Whitley Pump contributor Matthew Farrall was idly looking at a wall in his mum’s house recently and noticed a framed local newspaper article featuring a ticket dated 17 July 1867 for Whitley toll gate.
The article was probably from the 1980s and the author (unknown) described how librarian David Cliffe had shown him the ticket in Reading Library’s collection of ephemera. We arranged to go and have look at it at ourselves with, now retired librarian, David Cliffe.
The Whitley toll gate was on the road from Reading to Basingstoke. This was a turnpike road maintained by the Reading and Basingstoke Turnpike Trust that traffic had to pay to use. There was a scale of charges for everything from coaches and carriages to livestock. In 1841 the published list of charges included [ref 1]:
- a horse drawing a coach 4d [less than 2p]
- a horse drawing a wagon 3d [even less than 2p]
- horses or mules 1½d [less 1p]
- asses 1d [even less than 1p]
- oxen and cattle 10d per score [just over 4p]
- calves, hogs, sheep or lambs 5d per score [about 2p].
The rights to collect tolls were auctioned by the Trust to the highest bidder for three year periods. The Trust ran the road from 1717 until 30 June 1870 at 12 noon when it became free to use [ref 2]. This was less than three years after 17 July 1867, the date of our ticket [ref 3].
Whitley Gate was originally at the top of Silver Street but around 1800 it was moved further south to Whitley Road (now Basingstoke Road), more or less where Bourne Avenue is now.
The toll house was an octagonal structure and probably looked like the example which is still standing in Dorchester-on-Thames (pictured).
The toll house had been demolished by the end of 1871 when the piece of land on which it had stood was sold by Richard Attenborough of Whitley Grove to Captain H G Austen. The conveyance described the land, recently used as a garden, as where the largest portion of the toll house had stood and the whole of the chaise house and stables [ref 4].
… no sooner do we get within a mile of the town, than our approach is indicated by successive market gardens on either side, crowned, as we ascend the long hill on which the turnpike gate stands by an extensive nursery ground, gay with long beds of flowers, with trellised walks covered with creepers, with whole acres of flowering shrubs, and ranges of greenhouses, the glass glittering in the southern sun. Then the turnpike gate with its civil keeper – then another public house – then the clear bright pond on top of the hill…
The names of some of the gate keepers can be traced in tithe apportionment records, newspapers, local directories and census records.
Around 1840 when the tithe apportionment survey was carried out Edward Banfield lived there, in 1859 Robert Palmer, 1861 William Moss and 1865 John Lovelace [ref 6].
The last gatekeeper and resident of the toll house may have been Joseph Porter. Two months before the date of our ticket, he was summoned before the county magistrates for unlawfully charging 3d to a clergyman on official duties passing through the gate. Rev B W Young was going to perform a service at Rotherwick and challenged the payment as he thought that he should be exempt. The magistrates did not agree because he did not tell the gate keeper his name, he did not have a licence to perform duties at Rotherwick and he was not a clergyman from another parish but a clerk in holy orders [ref 7].
Opposite the toll gate was a pub, the King’s Head, which was probably the one referred to by Mary Mitford. The pub was sold in 1851 for £480 when Sowdon’s brewery closed and may have been demolished soon after as it does not appear on the 1853 Board of Health map [ref 8]. A customer from the pub who was on his way home on a December night in 1848 found the temporary gatekeeper dead. James Paice had been minding the gate for three weeks but had complained of feeling unwell that evening when the landlord had taken him some bread and cheese. Later he had visited the pub and smoked a pipe and drunk half a glass of beer before returning to work. When he did not open the gate later that night the alarm was raised and a surgeon was sent for ‘who found the vital spark had fled’ [ref 9].
The blue ticket from 17 July 1867 is a remarkable survival. It is less than two inches square and it has been folded so that the ink from writing the date has transferred to the folded side; the payment made was 3d. The ticket was also valid to pass through Whiteknights and Shinfield gates which were located on Shinfield Road near the junction with Redlands Road and further south respectively.
- Berkshire Chronicle 25 September 1841 p1
- Mercury 25.6.1870 p5
- Commencement date Alan Rosevear (2004) Draft version of A booklet on the Turnpike Roads around Reading para 9.1.2. Closure date Reading Mercury 25 June 1870 p5.
- Berkshire Record Office D/EX 1183/7/2 14 December 1871
- Mitford, Mary (1835). Belford Regis
- Berkshire Record office tithe map and apportionment for St Giles c.1840; Macaulay’s Reading Directory 1859; Census records 1861 via findmypast.co.uk and Macaulay’s Reading Directory 1865
- Mercury 6 July 1867 p5
- Mercury 30 August 1851
- Mercury 9.12.1848 p3
All map extracts are from those in the Reading Central Library, Local Studies Collection.