Turnpikes and Toll Bridges

View of Oxford from the Henley Road
Author's collection

In late 1837 Brunel came to Culham, and in a letter to Francis Davenport advising him of the visit he made mention of the turnpike road from Abingdon to Dorchester-on-Thames via Clifton Hampden. This piqued our interest and we discovered that there were several toll bridges also nearby. We did a bit of research and these pages are the result. Their aim is not to provide an in depth history, but rather give an insight into yet another fascinating subject local to and contemporary with the opening of the station at Culham.

The Oxford to Henley turnpike

This engraving by John Le Keux, from a drawing by F.Mackenzie was first published in 1837 in the book Memorials of Oxford by James Ingram D.D. who was President of Trinity College. It shows a stage coach nearing the city on the dusty Oxford to Henley turnpike road. The Abingdon to Dorchester turnpike road would have joined this main route linking Oxford with London at Dorchester-on-Thames.

An Act for repairing the Roads leading from Henley Bridge, in the County of Oxford, to Dorchester Bridge, and from thence to Culham Bridge, and to a Place called Milestone, in the Road leading to Magdalen Bridge, in the said County passed through Parliament in 1735, and gave the necessary powers for the turnpike trust to be established. The trust was empowered to collect tolls from various classes of road user and was required to maintain and improve the road over which it operated. The trust's powers were extended by further acts in 1755, 1781, 1802 and 1821 with a final Act in 1842 which was set to last for 31 years, expiring in 1873. Turnpike roads were gradually absorbed into Highway Districts and were all effectively wound up by 1871, the main roads around Abingdon being looked after by the Abingdon Highways Board. The section of road from Culham to Abingdon, however, remained the responsibility of a turnpike trust until 1st November 1875 when the Culham, Abingdon and Fyfield Roads Act of 1822 expired.

A great number of turpike acts expired but remained on the statute book for many years, never having been repealed, and these included the two mentioned above. This was finally addressed by a Law Commission consultation paper published in 2010 which identified all the expired turnpike acts in England and Wales so that they could be repealed.

The route to Oxford can still be traced along today's roads (with allowance for later diversions and by-passes). As it leaves Dorchester, after Abingdon Road diverges to the left, it carries on along the old Oxford Road to where it becomes the A4074, past Berinsfield and on through Nuneham Courtenay. It gets a bit more difficult as we approach Oxford, but basically it leaves the dual carriageway before reaching the Oxford ring road and follows the Henley Road into Sandford-on-Thames. Carrying on along the Sandford Road, then the Oxford Road, it crosses the ring road and becomes the A4158 (Rose Hill, then Henley Avenue, and finally Iffley Road) eventually arriving at the Plain roundabout in St.Clement's on the eastern side of Magdalen Bridge. As now, this was the meeting point for various major routes into the city, Iffley Road, Cowley Road and an alternative route to London via Headington and Wheatley. This was also one of the proposed locations for the first station in Oxford.

Milestones are so called as they were required to be placed at one mile intervals along turnpike roads. Many very old ones have disappered but perhaps surprisingly, one trace of the centuries old route into Oxford from Henley still remains - if you know where to look. On the grass verge outside 37 Rose Hill, there is a milestone which dates from around 1736. It has two inscriptions, the later one dates from the early nineteenth century and reads LONDON 56, HENLEY 21, OXFORD 1. Could this be the milestone, or its replacement, referred to in the Act of Parliament above? Visit the Oxford History website to see a photograph of this remarkable survivor and to read more about it, other milestones, and the St.Clement's tollgates.

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