This page contains material on the users of the Roads into London in the 17th to 19th centuries.

  • For information on common carriers and coachmasters operating services into London before the turnpike era click on Carriers & London Inns. (this material was previously on an AOL hosted web site on London Carriers)
  • Specific information on traffic on the roads along the Thames Valley during the turnpike era is given below on this page.


Traffic on Turnpikes West of London

Volume of Traffic

Directories of common carriers into London appeared after the mid-17th century (see details in Carriers & Inns). The earliest records are patchy and sometime ambiguous and it is not clear how many of these services were packhorses or simple carts but it is clear that by the end of the 17th century significant numbers of carriers were using wagons to carry goods along the main highways into London. Although the Great North Road attracted the most comment because of the number of heavy maltsters wagons, the number of common carriers using the roads from the west was at least as great. What is not clear is how much additional wagon traffic there was from farmers and clothiers hauling their own goods from the West Country towards London.


In 1637 when the earliest surviving directory of carriers into London was published there were 8 Carrier services per week through Reading and 18 joining them at Maidenhead from along the Henley Road. A further 7 passed along the Salisbury Road through Bagshot to join them at Hounslow. Over the following 200 years the number of services along these western roads increased, though not as dramatically as might be expected from the sustained increases in trade and improvements in road transport over the period. By the late 18th century there were 30 carrier services through Reading, with smaller increases on the other roads. This contrasts with 113 services per week at a similar point on the Coventry Road. However, the size of the vehicles and the weight of goods carried along the western roads would have risen dramatically. Packhorses could carry only a hundredweight each and primitive carts only carried a few hundred weights. However, a typical wide-wheeled stage waggon from the early 1800s, as illustrated in Fig 16 could carry several tons of mixed merchandise. The Turnpike Acts restricted this vehicle to carry no more than 6 tons of goods in the summer season and 4 tons in the winter. These carrier services terminated at several different market towns along the full length of the main highways. Towns like Reading benefited from these through services and there was no particular need for a large number of local wagoners in Reading to assure the traders of a regular service. In general, carriers from the remoter towns were at an advantage since they benefited from lower costs, particularly of horse provender, in the provinces (Gerhold 1998).


Stagecoaches had only just begun to appear in England at the time of the 1637 directory, and none of the few services were on the roads west of London. However, by the late 17th century there were 55 coach services per week passing through Reading, making this the busiest coach route out of London. Unlike carrier services the termini for coaches on the Bath Road were more limited. They were predominantly long distance services from London to Bath/Bristol or medium distance services making a one-day journey to London from the Reading area. Very few of these services ran on a Sunday. A notice in the Reading Mercury of Aug 1787 the Newbury Justices announced “to coachmasters, waggoners & drovers of cattle on the road between Bath & London, travelling within the District on a Sabbath will be prosecuted with the full rigour of the law”.


A detailed survey of traffic along the Bath Road was conducted by Mr Dinorben Hughes in 1834, as part of the case to construct the Great Western Railway (Reeve 1981). Over the period of a fortnight there were;

Post Horses

Vans & wagons

Coaches with 4 horses

Coaches with 2 horses

Coaches with private horses


Market carts

Carts laden with timber

118 pairs

Drawn by 2230 horses





drawn by 287 horses

drawn by 21 horses



Coal carts

Hay carts

Straw carts





42 horses

drawn by 34 horses

drawn by 31 horses

drawn by 22 horses




The traffic is clearly dominated by horses pulling wheeled vehicles (6600 horses). It is assumed that the miscellaneous horses being ridden rather than pack animals. The relatively small number of cattle suggests that this crossing was not one of the main drove roads, irrespective of the time of year.


Assuming that the vans and waggons had on average 4 horses drawing (6 on stage wagons and 2 on vans) there appear to be a similar number of freight vehicles and passenger vehicles using the Bath Road at this point. These data suggest that about 800 long distance wagons/vans and 800 passenger coaches passed over Maidenhead Bridge over the fortnight; this equates to around 60 full sized coaches per day, assuming that very few coaches ran on a Sunday.


