The A421: A Turnpike Road: 1743 - 1871

January 2021

The history group, in piecing together information relevant to the village and surrounding areas, obtains this ininformation either by direct research or by coming unexpectedly across facts, which in turn, lead to more research - - and suddenly the jigsaw pieces start to fit together. We realised that our 2018 catalogue of Mixbury's history and archaeology made brief reference to the A421 (previously B4031) as a Turnpike or Toll Road, but it was only at the end of last year that we became significantly more interested in the road when starting to research the history of the 'great coney (rabbit) warren' at Warren Farm. This is mentioned in records as far back as the C13th, and we have found it marked on a C17th map. Subsequently, a member of the history group came across a map of the 1950s which clearly shows 3 milestones on 'our' stretch of road - one at Mixbury, one at Warren Farm and one at Finmere: each marking the distance of one mile apart, and clearly shown by the MS (milestone) markings on the map below. The only milestone that is visible now, to our knowledge, is the one at Mixbury, on the far side of the road as you turn to the right join the A421 from the village.

As a result, we started doing more research on Turnpike /Toll Roads and in particular the one that is now called the A421 which runs through the south of the parish.

A large network of roads and pathways was created in Britain during the Roman period and in the Middle Ages: by the mid C16th this network was called The Kings' Highway. Responsibility for maintaining roads was placed on parishes, who obliged residents to work without pay for up to 6 days a year in accordance with a 1555 Statute: when significant work required additional resources, these were met by levying property taxes in parishes. This public and local method of financing roads was satisfactory in Britain's pre-industrial economy. Road improvement and maintenance costs were low and largely internal to the parish. In neighbouring Buckinghamshire, we understand that women collected stones from the fields to provide a surface for the roads (more a cottage industry than civil engineering) and we are fairly sure that this was a common practice in rural areas generally.

Conditions changed during the C17th and C18th when wages increased, and regional and inter-regional trade and travel began to grow. Food, fuel and consumer products were all moved about on roads, ad there was growing use of large wagons and carriages which caused damage to the roads. As use of the roads increased and travel began to expand, it became necessary to find money to keep and improve highways. The result of this development was The Turnpike Act. The first Act was 1663; the second 1695; but it was not until the 1720s that the expansion of Turnpike roads was so marked. Throughout the country, there were 20,000 miles of toll roads by 1840.

Image courtesy of>britishturnpike trusts.

Showing north Oxfordshire and the Bicester, Aynho and Finmere toll road, in blue with black dots at the top of the map. This connected with the Buckingham and Hanwell (Lower Division) road in Northamptonshire.

The A421 was part of the Buckingham and Hanwell (Lower Division) Turnpike road, and was 9 miles long, with 2 main gates and 2 side gates. Turnpike roads were a source of great income: the now A421 is credited with an average income per main gate (and there were 2) of £596 in 1834: that is the equivalent of over £70,000 per gate in current value. This road became a Turnpike road in 1743, until it ceased to be valid in 1871.

Turnpike roads were so called because men who staffed them laid their turnpikes across the road to prevent passage until a toll had been levied. Turnpike toll houses were erected on major roads, with gates at intervals, usually at bridges, crossroads, or where the adjoining ground constricted the road. The nearest to Mixbury was built at Finmere. Positioning was important to stop travellers from evading the tolls. The gates were stout constructions, originally wood, then in the C19th they were made from wrought iron. Tolls were laid down according to the type of vehicle (coach, wagon, cart); the number of horses drawing the vehicles, and the type of livestock being transported. There is evidence that there were some toll exemptions for farmers transporting fertilizers, and for mail coaches; soldiers; voters on election days; those going to church on a Sunday; funerals and those visiting the sick.

Although Turnpike/Toll roads were affected by the newly built canal system, it was the arrival of the railways that ultimately caused their demise.