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Charles Dickens on Turnpikes

Saturday, 16 October 2021 at 22:14

Novel writer of note on Dr John Dunn. Charles Dickens on Turnpikes

Again I deal with the time of transition on the British road system; this was the period between the dying of the turnpikes because of the transfer of business to the rapidly expanding steam railways, and the revitalisation of the roads, first by the cyclists on their high wheelers and early safety bicycles, followed by the motorists on two, three or four wheels.

Dickens caught the mood of the times in the early days of the transition, the time of decline. In the Uncommercial Traveller, published in 1860-1, at the height of railway mania, he has a character speak of the declining turnpikes thus:


I came to the Turnpike, and I found it, in its silent way, eloquent respecting the change that had fallen on the road. The Turnpike-house was all overgrown with ivy; and the Turnpike- keeper, unable to get a living out of the tolls, plied the trade of a cobbler. Not only that, but his wife sold ginger-beer, and, in the very window of espial through which the Toll-takers of old times used with awe to behold the grand London coaches coming on at a gallop, exhibited for sale little barber's-poles of sweetstuff in a sticky lantern.

The tide would turn of course. In the 1860s the roads were already succumbing to the wheels of the first viable pedal bicycles, motorised vehicles would not be far behind.


© John Dunn.

Roads: the transition

Friday, 15 October 2021 at 22:44

The novelist on Dr John Dunn. George Eliot

Roads: the transition

The following extract from George Eliot's Felix Holt The Radical, provides a snapshot of the state of Britain’s turnpike road network during the mid-Victorian transition era.

This transition era, between the arrival of steam trains and the coming of the bicycle and motoring, was one of decline on the roads. Deprived of the long-distance traffic, passenger, goods and mail, their purpose was gone.

Peter Thorold writes in The Motoring Age that ‘they resembled the Roman roads after the dissolution of the Empire.”

Here is the piece by George Eliot:

Five-and-thirty years ago the glory had not yet departed from the old coach roads: the great roadside inns were still brilliant with well-polished tankards, the smiling glances of pretty barmaids, and the repartees of jocose hostlers; the mail still announced itself by the merry notes of the horn; the hedge-cutter or the rick-thatcher might still know the exact hour by the unfailing yet otherwise meteoric apparition of the pea-green Tally-ho or the yellow Independent; and elderly gentlemen in pony-chaises, quartering nervously to make way for the rolling, swinging swiftness, had not ceased to remark that times were finely changed since they used to see the pack-horses and hear the tinkling of their bells on this very highway.

This extract was published in 1866. The 1860s were also the years in which pedalled bicycle power really became viable with the first boneshakers. The high wheelers followed in the 1870s and the safety bicycle in the 1880s. In the 1890s motoring commenced and, from this point, the old roads trully began to revive.


© John Dunn.

Early motoring

Friday, 15 October 2021 at 10:33

AA Road Book on Dr John Dunn. Early motoring

Early motoring route planning was linked inexorably to the old turnpike system. The motorist using my AA Road Book first edition from the early 1920s would probably be within living memory of the old turnpike system, with its asssociated road mapping, which existed from the early 17th century, until destroyed by the coming of the steam railways. The revival came first with the arrival of the touring cyclist, followed only a little later by the users of powered vehicles.

Using the route planning from the aforementioned Route Book, my motorcycling excursion tomorrow will take me from Warwick to Market Harborough.


The AA recommended:

Warwick
Leamington
Lillington
Weston-under-Wetherley
Princethorpe
Blue Boar Corner
Rugby
Clifton
Catthorpe
Swinford
South Kilworth
North Kilworth
Husbands Bosworth
Theddingworth
Lubenham
Market Harborough.

Route described as “somewhat winding with attractive woodland”, then, typical Northants country (on border of Leicestershire).

The recommend route back south is:

Market Harborough
East Farndon
Clipston
Naseby
Cold Ashby
West Haddon
Watford
(edge of) Welton
Daventry.

Daventry
Weedon
Towcester
Stoney Stratford… and so south.

Posted by John Dunn.

The old roads

Wednesday, 13 October 2021 at 22:59

Barts map on Dr John Dunn. The old roads

My next YouTube production is to be a piece of road history about the old turnpike routes taken by the mail coaches in the 18th and 19th centuries. What follows is a draft commentary to support GoPro footage shot whilst motorcycling on my Royal Enfield.

