Until the end of the 18th century, travelling and carrying goods by road was very difficult.
Roads consisted of wide rough tracks which were poorly maintained. Many roads were impossible to use in wet weather or the winter months. Where possible, heavy loads went by water, around the coast and along rivers or canals.
When Emperor Charles VI visited England in 1703, his 50-mile journey from London to Petworth took three days, during which the Imperial Coach overturned 12 times. To complete the journey, Sussex labourers were hired to walk alongside the coach to keep it upright and force it through quagmires.
To try and improve the main roads, turnpike trusts were set up by individual Acts of Parliament in the 18th century. They had powers to collect tolls from road users to pay for maintenance and improvement. Road users were instructed to keep to the left and not cause damage to the road surface. Trusts had to erect milestones indicating the distance between the main towns on the road. The road between Beverley and York was turnpiked by Acts of Parliament in 1764 and 1765 and trusts were set up to collect tolls to generate funds to finance road repair. It seems it was principally the work of Beverley Corporation, York Corporation’s part being essentially obstructive insisting that no toll should be nearer to York than Kexby Bridge and resulting in there being two trusts, one for the road from Beverley to Kexby Bridge and a second trust for the section from Kexby Bridge to York at Grimston Smithy (Grimston Bar), which also looked after the road from Grimston Bar to Garrowby Hill.
A toll bar and weighing engine was situated half-a-mile west of the village of Barmby Moor, which today is still called Bar Farm. From Beverley to York toll bars were situated at Bishop Burton, Shiptonthorpe, Barmby Moor, a side bar at Wilberfoss (1842) and Kexby Bridge and then Grimston Bar. Then from Grimston Bar to Gate Helmsley, Skirpenbeck and Stamford Bridge and to the top of Garrowby hill where the trust ended.
Local landowners, gentry and clergy contributed to turnpike schemes, as well as larger investors who for many years made a lot of money out of such investments. All put up money, and took a moderate return, the balance to be used for road repairs. Francis Barlow of Pocklington subscribed £500 out of the initial £3,000 of the Kexby to York Trust, which was as much subscribed by the Mayor and Commonalty of the City of York.
Alternative tracks started to get used to avoid payment of the tolls and a road from Youlthorpe to Bugthorpe had become quite well used, reference is made to it in a Surveyor’s Report of 1894 saying “it appears to have been made to evade the Toll Bars”. It was a finable offence to use the road and evade paying a toll but it was obviously fair game to use an alternative route. In October 1864, Charles Schofield, publican at Wilberfoss was charged with taking a horse and cart over land which was not a public road to avoid the turnpike toll and George Beal the farmer was also fined for allowing him to do so. In 1823 charges for coaches varied from two shillings and threepence for carts or waggons pulled by six horses, to one penny for a horse being ridden, with two oxen being rated as one horse. A traveller from Hay-on-Wye to Scarborough paid £22 in tolls in the 1770s at a time when a labourer earned about one shilling (5p) a day!
The turnpike trusts were inefficient and unpopular. Competition from the railways and heavier road traffic caused their decline. The Beverley to Kexby Bridge road ceased to be a Turnpike Road by the passing of the Highways and Locomotives (Amendment) Act in 1878. The Barmby Toll Weighing engine was sold in a sale in 1881. Remnants of the turnpike system are still to be seen. Look out for the old milestones still visible on the roads to York (maintained by the milestone society), and the toll bars situated close to the road.