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The Story of our Roads - Part 1

from The Barwicker No. 15

September 1989

Over the years local highways and by-ways have been subject to a variety of changes, and few have survived the passage of time or the pursuit of progress. Dark Lane, just to the north of Barwick village, is a surviving ancient hollow-way, at one period alive with activity in the days when it provided access to the surrounding medieval fields. Sunken highways are a distinctive feature of rural medieval routes and result from wear and erosion of the unpaved surface. Today Dark Lane lies slumbering beneath the tree- lined canopy that gives it its name.

Through routes, that linked major settlements and market towns, were often dignified as 'the King's Highway, (regia via), a perpetual right of passage in the sovereign for himself and his subjects over another's land'. A map by Jonathan Teal of, Leeds dated July 1786, shows the line of the 'Ancient King's High Way' between Leeds and Tadcaster, extending from Burmantofts in East Leeds, by Red Hall, across Whinmoor, through Thorner and Bramham to Tadcaster. The Leeds-Tadcaster (A64) Trunk Road has, however, long been established as the principal route between Tadcaster and Leeds.

According to early accounts, many roads were in a wretched condition and the cause of much discomfort and complaint. The West Riding Session Roll for 13 July 1598 records that 'The highwaie leading fron Leedes to Wikebrigg and 50 to Seacrofte and 50 to Kiddal towards York' had been presented to the Jury to be in great decay for want of repairs so that the travellers could hardly pass. The jurors, with the consent of the justices, laid a 'payne' (a fine formerly levied by the Manor) that every person occupying a plough tilth of land within the parishes of Leeds, Whitkirk and Barwick should send their 'draughts' and sufficient labourers according to the Statute and repair the road before the ensuing 25 August upon 'payne' that every person making default should forfeit 20 shillings.

Ralph Thoresby, the Leeds antiquarian, wrote in his Diary for 17 May 1708, 'Journey to York. We found the way very deep, and in some places dangerous for a coach (that we walked on foot).' And on 2 May 1714, 'Message from Wakefield that the coach could not reach the town (Leeds)'.

The repair of medieval roads was generally the responsibility of the manor , a duty which ultimately fell upon the tenants, until an act of parliament in 1555 reorganised the basis of road maintenance, making the parish as a whole accountable for all public highways. Parishes were not only compelled to do their part in maintaining the road but also in protecting it. An interesting example is the Order of Sessions for 11 January 1666, under which Barwick was fined £3.5.0, part of £85.2.6 laid upon the 'Hundred' of Skyrack, under an execution obtained by John Thoresby and others against the Hundred for a robbery committed at Wyke.

In 1691, the new office of Surveyor of the Highways was created and he was expected to take over any balance of highway money, view all the roads, watercourses, bridges and pavements at least three times a year, and make presentment upon each in what condition he found them to the next Justices. The. next Sunday after he had discovered any breach of regulations, he was expressly required to stand up in the parish church, immediately the sermon ended, and proclaim the offender, giving notice that if the matter was not corrected, he would charge repair work to the offender. No such pronouncements have yet come to light in local records.

The Surveyor of the Highways was also empowered to enforce 'statute labour', whereby for eight hours on each of four .consecutive days, all who held land in the parish should furnish carts, oxen or horses, and two labourers apiece, who, with the help of all other able-bodied inhabitants (other than farm servants), should repair the roads with their own implements.

The highway accounts for Barwick-in-Elmet parish start in 1734 and are recorded in both 1the Constables' and Surveyors' accounts. The following are extracts from the accounts of the Constable for the year 1751 onwards.

£ s d
A warrant for the Surveyor of the Highways. 0.3.0
To John Tate for mending Ox Close Bridge. 0.6.0
A new Lydd Gate.(l) 0.4.0
A New Bridge upon the Carr. 0.5.0
Barnbow Bridge mending. 0.1.7
Bottom Beck Bridge mending. 0.1.6
A New Door for Potterton Bridge.(2) 0.1.0
For pursuing a Highway man 0.1.0.
A new plank for Barnbow Bridge and mending the bridge at Barwick 0.3.9

(1) Lydd gate from Old English 'Llid geat', a swing gate, the main function of which was to prevent livestock from wandering. Lydd gates were frequently placed across roads traversing township boundaries, and a plan of the Manor of Barwick-in-Elmet, surveyed in 1772, shows a gate where the Garforth Road enters the open fields (see edition No. 3). This may have been the lydd gate in question.
(2) The Door at Potterton Bridge has, so far, eluded suitable explanation.