It is well known that Thomas Telford was appointed to improve the mail coach communications between London and Holyhead to improve the governance of Ireland. The route chosen was largely Watling Street up to the turning to Daventry, then through Coventry, Birmingham and Shrewsbury to Bangor,where the great Menai Suspension Bridge was built.

Before Telford’s work, the old mail route to Holyhead, from the time of the introduction of the carriage of mails by coach in 1784, had been from London, through S
t. Albans, Newport Pagnell, Northampton, Welford, Lutterworth, Hinckley, Tamworth, Lichfield, Chester and Bangor Ferry.

It is this older route that I’m motorcycling along on my Royal Enfield Classic 500, just on the approach to Welford, along what used to be the A50, now the A5199.

Let's take a look at this point.

That turning to the left is at point A on the map.




The logical route to Lutterworth on the mail coach route through Walcote would seem to be A to B through South Kilworth.

That’s not what the mail coach authorities thought back in the seventeenth century.

They took the coaches north through Welford, only turning left at C, cutting a small corner, to travel to Walcote and Lutterworth via North Kilworth.

I’m going to travel to Walcote on the favoured turnpike route via C to Walcote, and return along the route B to A, to see if there is a clue to why the longer route was favoured.

OK, back at the junction, I’m continuing north on the longer, but more favoured coaching route.

I’m approaching Welford.

This has all the appearance of a quintessential coaching town.

The village was prominent as a coaching stop during the 17th and 18th centuries, lying equidistant between Leicester and Northampton on the main road to London. Some of the houses on the High Street are old coaching inns and are named appropriately.

We’re passing through now, but this place deserves closer inspection, with those old coaching inns to be identified.

Of course, this place would have lapsed into quietude, firstly being replaced by Telford’s new route to Holyhead and later by the trains. But with the return of motorised road transport, this place would have come alive again, its hostelries serving to feed and shelter motorists and its former coaching inn stables to garage cars.

This bridge crosses a branch of the Grand Union Canal.

And here is the Wharf Inn. No doubt it served two sets of travellers where canal met turnpike.

The canal and River Avon mark the crossing from Northamptonshire into Leicestershire.

Discussion about the turnpike and A50

There's the left turn at C on the map.

This is the route used by the London to Holyhead mail coaches before Telford’s improvements caused the transfer to the Coventry and Birmingham road.

However this old route continued to be used by the mails between London and Chester, and the Woodside Ferry, Birkenhead.
Up ahead is the A4304, the old turnpike which leads to Walcote and Lutterworth. The mail coaches turned left here.

There is another wharf on the Grand Union Canal to the left and the bridge carries the road over the canal here.

Here we enter the village of North Kilworth.

That road to the left is an unclassified road signposted to South Kilworth. Formerly it was the A427, the old Rugby to North Kilworth Turnpike of 1801.

Before the A14 and M6, this road was the A4114 all the way to Coventry, indeed following the route of the Coventry and Market Harborough Turnpike of 1755, through Lutterworth, Pailton, Stretton-Under-Fosse, Brinklow and Binley.

That car park or Lay-by on the left is a short stretch of road left following a straightening out of a bend.

This is the descent into Walcote village, where I will be making a sharp turn left, back on myself at point B on the map.

I’ll follow that more logical route that I mentioned earlier back to point A.

That's the turn made.

Just pulling up to check the map.

Whether I’m cycling or motorcycling, I always like a map in front of me. I like to see the bigger picture, to see my road in relationship to the countryside around it.

My current tank-top map holder is useful for this - but I must keep searching for one that will allow more of themap to be open under the clear plastic top.

So why was the longer A C B route preferred by the mail coaches to the more direct A B route through South Kilworth.

The road historian, Arthur Cossons, speculated that it was because of the steeper gradients on this more direct route. We’ll come to those later. He also speculated that it might have something to do with the local landowners, the Braye family, who may not have wanted a turnpike across their land.

We are now approaching South Kilworth and the crossroads with the Rugby to North Kilworth Turnpike mentioned earlier.

There opposite is the White Hart. It probably served as a coaching inn to travellers along the turnpike.

I have to cross this road now to carry on my way back to point A on the map, that is, where I started.

Here we cross the River Avon for a second time, and so from Leicestershire to Northamptonshire.

Here we cross over the Grand Union Canal once more… and now those steep gradients commence; a climb from this point of 50 metres to the top of Downtown Hill.

