The Gravesend to Wrotham Turnpike
Much of the information in this article has been taken from ‘The Gravesend to Wrotham Turnpike Road’ written by James Carley and published in 1973.
The A227 Gravesend Road is today a busy road linking the A2 with the M20 motorway. A steady stream of cars, vans and lorries travel through Meopham and Istead Rise and on to Gravesend. We take it for granted that there is a quick and mainly direct route – but it was not always like this.
The route has existed as a maintained road only since 1825 when construction of a Tollroad (Turnpike) started at Gravesend and proceeded towards Wrotham in stages. Prior to this, maintenance of the road was the responsibility of each of the Parishes it passed through and its condition varied enormously. The right to charge for using the road stopped in the late 1870s and the responsibility for maintaining the road passed to a new highways board. Effectively, the nation’s road network had, for the first time, become the Government’s responsibility.
Turnpikes had been around since the early 1700s and the Gravesend to Wrotham road was one of the last to be constructed. It only had a short life of 50 years as a result. The road was constructed by a Turnpike Trust established in 1824 which had almost 90 Trustees. Funding had previously been sought from people who wanted to see the road improved and £6,900 had been pledged. Many of these people subsequently became Trustees. In the event, the road cost £7,500 to build and a further £600 was raised by subscription. On top of the cost of building the road/toll gates/side fences etc., maintenance had to be paid for and interest on subscriptions and repayment of capital. These latter two came last in the pecking order. In practice, the original subscribers never saw a return on their capital or, indeed, got their capital back and, by 1853 the Trust owed almost £9,000 in missed interest payments.
The Trust sold the right to collect tolls by auction and also charged a monthly rent for occupying the Toll Houses it had built. This meant that it did not have to employ toll collectors directly and the risk of whether the tolls collected exceeded costs fell to the Toll Collector.
In 1853, 24 of the original Trustees were reappointed and 20 new trustees were appointed. Among the new trustees was Rev. Glover Mungeam – Curate of Stansted from 1834 to 1846 and a Schoolmaster at Meopham.
The New Road
Prior to 1825, the road from Gravesend to the Vigo Inn followed a very similar line to the present A227 (except near Istead Rise). At the Vigo Inn, there was a crossroads and the old main route to Wrotham was to bear left down Hognore Lane and travel steeply downhill to the foot of the escarpment. Hognore Lane still exists as a path through the woods. An alternative was to turn right to the centre of Fairseat and then turn left along Fairseat Lane. A left turn at the crossroads went down Vigo Hill to Trottiscliffe.
The Trustees felt this could be improved and built a new road to the bottom of Wrotham Hill from the Vigo crossroads. This is along the route of the current A227. A gate was erected across the new main road and side gates were placed across what is now Vigo road and across the top of Vigo Hill.
Because this was a significant junction on the turnpike, a toll house was built here to collect tolls and to control the crossroads through the erection of gates. Vigo toll house was one of four such buildings on the turnpike.
A side road, called Short Hill, ran from the junction of Wrotham Road and Harvel Road down to a point on Vigo Hill just above the bridge. This formed a means of bypassing the Vigo toll gate for people travelling to and from Trottiscliffe, and one local name for it was “Savepenny Lane”. This could not be tolerated by the Trustees, and accordingly, the action was taken in 1826 to close it. For this to be necessary, the Vigo Tollhouse must have been in place around that time. The line of Short Hill still exists as Footpath MR188 and Bridleway NS302.
It is conceivable that the track now known as Crabtree Close was also formed and used to bypass the Vigo toll gate but there is no evidence to support this.
Toll tickets had to be purchased at Tollhouses and lasted for 24 hours. The cost covered the journey from one Tollhouse to the next and so, for instance, if one wanted to travel along the Turnpike from Gravesend to Wrotham four separate payments were necessary. It is difficult at this length of time to work out whether it was expensive to use the new road or not but typical costs were 9d for each horse pulling a coach or wagon and 1s 4d for each score of cattle (sheep were cheaper). The Turnpike Act was very punitive for people caught avoiding toll fees and imprisonment or large fines for transgressors were commonplace.
The only stagecoach service advertised as operating along the turnpike was Green’s omnibus. This made a once-daily trip from Plaxtol to Gravesend and back. In 1839 it started from Plaxtol at 6 a.m. and arrived in Gravesend at 8:30 a.m; returning from Gravesend at 6 p.m. The coach had to pay four tolls on the Wrotham to Gravesend Road. It is not known how many horses were harnessed to the coach but in view of the steepness of the climb between Wrotham and the Vigo Inn, it seems likely that at least two must have been needed. On this basis, the cost in tolls alone was 12 shillings return so the fares must have been high to cover the cost. Prices today (2021) are roughly 100 times higher than in 1839 so 12 shillings would be roughly £60 now. Quite a significant sum.
In the 1840s, railway traffic increased and road traffic decreased. In 1853 the new Turnpike Act halved the cost of tolls in an ambitious attempt to increase road traffic and maintain income to the Trusts and Tollkeepers.
The 1841 Census does not record anyone living at a Tollhouse near the Vigo Inn and the detailed 1841 tithe map does not show a building in that area.
The first record of a toll collector was in the 1851 Census which recorded 37-year old William Nevil from Offham as the Gatekeeper. He lived at the ‘Vigo Gate’ with his wife Sophia (27) and daughter Ellen (8) who were both born in Wrotham. The building was strategically situated at the new crossroads diagonally opposite the Vigo Inn and was built in a field called Kiln Field. It was almost certainly located where the paved front area of the house called Wykendene currently stands. By 1861, Mary Gibson (born in Ryarsh in 1827) was the Toll Collector and the building was known as the ‘Vigo Toll Gate House’. Her husband was Francis (44) who was a Clockmaker from Scotland. They had two daughters, Janet (8) and Jane (1) who were both born in Meopham.
In 1871 the Toll Collector was Mary Jeal (50) who lived at Toll Gate House with her husband, Richard (47) who was a Labourer originally from Meopham. They still lived in the same house ten years later but the 1881 Census records the building as the ‘Old Gate House’ and neither of them collected tolls anymore. The road had been dis-turnpiked.
The occupants of the ‘Old Gate House’ in 1891 were Charles Gilber (36) and his wife Elizabeth (40). Charles was a Coachman/Groom from Stansted and could well have been employed at Trosley Towers.
By 1901 the building was called ‘Old Pay Gate House’ and was occupied by Ernest Oliver (30) a carpenter from Trottiscliffe and his wife Susan (33) and their son Lionel (2) who was born in Stansted.
As can be seen, this was a neat, single-storey building clad with white weatherboard and with a slate roof. It eventually fell into a state of disrepair and was demolished by the Waterlow family. The corner was then landscaped by the planting of fir trees on the site and the building disappears from the records until 1939 when a new building is recorded on the site as the ‘Daffodil Tea Room’ and the occupant is Mrs Marion Brooks (50).
At some stage, the Tea Rooms closed and the front of the building operated as a fruit and vegetable shop. This use ceased and the building is now Wykendene, a residential dwelling. It is a traditional two-storey dwelling but the land is higher at the front than at the back and the front entrance is at first-floor level. It is built in Kiln Field which is next to Chalk Pit Field. Both names suggest an earlier industrial use of the area and this might help to explain the curious depressions behind what is now Wykendene and the unusual design of the house.
Author: Dick Hogbin
Editor: Tony Piper
Acknowledgements: ‘The Gravesend to Wrotham Turnpike Road’ by James Carley (1973); Ancestry.com; Geoff Everett.
Last Updated: 14 April 2022