Dorset Ancestors Rotating Header Image

Thorncombe’s Thorn

The Cornish writer, poet and historian Richard Polwhele, in his History of Devon, says with reference to Thorncombe which, until 1843, was a part of Devon: “Some attribute its name to one remarkable thorn near the combe, at a place in the parish known as Thorncombe’s Thorn.” Here, some 600 feet above sea level and a few hundred yards from the village is a cross roads with a house which to this day is known as Turnpike Cottage, although it is now greatly extended.

This was an ideal spot to have a Toll Gate and we found a reference to it in the surviving parish records: “March 1785. Paid Mr Phelps cart to carry the people to Exon – 4s.0d., Paid Turnpike forwards and backward at Thorncombe’s Thorn 8d.”

As the government struggles to find innovative ways to raise money for new roads and for the maintenance of the existing ones, high on their agenda is charging for road use, i.e. Toll roads. There is nothing new about this – it was first tried in the 17th century.

In 1663 the government of the day passed the Turnpike Act. The act allowed magistrates to charge for using the roads and the money raised was spent on the upkeep of the roads, an idea initially trialled in three counties. It proved to be so successful that the scheme was soon adopted all over the country. In 1706 the first of many private company schemes was set up. These businesses, known as Turnpike Trusts, allowed the public the opportunity to invest. The income from charging people to use the roads, the toll, was divided between the costs of maintaining the road and profits for the investors.

Toll gates were set up and pedestrians, carts and carriages would have to stop and pay the toll before being allowed to proceed. But not everyone liked the idea and people would leap over the gates to avoid paying; it was not long before spikes were put on top of the gates to dissuade people from trying to avoid the toll. It is from this that the term turnpike comes and anyone accused of damaging a turnpike would have faced execution.

Thorncombe derives its name from the Saxon words Torn and Cumb, meaning a bottom or low ground subject to thorns. We have placed a photograph of Turnpike Cottage in the gallery; it was taken in the mid 20th century.

Comments are closed.