Records of the total number of vehicles using a turnpike are rare, a detailed breakdown of when the traffic used the roads is even rarer. A few records of toll gate income on a weekly basis have survived. Income from the tollgather on the Egham road in the late 18th century shows very little variation from week to week, except for a rise from the normal £14 to £19 in the last week in October (Halloween) and the week before Christmas. The former corresponds to the Michaelmas Fair in Basingstoke and latter was presumably the result of an increased flow of traffic to the London Markets. The income from three gates on the Windsor Forest Road in 1759 show an interesting pattern that may reflect increased vehicle traffic to attend Fairs and Markets. In the weeks beginning August 13th and Sept 24th the Loddon Bridge Gate nearest Reading took around £5 in toll as compared with a more normal £1-3s. The Blacknest Gate nearest the Bagshot did not show these increases but took significantly more in the week of June 18th. One of the main fairs in Reading is on Sept 21st accounts for one of the weeks when traffic was high at Loddon Bridge.


A receipt for printing toll tickets for the Aldermaston to Basingstoke Trust has survived. This trust purchased batches of 500 tickets for its Pamber End Gate in May, July, Sept and Oct 1841 at 2/6 per batch. The Baughurst gate had one batch of a 1000 tickets. This suggests that on average 1500 tickets lasted the Pamber End gate four months. At that time coach horses paid 6d and a waggon horse 4d and so assuming a minor road such as this had small vehicles, the average toll might be a ten pence. In a year Pamber End Gate might then yield £187; the joint income from letting the tolls of two gates was £287 at this period, indicating that on the smaller turnpikes the lessees must have retained a significant portion of the tolls for expenses.


The turnpike traffic may have been light compared with modern traffic flow but it may still have had its rush hour. In 1834 there were 22 coach services along the Bath Road. An analysis of the departure times of services from London in 1828 shows that 9 left in the early morning (most at 6am), 9 left in the late afternoon (most between 4 and 5m) and 5 left at 1 p.m. The journey time to Bath was generally 15 hours so the morning coaches arrived at Bath in time for dinner at 10pm and the afternoon coaches ran through the night to arrive at 7am for Breakfast. The 1am coach departures were particularly fast 12 hour coaches. The rush hour in Reading, 5 hours from London was lunch time and late evening

Private Coaches & Post chaises

In the 17th century the better class of traveller could afford to take private coach. Pepys travelled in this manner from Bath to London in 1668, taking three days to complete the journey. This included loosing the way between Newbury and Reading. By the early 18th century a network of posting houses had developed to provide private travellers with postchaises and good horses. Hiring out postchaises must have been a significant source of income for some innkeepers but they could only supply horses to be used for a limited distance from their inn. As a result consortia of postchaise hirers worked together. For instance in 1755 two consortia advertised services along the Bath Road. Mary Dalrymple of the Angel Inn, Marlborough, William Mackelary at the Kings Head, Speenhamland and James Askue at the Kings Head, Reading offered two and four wheel chaises at prices between 7s for a 2-wheel chaise from Reading to Maidenhead and 15s for a 4 wheel chaise from Speenhamland to Marlborough. The competing consortium of John March at the Orkney Arms, Maidenhead Bridge, Richard Fisher at the Crown, Reading, John Carey at the Pelican, Speenhamland, George Smith at the Castle, Marlborough offered a longer network of hire from Hounslow to Chippenham (Philips 1983).

Stage Coach Services

Speed, convenience, cost and comfort were the features that mattered to coach passengers. In the early 17th century there were no practical alternatives to the large lumbering coaches that took at least one long day, and in winter two days, to reach London from places such as Oxford (a distance of 60 miles). The Bath Road was an important thoroughfare and the wealthy customers helped make this the first important long distance stage coach route with regular and frequent services for public use. The towns along the road clearly benefited from this service as well, both in terms of transport and the business that came from serving and servicing these coaches. Until the mid 18th century services in the winter (i.e. after October) were scheduled to take much longer and it was normally April before coachmasters began to announce that their full services had “begun Flying”. By the 19th century the services were far less affected by normal winter weather, although severe snow storms totally disrupted services in the same way they still do today.

Stage Wagon Services

Stage wagon services were much slower than coach services, and in the early days some used oxen rather than horses to drag the wagon. In Nov 1746, Thomas Florey advertised The Reading Waggon that inns at the Peacock in Broad Street, Reading; and at Gerrard’s Hall Inn, London: with six good Cattle as any that travels the Road, and all appurtenances in complete and substantial order. The whole is to be disposed of on very reasonable terms, provided it be continued at the same house, where there are all manner of Convenience of Stables, Haylofts, Granaries and a good dwelling house if wanted and where goods and passengers have been used to be taken up for many years.


