By topic: 189
Western Morning News and Mercury, 2 December 1924
In book: Loose

Cornwall: origin of “Roman” roads




According to several antiquaries there were two Roman roads through Cornwall, both of which can be still partially traced. One was a continuation of Watling-street, and, coming by Exeter, entered Cornwall at Saltash, passed through Liskeard and Lostwithiel—with branches to Looe and Fowey—to St. Austell, Truro, Falmouth, and on to the west. The other passed through, Stratton, Camelford, Bodmin, Redruth, and St. Ives to the Land’s End.

The late Rev. S. Baring-Gould, however, ventured the opinion that there were no systematized Roman roads in Cornwall, but that the roads mentioned were constructed nby the Coru-BritishRead ‘by the Cornu-British’ previous to the Roman occupation. It is interesting to note one curious ancient road, now known as the “Giant’s Hedge,” which is to be found near Lanreath. It appears to have been a portion of a road raised on a bank. It probably started in olden times from a ferry over the Tamar, and was carried into the west of Cornwall.

Saxon chroniclers relate that there was a great public road running through the Roman province of Damnonium (Cornwall, Devon, and Somerset). It was known in Saxon times as the “Foss-Way,” but historians believe it was made previous to the Roman invasion. This great highway was used by Athelstan, the Saxon King, when he marched against Howel, the last Cornish King, who would not acknowledge his supremacy. History relates that Athelstan entered the county in person and achieved its entire conquest after having traversed its whole extent. The remnants of Howel’s army were overthrown near the Land’s End, and the Saxons afterwards invaded and subdued the Isles of Scilly. Athelstan then decreed that the Tamar should henceforth be the boundary of the Cornish province. The date of the subjugation was A.D. 936.


In the Middle Ages little or nothing was done to keep the great roads in repair. Pack horses and mules conveyed the tin from inland mines to river ports and towns on the coast along roughly-constructed tracks, and paths over the rough moorland parts of Cornwall. In the 18th century the custom came into use of throwing loads of stones itno the ruts, raking them in, and leaving coaches and carts to grind them up. It was not till the beginning of the 19th century that the roads were taken in hand chiefly through legislation. By an Act of Parliament trusts, consisting of men of local repute, were formed, and these bodies established the “turnpikes,” which provided funds for keeping the main roads in a fairly good cndition.

Older residents of the county still call some of the main roads “turnpike road,” but the only remnants of the system are toll collectors’ houses adjacent to the highways, and a few granite posts which formerly held the gates in position.

The toll collectors’ occupation was not altogether a happy one, for he was surrounded by restrictions. If his name did not appear in front of the toll house he was liable to a fine of £5, and if there was no lamp at the toll house might be penalized in 40s. There was a fine of £5 for using abusive language to trustees or passengers: demanding toll from exempted persons: for allowing carriages to pass with greater weights than allowed, and not adding tolls, or for not giving information to the trustees for any misdemeanour under the various Turnpike Acts. Persons exempted from tolls included the clergymen visiting the sick in their own parishes, horses and carriages for the use of the Royal family, persons going or returning from church, chapel, or other place of worship; persons attending funerals, and horses and carriages going to and returning from elections.

The collector was protected to a certain extent, for persons assaulting him were liable to be fined £10. Blacksmiths were fined 40s. and damages if they did not close the shutters of their windows facing the road at twilight. For lighting bonfires within 80 yards of the centre of the road there was a fine of 40s. Carriers neglecting to fasten their dogs to their carts were fined 20s. Cattle found straying on the roads were impounded, and 2s. per head and expenses were charged. Trustees were compelled to erect directing posts with the names of towns and villages, and the penalty for defacing them was £10. For trying to evade payment there were heavy penalties. There was a fine of £5 for driving cattle or carriage over land in order to evade the toll, and 40s. for persons trying to evade the toll. Persons playing football, cricket, tennis, fives, or other games to the annoyance of passengers were fined 40s.


For over a century what was known as the “great road” from London to Falmouth had to be kept in good repair. It ran through Launceston, Bodmin, and Truro. Over it raced the mail coaches that carried letters to and from the packets at Falmouth. This road was the main artery of communication till Falmouth was abandoned as a mail packet station. Before the advent of the railways there were two-horse mail conveyances from Penzance to Truro, which met the four-horse mail coaches that plied between Falmouth and “up-country.” The coaches travelled at the rate of ten miles an hour, and the changing stations were about seven miles apart. Some of the changing places in Cornwall were the Norway Hotel, Perranwharf; Royal Hotel, Truro; Falmouth Arms, Ladock; Indian Queens, on the Goss Moor; Victoria Inn, Roche; Royal Hotel, Bodmin; Jamaica Inn and Five Lanes, Launceston.

The guards wore bright red coats, high hats with gold bands and huge cockades, and on nearing each changing station blew long brass horns. The last of these old guards is said to have been Sampson Brewer, a native of St. Columb, who died at his son’s reel dance in Vancouver in 1903 at the age of 94 years.


Source info: In cutting.