ground, and a bricklayer's pole attached to them, at the corners of all the streets along that distance, in order to exact a toll for vehicles passing through them to the Great Dover Road. The persons, however, who are placed there to exact the tolls, so far from using their "pole bars," which would not reach half way across the streets, as a means to refuse the passing of the vehicles, have had the ends iron-bound to the posts, so that they are like a fence by the side of the foot-way.

In the course of Wednesday night the "pole" near the Swan was broken down, and it would probably take a dozen such lengths to reach across the street. The inhabitants never remember a toll being demanded, nor were bars ever placed there, and they feel it a considerable hindrance to their business to be thus novelly and without any reason taxed. Men are placed there, who demand the toll sans gate, and some pay and some do not. Westminster Hall will probably be the place where the novel proceeding must at last be decided.

Source: Times 21st March 1846. There were also toll-gates at the Green Man (near where Tescos now stands on the Old Kent Road) and New Cross Gate. In fact the turnpike put the 'gate' in 'New Cross Gate'. It shifted position but ended up near the White Hart at junction of New Cross Road and Queens Road.

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