Roads, Railways and Canals

Transport changed very quickly in the period 1700-1900 as a result of an increased need for better methods of moving goods, new technologies and large scale investment in the countries infra-structure (communications network).

The changes came in several stages. First Roads were improved, then Canals were built and finally the Railway was developed. Each change had an impact upon life in the country, each shortened travel times over longer distances and each enabled industrialists to seek new markets in previously out of reach areas of the country. Likewise they enabled more raw materials and goods to be shipped to and from factories, providing further impetus to the industrial age.

Prior to the Industrial Age getting around the country was very difficult, as these images of a stage coach demonstrates.

The Turnpike Trust

Turnpike trusts were local companies that were se up to maintain roads. They were toll roads, where the user had to pay a fee (a toll) to make use of the road. These trusts were needed because the government did not finance things such as roads at the time.

Turnpike trusts would need to raise quite a lot of money to make improvements to the roads. The image below shows you what roads were like in the days before tarmac and regular repairs to roads.

As roads were often simply mud tracks they would be cut up in wet weather, leaving ruts when they dried out. This could damage vehicles using the road and make the road very hard to use.

Roads such as these were not really suitable for transporting fragile goods along. Industrialists needed flat and hard wearing roads to enable larger wagons to be able to make use of them safely. Turnpike trusts enabled this to happen. The diagram below shows what the outcome of Turnpike trusts was for roads.

Straighter, hard wearing roads would improve journey times and make travelling more comfortable. paying for using the roads allowed Turnpike trusts to employ professionals to make and imprve the roads, making travel by Road a lot more effective.

Not everybody was pleased with Turnpike Trusts however. Lots of people were very angry that they had to pay money to use roads that had previously been free. In some places there were violent protests about the roads and toll houses and toll gates were the target of angry mobs. These protests were called the Rebecca Riots.

As the industrial Revolution continued and other forms of transport, such as the Canal and the Railway systems evolved, the need for Turnpike Trusts was reduced. Eventually the government and local authorities took responsibility for making roads. Furthe improvements were made, by engineers such as Telford, MacAdam and Metcalfe.

These men used a range of ideas, not too dissimilar to those that the Romans had used two thousand years earlier, to make roads flatter, smoother and more hard wearing. The diagram below shows the way in which each of these engineers designed their roads, making use of a variety of types of material.

Each of these engineers realised that roads needed to be ’rounded’ so that rain water could drain from the road easily. They each used a number of different sizes of stone to provide further drainage and a firm foundation. This led to roads becoming much stronger and safer for wagons and coache to use.

Select a form of transport from the list below to find out more about changes in the way we moved around the country.

Industrial Revolution Homepage  
Before the Industrial RevolutionFamous FactoriesWomen and Children during the Industrial Revolution
MigrationInventions and InventorsThe Workhouse
Life in an Industrial TownIndustrialists and PhilanthropistsRailways and Canals
Working ConditionsDisease in the Industrial RevolutionChartists and the Peoples Charter
LudditesSwing RiotsRebecca Riots
Protests, Riots and Conspiracies of the Industrial Age