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Early Modern

ROAD TRANSPORT

STAGE COACHES

  

Coach 1

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The first stage coaches began to run through Dartford on the London to Canterbury route around 1670. A late eighteenth century guide book for travellers relates that "One can hardly imagine a more lively and bustling thoroughfare than Dartford, the Street is lined on each side with Carriages of different sorts and there are no less than 22 Stage Vehicles of various Denominations that pass through it every day towards Dover". Stage coaches opened up the possibility of long-distance travel for rich and poor alike. Poorer passengers travelled on top of the coach if they could not afford the inside fare.

  

Royal Victoria & Bull Hotel

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The emphasis with all stage coach services was on speed. Stage coaches known as flyers linked the principal towns and cities of Britain, sometimes achieving record speeds en route. Regular change of the teams of horses used to pull stage coaches was vital if speed was to be maintained. Some long-distance routes required the use of as many as seventy horses on the outward and return journeys. Dartford provided inns and stabling where teams of horses could be changed at breakneck speed. Accidents were common, as was traffic congestion in small market towns like Dartford. As the quality of roads improved in the second half of the eighteenth century more and more traffic could be found on the roads.

  

Coach 2

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A private coach was an essential feature of a wealthy lifestyle. Most of Dartford’s leading families would have access to at least one family coach. Private chaises and carriages multiplied, so much so, that the government decided to impose a tax on carriages in 1747. Local carriers provided a wagon service for poorer passengers and their goods, linking villages and hamlets with the town. The transport revolution generated a need for road maps. It was not until 1625 that a road map of Kent with distances was published by John Norden. In the second half of the eighteenth century, milestones were erected on many of the country’s principal roads. The 15th milestone from London Bridge was sited in Dartford High Street.

With an increase in travel came an increase in crime. Travellers provided a soft target for the highwaymen who frequented local roads. As early as 1564, William Heley of Horton Kirby was indicted at the Dartford assizes for highway robbery, and later hanged. He stole money and a sword worth 13s.4d from Griffin Williams ‘in the highway at Horton Kirby’.

  

Coach 3

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With an increase in travel came an increase in crime. Travellers provided a soft target for the highwaymen who frequented local roads. As early as 1564, William Heley of Horton Kirby was indicted at the Dartford assizes for highway robbery, and later hanged. He stole money and a sword worth 13s.4d from Griffin Williams ‘in the highway at Horton Kirby’.

Mail carts were introduced in the 1770s. The first mail coach was introduced in 1784 and soon became widespread. Mail coaches carrying valuable parcels and cash were sometimes the subject of armed robbery.

Many ordinary men still travelled on horseback. Horses were a valuable commodity and status symbol. Horses were a target of theft for many centuries. In 1598, William Hartford of Dartford was hanged for stealing an iron-grey horse. The horse was valued at 3. Richard Awtye of Dartford was hanged in 1602 for a similar offence involving the theft of a grey gelding.

 

Document 1: Click the link below to view the document

A suspected highwayman. A deposition on oath in the quarter sessions sworn the 18 February 1749

 

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Milestone

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TURNPIKE ROADS

The maintenance of public roads was always a problem for towns like Dartford. The costs of the material used and the labour involved had to be paid for by the local parish. Dartford was perhaps slightly unfortunate in that a major road passed through the centre of the parish. From 1649-59 the Dartford parish authorities were indicted at the assize courts on three separate occasions for failing to keep the main highway between Dartford and Gravesend in an acceptable state of repair. Rutted and pot-holed roads slowed traffic and caused accidents. Some roads in winter were almost impassable. A parish officer known as surveyor of the highways was appointed in Dartford in 1662.

Maintenance of minor roads was sometimes the responsibility of individual land-owners. In 1650, John Lake of Stone was indicted at the Dartford assizes for failing to repair the highway between the market cross and Blackman’s Mill in Dartford.

The advent of stage coaches created a need for well-maintained roads. In 1776 owners of stage horses were taxed by the government for the repair of highways. The most significant developments in the upgrading and maintenance of roads resulted from the establishment of the first Turnpike trusts. The first Turnpike trusts in England date back to 1663. The aim of the Turnpike trusts was to use private money to build and maintain high-quality roads; those using the roads would have to pay tolls. Local worthies used their own capital to fund the roads and then reaped any profits made.

  

Roads & crossroads of Great Britain

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The principle that new roads should be built or old ones improved by means of a capital programme serviced by tolls, was novel and initially controversial. Attacks were made on the Turnpike roads. Destruction of Turnpike roads and property was punished by hanging after the passing of an Act in 1735.

The quality of the early Turnpike roads was not particularly good and there were often complaints about the lack of maintenance. Nevertheless, the existence of these roads made a huge difference to the comfort and speed of ordinary travel.

Not surprisingly, Dartford was gripped by turnpike mania. In 1760 an Act was passed to improve the highway between Dartford, Stone and Northfleet. Trustees were appointed to supervise the construction of gates, turnpikes, weighing engines and toll-houses along the length of the road. A toll gate was constructed on West Hill, Dartford, and a toll house built at John’s Hole in the adjoining parish of Stone. A ticket was given to the person wishing to travel along a Turnpike road, in return for the payment of the toll. Trustees of turnpikes could take legal action for the non-payment of tolls.

 

Document 2: Click the link below to view the document

Levy of tolls using the Dartford to Northfleet turnpike road, 1760

 

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