It is the 160th anniversary of the Highland Roads and Bridges Act which transferred responsibility for tolls and roads to new county councils.
It is also the 195th anniversary of Inverness’ original toll house, one of six erected around or near the market town at this time to tax travelers and use the revenue to maintain the roads.
Scotland’s first turnpike was on the new Edinburgh-North Queensferry road in 1715, but the lack of roads meant it took a century for the Highlands to appear.
Muirtown Toll House, on Clachnaharry Road, in whose garden there is a replica of the Titanic and other ships, remains a private residence. Similarly, Ardersier Toll House, backing onto the firth at the entrance to the village, is being refurbished and available for seasonal rental.
The others crumbled into ruins – or disappeared completely.
These are relics of toll roads, so named because a man wielding a sharp pike would deny you passage if you couldn’t pay this early form of road tax.
The Toll Act of Parliament 1823 sparked the building boom of thousands of toll houses, run by local toll road trusts. They were built with a projecting bay window, through which people could pay, and with height, so that the operator could spot incoming traffic in time.
There were annual auctions for the franchise to collect tolls, with bidders betting they could fetch far more than they paid.
There was resentment from local people because some roads had five toll points where payment was demanded, while others ran good distances without a levy.
Highland roads were little more than tracks for people and horses until the combined efforts of General Wade’s post-Culloden road building frenzy and Thomas Telford’s 1809 inquiry recommending new and better roads.
Seafield, home to the city’s main business park, was where Inverness’ first tollbooth opened in 1827, where travelers to and from Fort George and Nairn were surcharged. The mail coach between Nairn and Aberdeen only started in 1809 – before that a postman on horseback was the only communication!
The Muirtown Toll House arrived in the 1840s, and an 1878 report indicates that there was originally a chapel next to the building. In 1844, Raigmore Toll House raised a record £269, while Muirtown raised £162, Inverness-shire’s total that year being £1053.
But in 1857 the highest bidder for the right to run Muirtown coughed up £295, a new record for the Inverness area.
Some people will remember Stoneyfield Toll House, located across the firth on the old route east. It was still in one piece in 1969 when the new dual carriageway diverted the A96. Now, however, it is a ruin, with a standing gable wall with three windows upstairs and one below.
The rest of the building, the subject of a charming 1903 watercolor by Pierre Delavault, the Frenchman who taught art at the Royal Academy in Inverness, is unfortunately in rubble.
Drakies Toll House was demolished in the mid 1960s to make way for the entrance to Raigmore Hospital and local planners at the time deserve criticism for failing to preserve Drakies and Stoneyfield, part of our heritage.
If Muirtown Toll House becomes vacant, councilors must ensure it is not bulldozed…
There was a toll gate at Beauly and a toll house at Maryburgh while south of Inverness the toll house at Moy, demolished in 1873, is now a grassy mound.
The 1862 Act transferred the roads of the turnpike trusts, many of which were in debt and therefore did not have properly maintained surfaces, to the counties in which they were located. The likes of Inverness-shire County Council was created. Most tolls have been phased out. The Act authorized councils to appoint county surveyors and county road boards to survey roads.
The advent of the railways had hit toll receipts. Turnpike’s trustees had debts forgiven and a flat land and property tax – the first municipal tax – to meet road repair bills. The era of tolls has faded, leaving some local landmarks. Ironically, Transport Scotland is now considering reintroducing them to reduce our carbon footprint!
Sponsored by Ness Castle Lodges.