Brian Moseley, Plymouth
Webpage created: August 04, 2017.
Webpage updated: August 04, 2017




With most of the British major road system improved and made into turnpike roads by 1750, agitation soon started for the same to be done to the Great West Road from London to Falmouth and its by-road to Plymouth.  The main route from London into Cornwall had been via Exeter, Okehampton and Launceston while the route via Ashburton to Plymouth was of a secondary nature.  This is why the Okehampton road is today the A30 while the Plymouth road is the A38.  The Plymouth road was very busy during times of war but it was narrow, only 10 to 12 feet wide, hilly and so muddy that it was more like a river bed than a road.

By Act of Parliament (Exeter Roads 26 Geo 2 1753 Ch 74?) the Exeter Turnpike Trustees were allowed to improve the road from Exeter as far as Chudleigh Bridge.    The mid section, from Chudleigh Bridge to Brent Bridge at South Brent, was authorised in 1755 (Devon Roads 28 Geo 2 1755 Ch 49?) to the Ashburton Trustees. 

The final stretch, from Brent Bridge to the Gasking Gate in Plymouth, was authorised in 1757 (Devon Roads 31 Geo 2 1757 Ch 51?).  The Plymouth Eastern Turnpike Trust were to carry out the work.  The road was opened in 1758 and immediately the landlord of the Prince George Inn on the corner of Stillman Street and Vauxhall Street started to run a weekly diligence as far as Exeter, a journey that took a staggering twelve hours.  There was a toll house at Crabtree and another at Ivybridge.

Within another two years there was another carriage running between the White Hart Hotel in Old Town Street and Exeter and by 1785 the Royal Mail were using the road as well.

Only one toll could be collected on the road in the original Act of Parliament but the continuation Act of 1776 allowed the toll to be collected at each toll-gate, which doubled the cost of travel between Ivybridge and Plymouth.

Apparently the new road was 'well-formed but too narrow, and the lofty hedges were an intolerable nuisance to travellers', wrote one traveller, William Marshall, in 1796.

An increase in the tolls was permitted under the Brent Bridge and Plymouth Road Act 1800 (39 & 40 Geo. 3 Ch. vi).  A waggon being hauled by eight horses paid 5 shillings.  Travelling on a Sunday was doubly expensive but then it was something of a sin to travel on the Sabbath in those days.

In the 42nd year of the reign of King George III (1802), the Lord Boringdon obtained an Act of Parliament to construct the 'Lairy Embankment' [Ch. 32] and the following year a similar Act authorised the turnpike road to be built across the top of the Embankment from Efford Quay into Plymouth.

So much was this new road an improvement over the hilly route over Lipson Hill and along the northern bank of Lipson Creek that on October 25th 1809 the Corporation opened a new road from Breton Side to the Embankment.  This they named Jubilee Road in celebration of King George III's Jubilee.

A further Act in 1813 (54 Geo. 3 Ch. lii) allowed for a new road between Plympton's St Mary's Bridge and the Long Bridge so as to avoid the marshy land which was quite often flooded.  That Act also required the road to be widened from 15 feet to 30 feet and to have a footpath, five feet wide, on the south side of the road, all the way from Efford Quay to Brent Bridge.

At that time, heavy waggons were considered to being damaging to the roads and those with narrow wheels even more so.  They could be charged as much as sixteen shillings at one toll gate.  In order to regulate the problem, waggons were required to be weighed and at some time a weighbridge was installed near the tollgate at Crabtree.  This would have been simply a rope device cantilevered out of the upper story of a building.

In 1818 the Plymouth Eastern Turnpike Trust made a proposal to the Exeter and Ashburton Trusts, that they share the cost of a survey by Mr James Green of anew line of road between Exeter and Plymouth to replace the rather hilly route then used.  Exeter agreed to this on March 3rd 1818 and a start was made in December the following year.  This came to an abrupt halt and on May 5th 1820 a revised plan was presented to Parliament.

The Royal Assent to this Act (1 Geo. 4 Ch. xxi) was given on June 22nd 1820 and it, in effect, created a new Plymouth and Exeter Turnpike Trust, although it would seem that the Plymouth Eastern actually paid for and carried out the construction of the new road while the Exeter Trust took over the on-going maintenance and repair.  In fact, the toll-house at Haldon Hill, near Exeter, was the property of the Plymouth Eastern Trust until 1841 when the road was formally taken over by the Exeter Trust.  The new road was completed by November 5th 1822.

There were two more Acts of Parliament in 1841 (4 & 5 Vict. Ch. xxxi) (4 & 5 Vict. Ch. xxxii).

An interesting observation was made about this Turnpike at the Trust's Annual General Meeting on February 6th 1847.  Mr Fox proposed: "That as the funds were so flourishing and the debt so comparatively small, the Trust was in a position altogether to do away with the Bittaford Bridge Gate".  He further proposed that it should be removed after July 27th.  Doctor Butter addressed the meeting by pointing out that he had been trying to get this Gate closed or the tolls reduced for the past eleven years.

He told how a cart could travel from Tavistock into Plymouth, a distance of some 14 miles, pass three Turnpike Gates (although the Lewis Jones's Gate at Mutley Plain had been closed by this time) and pay a toll of 3d at each of them yet a similar cart travelling to Plymouth from South Brent, along the Eastern Turnpike, has to pass through five Gates, requiring a payment of 2s 4d.  If the cart returned to Brent with goods then that was another 2s 4d.  Furthermore, on the Tavistock road the payment of the toll at one Gate exempted you from paying at the next one.  That did not apply on the Exeter road west of Bittaford, where a toll was payable at every gate, three of which were within a distance of 4 miles.  How, Doctor Butter asked, could a farmer from South Brent be expected to compete with a farmer from Tavistock?  Sometimes 100 carts passed through the Knackersnowle Gate in a day whereas often no carts at all would travel westwards of Bittaford.  The proposal to close Bittaford Bridge gate was accepted.

At the Ordinary General Meeting of the Trust on Saturday March 9th 1861 at the Plymouth Guildhall, Mr Robert Stephens, clerk to the trustees, reported that the revenue received from tolls during 1860 had been 660 and a further 2 had been received in fines.  The contractor, Mr Thomas Bennett, had been paid 240 for the repair of the road during the year while the clerk and surveyor had cost them 36 15s and 40 respectively.  Some 200 had bee paid off the debt, which was thus reduced to 2,314 3s 9d.  In addition, 165 4s 7d had been expended to create new footpaths and other improvements.  Mr Andrews was appointed surveyor for the forthcoming year and Mr Henry Clark and Mr W F Moore were elected as trustees. 

The Plymouth Eastern Turnpike Trust ceased in 1873.