Even in 1746 some carrier services were still performed with packhorses, exemplified by an advert in The Reading Mercury; Basingstoke Constant Stage Waggon, Three Times a Week. Sets out from Basingstoke every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at ten o’clock in the forenoon and goes to the Rose Inn, Holborn Bridge, London, every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday; returns from the said Rose Inn every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at ten o’clock and comes to Basingstoke every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. Goods and passengers are carried to all places adjacent at usual prices by George Grisewood

NB The Winchester, Southampton, Rumsey, Ringwood, Pool, Alresford, Marlborough, Calne, Chippenham, Ramsbury, Hungerford and Thatcham waggons lye at the said Rose Inn. Also the Gloucester and Cirencester packhorses. The Waggon which did belong to widow Stanbridge is purchased by G Grisewood. The 1749 directory advertises a weekly packhorse service from Bristol to London


However, an advert from 1750, clearly shows that the larger long-distance carriers such as Leader from Abingdon used horse teams, in this case three 6-horse teams to provide the weekly service;  the Highworth Stage wagon now in the possession of the widow Leader of Abingdon, together with 18 good able horses, and all the utensils thereof belonging, are to be disposed of, the said widow being in an ill state of health. Enquiries of John Hall at the Oxford Arms in Warwick Lane, London, or Mr William Haycroft at Maidenhead, or at the widow’s house in Abingdon aforesaid.

NB there is a large stock of good hay and corn.


The cost of a wagon was not enormous, the wagoners main cost was provender for the horses (Gerhold 1990). An advert in 1782 declared ; To be sold a Broad Wheel Waggon: That will carry 6 tons, having 4 very good wheels, a new bed, six joists, the price is £14-14s. For further details enquire of Mr Gutteridge at the Anchor, Reading. In 1798 a strong broad wheel road wagon and 2 narrow wheel waggons, with harness and 8 horses was advertised for auction. This might be regarded as a typical small carrier business.


The Wokingham carrier, advertising in July 1752, is typical of the wagoners on services through east Berks.; Oakingham waggon, Sets out from Jasper Blanford’s in Oakingham every Tuesday and calls at the Red Lion and Hinds Head in New Bracknell and at Sunning Hill Wells, the Crown in Egham and the Red Lion in Staines, arriving at the Spread Eagle in Gracechurch Street every Wednesday morning about 4. Sets out from the Spread Eagle the same day and returns to Oakingham every Thursday, carries goods and passengers at the most reasonable rates. Performed if God permits by Jasper Blanford.


Then in December 1798 Joseph Earley (nephew of the late Mrs Poole and 14 years servant in the business) and William Wright of the Peacock Inn, Broad Street, Reading took over this Reading wagon from Robert Jeffery. Against each announcement in the Reading Mercury there appeared details of the main Reading Wagonner, James George. This advertised The Reading Stage Waggons from the Warehouse in Vastern Lane, Reading to Gerrard’s Hall, Basing Lane, London

·        A waggon sets out from Vastern Lane every Wednesday at 9am and arrives at Gerrard’s Hall Inn every Thursday at 4am; returns at noon and arrives in Reading every Friday at 5

·        A waggon will also set out from Vastern Lane every Friday at 9am and arrives at Gerrard’s Hall on Saturday morning; returns the same day to arrive in Reading on Monday.

·        Another waggon will also set out from Vastern Lane every Saturday arrives at Gerrard’s Hall on Monday morning; returns Tuesday morning and arrives in Reading on Monday Wednesday at noon.

The waggons stop at Kings Arms, Twyford; Quart Pot, Maidenhead; White Hart, Slough; Waggon & Horses at Colnbrook and Old White Horse Cellar, Black & White Bears, Piccadilly

Please to direct by George from Gerrard’s Hall Inn.


The type & volume of traffic

The design of horse-drawn vehicles changed during the turnpike era. In part this was a mutually beneficial process by which the roads were improved permitting the use of lighter and faster vehicles. The easier journeys created more traffic that generated more tolls to further improve the road. In parallel with this, vehicles carrying heavy goods were forced to adapt their design to cause less damage to the road. Higher tolls were levied on vehicles that had narrow wheels since it was thought that these were a major cause of wear on the compacted gravel highway.


