At the start of his lecture on Suffolk Toll-houses on 9 March, Patrick Taylor said he hoped we wouldn't be disappointed. Houses which looked the right age, some of them octagonal and close to the road, often weren't the real thing, even if called 'toll-houses'. Whereas real toll-houses could be humdrum houses or bungalows (though with side windows for the keeper to look up and down the road) and could easily remain anonymous. However, we weren't disappointed because it is an unusual historical subject.
Roads which had been the responsibility of each parish to maintain were often in poor shape, so private companies forming trusts were authorised by specific Acts of Parliament to erect turnpike gates and collect tolls for their stretch of road. Starting in 1663, they became common in the 18th and early 19th centuries, but with the coming of the railways business declined and most tolls were abolished between 1870 and 1890.
The surviving toll-houses fascinate Patrick partly because of their local distinctiveness. As a Cornishman living in Suffolk he has written books on both counties' toll-houses, noting their strikingly different building materials and styles. His well illustrated talk showed us first some of the 'imposters'. For example the Round House at Walton on the way to Felixstowe is hexagonal and close to the road - but there was no turnpike road here. It was often a case of this shape of house becoming quite popular and in come instances being used as attractive lodges for rather grander houses. There are also 'toll-houses' at Lavenham and Bury where market tolls were collected, not turnpike road tolls.
The most striking 'traditionally' shaped toll-houses in Suffolk are at Sicklesmere (on the Sudbury-Bury road) and Botesdale (Scole-Bury road), the former two-storey and the latter single-storey. Much more typical though are the long bungalow toll-house at Copdock and the two-storey house at Claydon, both with their tell-tale side windows.
Toll-houses were usually a few miles out of towns so as not to deter visitors from the near-hinterland from coming to town for business. Patrick didn't dwell on the public's attitude to the cost and inconvenience of tolls but he did say that thatched roof toll-houses were not common - they could be easily torched!
His book, The Toll-houses of Suffolk, Polystar Press, is published at 277 Cavendish Street, Ipswich, IP3 8BQ (email@example.com) and covers all this material and much more.