March 2013: Surrey Roads – From Turnpike to Motorway – Gordon Knowles

Gordon gave us a good survey of how the county’s roads have developed over the last 300 years. We learned that the term ‘turnpike’ originated from the tollgates which often had pikes mounted on them. Until the 17th century most roads were only wide enough for packhorses. Then the Turnpike Acts obliged parishes to maintain roads to a width of 8 feet with powers to charge tolls to meet the costs. Despite this roads remained in poor condition; dust in summer, mud in winter. The first Turnpike was from London to Portsmouth and was completed in 1663, but it still took up to two years to move timber from Farnham to Deptford Dockyard.
Despite construction improvements, roads were second to railways until the motor age took hold. Being close to London, Surrey led the way in highways development and the number of Surrey ‘firsts’ was surprising; Dorking was the first council to have its own road-laying plant; the RAC and AA both began in the county and pioneered road signs and traffic controls. As traffic levels increased, the county had to respond – the Kingston by-pass, the Purley Way and the Dorking and Leatherhead by-passes were all built in the 1930s. Mickleham, Shere and others were to follow. Later came the M25 and M23. Surrey has coped with the motor age remarkably well over the years and will have to continue to do so.