General information on Toll cottage from Beeding, Sussex

This article is from the Museum Guidebook. © Weald & Downland Open Air Museum

Toll houses were built as part of the system of road maintenance by Turnpike Trusts, whereby private trusts were empowered to stop the public highway with gates, bars, and turnpikes. At these points, on average three or four miles apart, a toll was demanded for vehicular and animal traffic.

The Beeding Toll Cottage was built to control what the official turnpike records call ‘the new road to avoid Beeding Hill, from Beeding through Old Shoreham to the south-east corner of the Sheep Fold in the parish of Kingston-by-Sea’. This was a diversion authorised by Parliament in 1807, and the cottage was probably built at the same time.

The new road eased the route through the Downs by avoiding the severe gradient of Beeding Hill, considerably improving the movement of traffic between the older centres of population of the western Weald, such as Petworth and Steyning, and the rising Brighton of the Prince Regent’s time. The road remained turnpiked until 1885, and together with the Horsham–Steyning–Beeding road has the added interest of being the last public road in Sussex on which a toll was levied.

Reconstruction

The Beeding Toll Cottage is characteristic of toll cottages in the triangle between Worthing, Horsham and Shoreham but is the last survival of this type — all the others have been demolished for road improvements. It was dismantled and moved to the Museum in 1968 after an accident in which a lorry caused severe damage to the structure. The missing front section and chimney have been reconstructed from photographic evidence.

The toll cottage after it was damaged by a lorry in 1967

The toll cottage after it was damaged by a lorry in 1967

An old photograph of the very similar cottage at Bramber, on the same turnpike road, shows clearly the gates and general arrangement of the road, and replicas of these have been reconstructed at the Museum. The toll board, attached to the outside of the toll cottage, originally came from the Northchapel Tollhouse near Petworth.

A 19th century photograph showing the toll cottage at Bramber

A 19th century photograph showing the toll cottage at Bramber

By the General Turnpike Act of 1766 it was compulsory for turnpike trustees to erect milestones. Unfortunately, many were lost or destroyed during the last war after they had been removed for security reasons, and those that have survived are in constant danger of being lost in road-widening schemes. One that has been saved is exhibited near the toll cottage. Inscribed ‘52’ it marked the distance to London, and came from Erringham, near Shoreham, from the same stretch of turnpike road as the toll cottage; it is therefore almost certainly dated 1807. On top of the stone is a brass stud which is part of a rather unusual Ordnance Survey bench mark. The height above Ordnance Datum has been kindly checked in its new location by the Ordnance Survey. It is 204.42 feet (62.31 metres).

Turnpike Trusts

The upkeep of medieval roads was the responsibility of landowners, until Tudor legislation gave the task to the parish, every householder having to contribute six days’ work each year.

In 1663 a new method was introduced, when a Turnpike Trust was formed to improve the road between Wadesmill (Herts) and Stilton (Hunts). Money for repairs was raised by collecting tolls from the users of the road. Many more such trusts were set up during the 18th and early 19th centuries — an Act of Parliament being needed for each one — until eventually there were over 1,100 trusts administering some 23,000 miles of road.

The system was unpopular and inefficient. In the 19th century the trusts were unable to cope with competition from the railways and the demands of heavier road traffic. Their maladministration and insufficient funds caused Parliament to withdraw their powers, so that during the 1860s and 1870s most trusts were wound up by law.

Copy of the toll board from Northchapel

Copy of the toll board from Northchapel