Town Centre Roads

In the second half of the 18th century, the streets in the centre of Dudley were dirty, unlit and narrow, with many obstructions. The Dudley Town Act of 1791, which authorised the Commissioners to levy a rate, was passed in the hope that things could then improve.

Part of the Act was for greatly needed improvements to local roads. The preamble states that the streets and other public passages and places within the Town of Dudley, in the County of Worcester, are not properly paved, lighted, cleansed, or watched, and are subject to various encroachments, obstructions, nuisances, and annoyances, and are in some parts narrow and incommodious for passengers and carriages. It also stated that it would be of great benefit and convenience to the inhabitants of the said town, and to all persons resorting to and travelling through the town.

Unfortunately only few improvements were made, because the financial resources and legal powers of the Commissioners were inadequate to properly deal with the situation. Some of the roads were in an awful state, being nothing more than well-worn cart tracks. Many of the roads had deep ruts and so where unsuitable for wheeled vehicles. The situation didn’t greatly improve until the 1840s when more funds came from the Town Rate Fund to pay for the necessary improvements.

Turnpike Trusts

The more important roads in the area, connecting Dudley to the surrounding towns were also inadequate. Improvements began in the 18th century with the Passing of the Turnpike Acts, that allowed turnpike trusts to be set up to improve and maintain the more important roads in the area, and build new roads in return for a toll, which road users had to pay.

A separate Act had to be Passed to allow the setting up of a turnpike trust and give it the necessary powers to collect tolls, maintain the road, erect a toll house, and the toll gate, where the tolls were collected. One of the first turnpikes to be set up in the area was made by a 1727 Act of Parliament called the Dudley, Halesowen & Bromsgrove Trust. Each Act allowed the trust to raise tolls and keep the road repaired for 21 years. Other Turnpike Acts were Passed in 1742, 1773 and 1794.

The 1794 Act empowered the Trust to construct three quarters of a mile of new road from the Bush Inn, Dudley to Cinder Bank. Other Acts followed in 1816, 1854 and the last Act in 1876, after which the Turnpike expired. Other Turnpike Trusts included the Wolverhampton, Dudley & Birmingham Trust, in 1701, that covered the road from Sedgley to Dudley, and along Trindle Road to Birmingham Road and then to Burnt Tree.

Another Act Passed in 1726, covered the road from Dudley to Kingswinford via Holly Hall. It was part of the Bridgnorth Toll Road. There were two Turnpike Acts Passed in 1727. The first for the Dudley and Pedmore Trust, covered the road from Dudley, along Pear Tree Lane, to Lye and then to Pedmore. The second, the Dudley and Brettell Lane Turnpike covered the road from Dudley to Woodside, Brierley Hill and Wordsley. Another Act in 1798, the Dudley to Rowley Regis Trust, covered the road from Dudley, along Hall Street, past Dixons Green to Oakham.

Woodsetton toll house in its original location.

Woodsetton toll house, now at the Black Country Living Museum.

The Turnpike Trusts used existing houses at their gates wherever possible. The gate keeper took money from anyone wishing to use the road, except for people on foot, who were not charged. Coaches that travelled at speed, blew their horns before they reached the gate so that the gatekeeper could open the gates and let them through quickly. In the 1830s, the standard charges varied from a few pence for every horse or animal to two shillings and sixpence for a steam powered carriage.

By the 1830s there were more than 1,000 trusts maintaining around 30,000 miles of road in England and Wales. By 1838 the turnpike trusts in England were collecting £1.5 million per year from leasing the collection of tolls, but had a cumulative debt of £7 million, mainly as mortgages. Trusts often applied for an extension to the 21 year period. From 1766 they were required to build milestones to indicate the distance between principal towns on the road.

The building of the railways in the mid 19th century made the trusts obsolete. The payment of tolls at turnpikes was abolished by an Act of Parliament in 1878.

The old toll house and toll gates on Penn Road, Wolverhampton. From the Wolverhampton Journal.

Birmingham New Road

The A4123 Birmingham New Road, which was built in the 1920s to relieve the A41 Holyhead Road between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, has been of great benefit to Dudley. Construction was carried out by Robert McAlpine & Sons at a cost of £573,750. The road took three years to build and was designed as a through road, avoiding town centres. It was officially opened on 2nd November, 1927 by the Prince of Wales, who with the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, travelled along the road to a civic reception in Wolverhampton. Work began on upgrading the road to a dual carriageway in 1939. It was completed at a cost of £39,000.

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