Typical items of expenditure in the Surveyor of Highways accounts, far the same period, are:
£ s d
To a Man Two days digging Holes in Highfield. 0.1.6
To Thomas Whitehead far Boulders. 0. 5.0
Draining watercourses several times in Long Lane. 0. 1.6
A man backing the way in Little Field. 0. 1.0
Drink when Loading Broad Causeway Stones. 0. 2.0
William Tate Bill for paving. 0.19.6
To John Tate for laying Broadstone Causeway 281 yards at 4d a yard 4.13.8
To John Tate for Briggstones and wall stones. 0. 7.6
For ale given to labourers. 0. 0.6
To Drink for labourers. 0. 5.4
To laying tbe Roads. 0. 3.0
To Drink at the same time. 0. 7.4
Paid for an indictment. 0.0.6

The Parish Constable appears to have been concerned with bridge mending, whilst the Surveyor organised the thirsty work of road repair.

Potterton Bridge received attention about 1809/10 when the Surveyor of the Highways, John Crosland, received monies an account of the bridge, the total 'agreed' sum being t120.0.0 .. Included in the list of 39 contributors are:
£ s d
Sir Thomas Gascoigne, Bart., Parl1ngton. 25.0.0
LL.Fox, Esq., Bramham Park. 10.0.0
Edward Wilkinson, Potterton. 15.0.0
John Crosland, Scholes. 5.0.0
James and Thomas Lumb of Barwick. 5.5.0
James Hodgson, Rector of Barwick 10.0.0

The bulk of the road stone was obtained from local quarries and accounts for April 1839 record the Barwick vestry's approval to 'the getting of 1400 cu. yards of stones by contract at 8d. a solid yard from Doles, Ash Bank, Bog Lane and Bloeffet Quarries'.

Dross, a very hard and more expensive material, was obtained from the York Road Iron Company Foundry, near Harehills Lane. A parish meeting in May 1879, at the home of Richard Helm of the Gascoigne Arms, let the leading of dross into the various highways in the townShip to:
John Dixon, 15 tons. From Turnpike to Skelton Lane at 2/3d. John Dixon, 15 tons. From Skelton Lane to Boundary at 2/6d

Indictments were served on the parish on several occasions for alleged non-repair of highways. In 1757, Stephen Vevers, Surveyor of the Highways, records accounts for 'Going to Leeds several times to get Justices to view the Road - £0.2.0. Paid at Leeds Sessions for travelling and trying the Road which was indicted from Morwick Corner to Barwick - 1000 yards. Being acquitted by the Jury and found no bigh road - £4.8.0.'

In October 1826, tbe inhabitants of Barwick were fined t150 for the non-repair of Cburch Lane, between Manston Lane (now Austborpe Road) and tbe Seacroft/Whinmoor Road. Years later, in March 1893, tbe Barwick vestry voted in favour of defending a Bill of Indictment on Church Lane at the April General Quarter Sessions at Wakefield. The outcome was a decision in May that Church Lane should be 'deemed a highway'.

Local records give an indication of the constantly changing highway administration system. Tbe number of Highway Surveyors in office at anyone time varied (as did their territories). Richard Lumb and William Johnson were jointly appointed for 1751, whilst in 1831, there were five Surveyors appointed, one each for Barwick, Barnbow, Morwick, Potterton and Scholes. Later in 1892, three officers shared the duties: Richard Helm of the Gascoigne Arms, (Barwick), John Lodge (Scholes and Cross Gates) and John Brook (Kiddal and Whinmoor).

An event which probably more than any other reshaped and regularised the pattern of rural roads was the Enclosure Award of 1804 (see 'The Barwicker' No.12)' In addition to enclosing open fields, the Commissioners were empowered 'to define and set out such proper and convenient Public and Private Roads and Ways' as they thought fit, and to appoint a surveyor to oversee the task. The enclosure documents (no maps unfortunately) list the highways to be laid out in the following manner.

York Road 45 ft. Garforth Road 45 ft.
Aberford Road 45 ft. Rakehill Road 40 ft.
Scholes & Leeds Road 45 ft. Barnbow Lane 30 ft.
Thorner Road 45 ft. Low Field Lane 20 ft.
Potterton Ings Road 18 ft.