And yes, a coach and horses would have struggled, both up and down this hill. There are no steep climbs on the longer route.

I must say though, that this direct route does make for better motorcycling in a much more varied landscape.

We’re now following a short ridgeway, with the gradient dropping away to each side of me.

And so, back to the start at point A.

So, why was the direct route neglected by the mail coaches.

My view is that the turnpike and later main road between B and C was well used as a route between Market Harborough and points east with Coventry,Rugby, Leamington Spa and Warwick. Similarly, the road connecting A and C would have been a well used turnpike connecting Northampton and Leicester. The benefit of travelling further to use these already maintained roads outweighed the cost of maintaining a route for the mails only to and from Lutterworth, between A and B. This, combined with Cossons’s speculations about the gradient and landowners, may account for the relative neglect of the direct route.


© John Dunn.

Select 'few'

Tuesday, 12 October 2021 at 22:51

A great poet on Dr John Dunn. Select 'few'


There is much written and discussed in the media about ‘cancel culture’, the attempt to re-write history by removing those parts that are unpalatable to a ‘discerning few’.

This is nothing new, and the ‘few’, as opposed the we the many, have been doing this history by selection for centuries. This is the very crux of Ezra Pound’s great epic poem, The Cantos.

The ‘few’ doing the sorting amounted to a universal despotism of the type that John Adams warned Thomas Jefferson about in Canto 33.

Wherever it has resided has never failed to destroy all records, all histories which it did not like and to corrupt those it was cunning enough to preserve…

Pound’s vision of Hell is the vast printing house in the hands of the ‘few’ (in Cantos 14 and 15)that spews and excretes stinking piles of useless and corrupting shit to bury and suffocate the individual human spirit. The globalists' grip on social media would be Pound’s target today.


© John Dunn.

Brittle crystal, that’s all it is

Monday, 11 October 2021 at 21:37

Broken glass on Dr John Dunn. Glass is such a potent symbol of division. In reality, it is a state of mind. 'Brittle crystal, that’s all it is.' Or is that still the case? This was written before internet shopping had taken hold. The glass in question now is the screen at which you stare. The era of window gazing has gone. You now have company tokens to spend at the company store.








Brittle crystal, that’s all it is

Glaziers came to reinsert the glass,
Between the goods produced and the producer class
That had released a labour crystallised,
Reclaiming their dead materialised;
And in doing so found a new wisdom
In a release that went far beyond freedom.

That August night the shops were open late,
No locked door was protected by the state.
The labour that lay frozen, petrified,
Was released from the fetish deified,
Like so many waking wives of Lot,
Or victims the Midas touch forgot.

The disillusioned dead rose up at night,
Reclaiming the greed that encouraged the fight
Waged by their offspring for their own Spring.
‘Brittle crystal, that’s all it is. Now fling
Your bricks into the pane and dare to reach in,
You have chains to lose and a world to win.’

The lumpen knew more than you ever will;
Stuff your shock and disgust, I’m with them still.
There’s nothing here that I’m too proud to shred,
Keep your board reports and the papers I dread,
And do preserve me from the parting speech
Until I’m well beyond the glaziers’ reach.


© John Dunn.

Knaptoft

Sunday, 10 October 2021 at 21:59

Church ruin on Dr John Dunn. A ruined church, a wartime atrocity and loss - these things prompted me to pull these words together twelve years ago. I cycled to the ruined church of Knaptoft. I was alone and the peace was heavy upon me as I pondered the inevitable loss that we all must face: loss in its many guises.

Knaptoft

I turned back and there it was,
The well bucket, dragged across the pit of my stomach.
Please, I said, please don’t tauten the rope.
You’re leaving me.
Come back, come back.

Found, a short distance down a once frequented lane,
To nowhere now, but lives and tears then,
The stones where once men grovelled for life,
Facing steel and prayed for life
Facing the fiercer edge of eternity.

Is this the well bucket, lowered again
That I might connect with the searcher,
The delver, the hunter,
The diviner, the fisher?
The rope tautens

Touching the stones here
Is touching the wall of the well,
The dark, dank, dripping well.
Above the little circle of light, far away.
It is too slippery a climb,
To even contemplate a life in the light.

I’m resigned to that dot,
That imperceptible dot
That those frightened and hunted
And retreating men saw too,
As the rope tautened.

You’re leaving me.
Come back, come back.

© John Dunn.

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