Although the detailed designs changed, the basic classes of road user remained the same. 

The main classes of passenger traffic

The main classes of goods traffic

v     Horse riders (for the fit)

v     Private coaches (for the rich)

v     Postchaises (for the wealthy)

v     Gigs (for the yeoman or professional)

v     Stage coaches (for the well-off)

v     Farm waggons and carts

v     Carrier’s carts

v     Stage waggons

v     Droves of cattle and sheep


All of these had to pay a toll to use the turnpike road. The basis of the tolls changed over the years but generally it was commercial traffic and the wealthy traveler who were levied most heavily


For instance a return journey along the Thames Valley from Pangbourne to Reading in the early 1800s a traveler would pay;

v     on a horse - one toll payment of 3 pence

v     in a two horse post coach - a charge of 15 pence per mile for 6 miles each way on the hire of the postchaise and postillion and toll of 6 pence for the horses and 3 pence for the coach; i.e. 1 shilling toll, giving a total charge of 16s.

v     A coach & four - twice the hire charge of the two-horse postchaise and 3 pence for each horse and 6 pence for the coach, i.e. 1/6 rising to 2 shillings toll in 1826

v     An inside passenger on a stage coach - the equivalent 3d per mile for a journey but could expect to pay a third as much again in tips say 4s for the return journey (the driver and guard on the Bath Road coaches would expect a half crown tip each time the driver changed). Note that the wage of a toll collector was about 20s/week, so even a short coach ride was a beyond the average working man.


Some might take a cheap ride with a carrier, sometimes at their peril, but most people would have walked, carrying their goods.


There is no record of the number of travelers using this road but an estimate can be made based on the toll income. In the 1820s the collection of toll at the Pangbourne Lane Gate was let for about £400/a. The salary of a toll collector was probably about 20s/week (the trust paid the keeper at Shillingford Bridge 8s/week in 1852 but a Parliamentary Committee was told gate keepers in Essex were paid 25s/week in 1836). Assume another 10% for other running costs and lessee’s profit suggests the total toll taken at this gate was around £500/a.


A coach and four paid 1/6 to travel through the gates, but other vehicles such as carts paid less so say an average toll of 1s. Thus, the toll income equates to the sale of 10,000 tickets per year, i.e. 192 per week or, allowing for only a few tickets on Sunday, about 30 tickets per day. About two thirds the vehicles paying at Winterbrook might also pass through Pangbourne without further payment, giving say another 10 per day. A similar number of vehicles would have traveled in the other direction so traffic through Pangbourne would be about 4 vehicles in each direction per hour – not quite the frenetic traffic flow that we are used to.


The fact that the number of carrier services using the Bath Road grew much more slowly than coach services during the 18th and early 19th centuries is evidence that a substantial proportion of heavy bulk goods were being carried by barge rather than wagon. Carriers were subject to serious competition at the bulk, slow delivery end of the transport market but their business was also limited at the high value end of the trade. Coaches advertised to carry small parcels and delivered them more rapidly than the service from a lumbering wagon.


River and canal transport provided competition for goods traffic throughout this period, but there were no real alternatives to road for passenger traffic. However, stream trains would provide a much faster and cheaper means of travel than the horse-drawn coach. When the Great Western reached Reading, long distance stagecoach services stopped almost over-night as passengers opted for the faster and cheaper train service to London. For most turnpike trusts on the Bath Road, toll income fell dramatically as the coach services were withdrawn. However, travelers needed to use the Shillingford to Reading road to reach the station and so the income on this trust did not suffer such a catastrophic fall. Local carriers and horse omnibuses still plied their trade into Reading along the old turnpike. The Pangbourne Gate close to the station and the Pangbourne Lane Gate on the edge of Reading continued to take significant tolls from road traffic and this income enabled the trust to maintain the road.


However by the end of the 19th century road traffic was relatively unimportant save for cycles and light, horse drawn vehicles. A few nostalgic coach trips were run along the Oxford road in the late 19th century but these were merely excursions. It was not until the 20th century and the advent of the internal combustion engine that the gravel highway was coated with tar and the car transformed our opportunities for travel.


This page created by Alan Rosevear 14th Jan 2008.