High Field Lane 40 ft.
Little Field Lane 30 ft.
Richmond Field Lane 30 ft.

From Barwick Church to the South End of the Town.
From Potterton to Kiddal Hall.
From Barwick to Scholes.

Within the allotted time of two years the Surveyor was expected to certify the Public Carriage roads as being fit for adoption by the parish council. The Enclosure Award also introduces the practice of 'Letting the lanes', whereby the mowing of grass on certain public highways was let, ('the last bidder being the purchaser') in April of each year. The 'purchase money' was allocated to finance highway repairs, thus enterprising use was made of large areas of enclosed roadside verge. In April 1892, the lanes were duly let as follows:

£. s. d
J.B.Westwood Low Field and Chapel Lanes 1.10.0
Geo. Armitage Potter ton Lane - Morgan Cross 0.11.0
do. Bar Lane to New Road 0. 3.0
Alt White Garforth Road 2. 2.0
S.Braithwaite Common Lane to Workhouse 0. 5.0

At this time (1892), the road between Potterton Hall gates and the Tadcaster Road was referred to as 'the New Road'

By the 1830's Statute labour had been replaced by a levy on the parish rate and a Vestry meeting in November 1831 agreed a composition to be laid (on the parish highways) for the following year at 1/3d. in the pound. In March 1837 the vestry decided on 'the Keeping of a Team of two or more horses in draught in accordance with the provisions of the General Highways Act'.

The vestry met in March 1878 to decide what roads in the township should be returned (to the County Authority) as 'Main Roads' under the measures of the New Highways and Locomotive Act of 1878. The following were duly returned (as Main Roads):

Leeds and Tadcaster From Ass Bridge through Barwick to the New Road, forward through Stanks to the boundary.
From New Road through Scholes to Leeds-Tadcaster turnpike.
The highway through Cross Gates, and the road from Barwick to Garforth to be left open for further consideration.

N.B. The Seacroft and Scholes Branch Road constructed in 1840, was referred to at that time as the 'New Road'

The formation of the Tadcaster Rural District Council and the Barwick Parish Council in 1894 brought major changes (the parish being divided into three wards - Barwick, Scholes and Cross Gates) with the first meeting of the new Parish Council taking place on 2 January 1895. From thereon, highway issues were dealt with by the District Council and the following were examples of the items raised.

There was concern, in February 1896, regarding the bad state of the road-side verge of Tadcaster Road between Scholes Lane and the Fox Inn, Kiddal Lane, and the provision of a footpath was requested. The weather caused problems in November 1904 when the District Council's attention was drawn to the bad state of roads in the parish due to snow drifts. It was recommended that a horse plough be provided for Barwick to be ready in future as most roads had been impassable for nearly a week. In January 1902, the District Council was asked to consider urging the North Eastern Railway Company to widen the bridge at Cross Gates 'as the present one is inadequate for the amount of traffic passing over it, with no room for foot passengers'.

A transport issue of a different kind received brief consideration in 1898/99, when the Parish Council discussed proposals for a nine mile light railway along the valley of the Cock Beck linking Scholes, Barwick, Aberford and Church Fenton. It was thought this would provide a useful link between the N.E.R.'s main line and the Cross Gates-Wetherby branch. In September 1899, the Parish Council responded to Saxton-cum-Scarthingwell Council on these proposals advising that they viewed the scheme favourably and suggesting a meeting of the various parish councils involved, although little further action took place.

It is of interest to reflect on some early standards applied to highway design. An Anglo-Saxon law decreed 'that a highway shall be broad enough for two wains to pass each other, with room for the drivers to ply their whips freely, and for 16 soldiers to ride in harness side by side'. A statute of 1285 attempted to reduce the growing number of highway robberies by introducing a minimum width of 200 yards on either side of principal roads between market towns. The area within this corridor was to be cleared of bushes and hedges (except oaks and large trees), The Statute Mile (now under threat from the kilometre) was defined in an Act of 1593, 'that it should contain 8 furlongs, each furlong 40 poles, and every pole to contain 16½ feet', (The earlier mile was longer, probably based on a pole of 7 yards instead of 5½ yards.)

According to G.K.Chesterton, 'the rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road' . The enclosure surveyors, however, traditionally worked in straight lines, and the results of their endeavour can be recognised today in the uniform alignment of many local roads and lanes.

Tony Cox

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