Walking the Route of a Turnpike Trust – Euston to Highgate

Having already pursued a methodology founded on specificity, whereby I retraced the steps of an individual, who walked on a specific day, for a purpose which caused them to document the entire process; I decided to attempt a more generalized act of walking,  to recreate a route pursued by many individuals, over centuries, for reasons which did not warrant individual record. Of course, in order to be able to recreate a walk, record must exist, so I took the lead of contemporaries. I decided to follow a route traveled with such regularity, that it caused Parliament to institute legislation specifically for its maintenance and improvement, specifically, a Turnpike Toll Road.

Alan Rosevear’s Map of Turnpikes in Middlesex illustrates how, by 1720, all major roads into and out of the City of London were maintained by Turnpike Trusts, and by 1730 even the route between London and its most proximate suburbs were administered similarly. In Middlesex by the 1820s there were around 170 miles of Turnpike Trust Roads, and in London and the surrounding counties the total was 2067 miles. The following map is specifically of part of the routes between Highgate and the City, based on Rosevear’s but plotted onto a more geographically accurate map, dated to 1837, around the peak of Turnpike mileage nationwide. I chose to focus my walk on this Trust, as I expected its entirety to produce a manageable number of leads for investigation, and because of its proximity to the centre of the City.

These roads were administered by the Hampstead & Highgate Trusts as the ‘Old Road Toll’. The Trusts were established in 1717. They are mentioned in an Act of 1826 concerning the consolidation of the Metropolitan Turnpikes north of the Thames, which describes an Act dated to the 8th of June 1821, named ‘Repairing the Roads leading to Highgate Gate House and Hampstead, and other Roads thereinmentioned, all in the County of Middlesex; and for watching, lighting, and otherwise improving the said Roads.‘ [John Raithby, The Statutes of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Vol. 10., (George Eyre and Andrew Strahan, London, 1826), pp. 907-909.] Accessed 28/11/2016. At this point, they administered around 20 miles of road and raised £12341 in tolls in 1820.

Carey’s General Plan For Explaining The Different Trusts Of The Turnpike Gates In The Vicinity Of The Metropolis, 1790, Courtesy of MAPCO, Area 5. in Yellow.

When established, the roads within these Trusts seem to run through fields surrounding the city, with no development along their length. Even by 1837 the area is only developed adjacent to the existing toll roads. Booth’s 1889 Map shows however that in the half-century intervening, streets have branched off from the main road, and it has taken on a distinctly more urban character. For the most part the main street is show to be well-off or mixed, with pockets of poverty to be found in the back streets.

A Plan Of The Cities Of London, Westminster And Borough Of Southwark;With The New Additional Buildings, 1720, Courtesy of MAPCO.


The Same Area, in recent Satellite Photographs.

The walk followed this Route. While I did not expect to learn much about the London of the c.18th which gave rise to the system of Toll roads, or for that matter did I expect any major physical remnants of the road’s prior format to survive, I had some optimism snippets from this period might survive, in street and building names, perhaps even in the form of a Church or Inn. The roads and pavements themselves are of course similar to any other modern urban street, as part of the process of repair and improvement for which turnpikes were originally instituted, and Rosevear’s Assessment that no Toll Houses survive is accurate, at least in my observation. However, given that  the road may change its format, but not its route, I was curious as to how an arterial, logistical road might come to accommodate business, industry and residence, as the city expanded. As a place into which London grew largely during the c.19th, I hoped it might therefore reflect an Urban Plan particular to the period.

Cary’s New Plan of London and its Vicinity, 1837, Courtesy of MAPCO, Roads Administered by the Turnpike Trust coloured in Light Blue.



Beginning at Euston Square, I found myself backed by two imposing structures, Friends’ Hall, founded 1927 and St Pancras’ Parish Church, consecrated 1822. Euston Station – a rail terminus since 1837 – stood to my left, and the London County Council Fire Brigade Station, completed in 1902, to my right. This might serve as an apt metaphor, placing a City governed by Parish and Religious authority to  the South, and heading outwards to a newer London, represented jointly by new technology and newly minted Civil Authority; if only this weren’t complicated by the actual dates of each institution. Not to be disheartened by my subject’s resistance to being narrativised, I began north.

Eversholt Street runs along the East side of Euston Station for its whole length, and at this hour is not busy, aside from traffic servicing the station. This microcosm was somewhat evocative of the nationwide demise of Turnpike Trusts, as railways became a more efficient means of transporting goods into and between cities. I was to find that the road became busier  Only along Kentish Town Road were the roads busy, otherwise this route seemed to have been surpassed by others. Little of note lay along Eversholt Street, smaller three-storey Victorian and Edwardian Townhouses giving way to larger Victorian and Edwardian Townhouses. The broad pavements alone hinted at the prior purpose of the now-quiet street.

Where I begin down Camden High Street there stands a statue of Richard Cobden dated to 1868, and paid for by public subscription, to which Napoleon III was a major contributor. Cobden, a figure pivotal in the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, was an ardent supporter of free-trade and laissez-faire capitalism. Turnpike Trusts were largely resented by those who used them, and those who lived in cities isolated by them. They effectively created a tariff on imports into the capital, and so the erection of a statue to a figure so opposed to protectionism in this location has a certain – presumably unintended – dissonance.

The Richard Cobden Statue, at the junction of Camden High Street, Hampstead Road and Crowndale Road. 

Further into Camden I came cross the Trinity Church   Though a Presbytarian congregation had existed in the area since 1835 – when sermons were first given under a railway arch to navvies working on the railway – the current building had been constructed in 1909 to replace an older Chapel acquired by the congregation. During the reconstruction sermons had been held opposite at the YMCA, now a Sainsbury’s, but consideration had been given to the Turkish Baths on Prince of Wales Road. These I encountered later on, grandiose buildings established in 1903 and restored between 2007 and 2010, On 50 yards of street there stands the Baths; Una House, a Camden Borough Council run housing block, established 1922; One Prince of Wales Road, a building of the North-Western Polytechnic from 1929, and Hope Chapel. This unusual concentration of institution is also notable in that, the baths and polytechnic having separate facilities based on gender, the gated housing containing the poor in what was a well-to-do area, and the Chapel confining a small community of believers.

Further along the route, the ties to its prior purpose became further eroded. As I approached Highgate, the streets broadened and remained residential, but I could find no links between the institutions upon them and the prior administration of the roads. My finding, perhaps predictable, is that a generalized walk, not linked to a specific, well documented past act of walking, is limited in its capacity to provide anything more that a generalized, unspecific impression of its subject. I encountered difficulty in relating the points of interest I encountered on the walk to its intended theme. While my structure was measure I took to avoid being guided or biased by the attractions of street as it is today, a more impulsive, less planned route may have yielded its own theme, and allowed the surviving artifacts of the past to guide my investigation. While there are certainly a few historical leads to work from related to the theme of the walk, in this instance the actual walking of the route for the most part was not in itself informative. I approached the source – in this instance the modern streets – knowing what nature of information I wanted to find and perhaps walking – more even than other methodologies – requires that the source lead the investigation.





Bogart, Dan, Turnpike Trusts and the Transportation Revolution in Eighteenth Century England, (2004). Accessed 28/11/2016


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s