Portrait of Bampton, Devon, in the Eighteenth Century

By Tom McManamon

The Roads and Transport

Whilst there was money in Bampton, roads and ditches were maintained and repaired very regularly, particularly in the 1700's, and on Christmas Eve 1764 the poor of the workhouse were paid a total of 16/4d. for pickaxing stone for road repairs. Ironically, most of those very roads are now unmaintained footpaths and bridleways. The County Engineer for Bampton in 1774 was responsible for the following tools for use in highway repairs, the tools being typical of those used over the centuries:

pickaxes, common sort....1middle sledge....3riddle....1
single pick....2small sledge....2clum (rake)....1
bar iron....1iron wedge....1wheelbarrow....1
large sledge....1borier hammer....1broadmouth (an ax)....1

A 'dipping place' (where pots and pans could be filled with water for purposes other than drinking) had been made at the Higher Shuttern Bridge in Frog Street in June 1747. The brook was cleaned annually using 12 men and 8 horses, and in August 1743 the bill for this service was 19/4d. It seems that efforts were made in the seventeenth century to contain the Shuttern. The buildings on the east side of Frog Street at the Castle Street end are of that date and are built on alluvium, suggesting that the brook had banks put in place upon which the cottages were subsequently built.

Whilst the men of Bampton may have kept their roads in reasonable condition, the same was not always true in the surrounding area. At the 1730 Michaelmas Quarter Sessions in Tiverton, it was stated that the roads within Tiverton parish from Bampton to Sampford Peverell and Bampton to Tiverton were in a ruinous condition. The town of Tiverton was to be fined £5 and £20 respectively if the roads were not repaired by the next sessions. At the same Quarter Sessions seven years later, the roads within Tiverton parish from Bampton to Cullompton and Bampton to Silverton were ruinous. Tiverton town was to be fined £40 if repairs had not been made by the next sessions.

Very often, one finds a convenient "passing place" in a narrow lane, and without thinking more of it, considers that it was placed there for the purpose. Often, though, the hedges are un-interrupted in height or width, evidence of the passing places being older than at first it might appear. They started life as stonecutters' working areas. Cart loads of boulders were dropped at intervals along the old roads, and left to one side to allow the passage of traffic. The next to arrive was the stonecutter, armed with a large hammer and a chisel, and he spent his day reducing the boulders to fist-sized lumps of rock which he then stored in a pile, and moved on to the next load. He was followed by a team of stone spreaders, who spread the stone across the mud tracks, then, aided by horses, hauled a roller over them to press them into the surface. Each stonecutter's area contained enough rock to surface the road as far as the next. The roads were little wider than a loaded packhorse, and these areas became useful places for the horses to pass each other - provided that they had a view of the approaching ones; reversing a loaded train of horses is not the easiest of tasks!

With all the legislation for the upkeep of the highways, the roads were still far from being conducive to a pleasant ride, and to combat the problem, Turnpikes or Toll Roads complete with their Toll Houses were introduced. The earliest recorded Turnpike Road is in 1663, running from Hertfordshire to Huntingdonshire, to collect fees for repair to the road, the damage being caused by wagons carrying barley to the maltsters. The turnpike, or barrier, was installed to stop people making a fast dash past the toll house. Most of the toll houses were built and operated by Turnpike Trusts, with the sole purpose of housing the gatemen who collected the tolls. The Trusts were local organisations set up to collect the tolls and were regulated by Parliament.

On 25 January 1758 a petition from the Mayor and Corporation of Tiverton was read in the House of Commons stating that the road from The Bampton Inn in Tiverton and across Bampton Down to the foot of Batham Bridge in Bampton was in a ruinous condition, and that only an Act of Parliament could remedy the situation. The Bill got its second reading on 16 February and went to Committee. The (Old) Tiverton Road was designated a Turnpike Road in 1758 with the passing of the Tiverton Turnpike Act, and it was at this time that the rough section passing the Crockford [Stony Lane] was by-passed. It became a private toll road, the funding for it being provided by three Tiverton cloth merchants, Mr. Wood who put up £150, Oliver Peard (£100), and Mr. Hodge (£50).

A similar Petition went to Parliament from the inhabitants of Minehead on 15 February 1765 complaining about the roads from Minehead and Watchet to Bampton. The Minehead Road ran through Dulverton, Brushford Green and Exebridge. The matter was referred to a Committee, who reported 12 days later that "the road from Minehead to Exebridge to Batham Bridge is in many places narrow and incommodious; that from Watchet to Fair Cross and Bampton is hilly in many places, very narrow, founderous and much out of repair, and not to be amended by the common statute labour." The Minehead Turnpike Trust Act was passed to the House of Lords on 1 May 1765, receiving the Royal Assent on 10 May.

The next oldest was started between Bampton and Dulverton in 1766. This saw the new Luke Street, the old having been the track through the present churchyard behind Leburn House. This house was rebuilt in 1766 and, seemingly, reversed - the old seventeenth century front entrance gate and wall now being at the rear. Until then, Leburn house had a garden behind it, but the new road took that away, and later saw houses on the opposite side. The road was up-graded in the early 1800's phase of turnpike construction.

Bampton became a Coaching Town, and by 1793 a coach set out for Bampton every day at midday from the Bolt-in-Tun Inn in Fleet Street, London. A wagon also left daily from The Bell Inn, Friday Street [off Victoria Street], London at 9.00 a.m., and another left at 10.00 a.m. from The Swan Inn, Holborn Bridge, London, on Mondays and Thursdays. In 1820 a London to Barnstaple coach was running, calling at Bampton on alternate days, the journey taking 31 hours. Until the coming of the coaches, a Market Cross stood in Newton Square, but it obstructed the coaches and was removed. Where it went is not known.

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