This commentary is based on the classroom activity: Road Transport and the Industrial Revolution
Q1: Why were British roads in such an appalling state at the beginning of the 18th century?
A1: Many British roads were in an appalling state at the beginning of the 18th century because people were
unwilling to repair them. Although a law passed in 1555 instructed local people to maintain the roads in their parish, this law was usually ignored.
Q2: Explain the problems of having roads like those described in source 1. How did John Macadam (source 3) try to solve this problem?
A2: The problem with having roads lower than the surrounding land is that when it rains, the roads either flood or become very muddy. John Macadam tried to solve this problem by making the centre of the roads, three inches higher than the sides. This enabled the rainwater to run down the slope into ditches at the side of the road.
Q3: How did the roads built by John Macadam differ from those built by Thomas Telford?
A3: The main difference between these roads is that Macadam used a subsoil base, whereas Telford used stone foundations. Macadam also left each layer of stones for a while so that the weight of the vehicles using the road could compact the stones together.
Q4: Did all British roads improve between 1750 and 1800? Explain your answer in as much detail as possible.
A4: Not all roads improved between 1750 and 1800. Some Turnpike Trusts employed talented engineers to build roads. They also spent large sums of money maintaining these roads. However, other Turnpike Trusts tried to increase their profits by spending very little money on repairing roads. Except for local people putting stones and gravel into the worst potholes, minor roads received very little attention during this period.
Q5: Comment on the value of these sources in helping us understand the increase in the speed of road transport between 1750 and 1830.
A5: Sources 4, 5 and 6 all provide valuable information on road transport between 1750 and 1830. In the advertisement for the Manchester flying-coach (source 4) in 1754, the company boasts that their coach takes only four and a half days to travel from Manchester to London. By 1814, Pickford's horse-vans were travelling the same distance in only thirty-six hours (source 6). The Goldsworthy Gurney steam carriage could travel at 15 m.p.h. This meant that it could travel from Manchester to London in just over 13 hours.
Q6: Make a list of reasons why British roads improved between 1750 and 1800. Explain which one of these reasons was the most important.
A6: The reasons why roads improved between 1750 and 1800 included: (i) the formation of Turnpike Trusts; (ii) an increase in the number of merchants and factory owners who wanted to use Britain's roads to transport goods; (iii) the emergence in Britain of several talented road builders. The most important of these reasons was probably the increase in the number of merchants and factory owners who wanted to use Britain's roads to transport goods. Without this increase in demand, there would not have been a rapid growth in the number of Turnpike Trusts in Britain. It was the increase in the amount of traffic that enabled the Turnpike Trusts to employ talented road builders such as Thomas Telford and John Macadam.