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Report of the Commissioners for Inquiring into Matters
relating to Public Roads in Scotland, 1859


Aims of Inquiry - financing the maintenance of the roads
Methods of Inquiry - financing of new roads
Types of road - management of the roads and bridges
- statute labour roads - appointment of County Surveyors
- turnpike roads - burghs
- roads neither turnpike nor statute labour - further considerations
Bridge money Proposed changes to management of roads
Abstracts of Counties (see Roads by County) - consolidation of trusts
Road debt - turnpike roads and bridges
Alternatives to tolls and statute labour - statute labour roads
- objections to the toll system Conclusion




The Inquiry had two aims:
1)To inquire and report how far it may be desirable and practicable to institute an equitable system of assessment in lieu of the present mode of maintaining the Public Roads in Scotland by Tolls and Statute Labour, or whether any other change might be beneficially introduced in the said mode, which in our opinion, would be calculated to secure a more economical and equitable system than that which presently prevails

2) To inquire and report on the existing management of Public Roads and whether any changes might be introduced into the management, by the consolidation of Trusts or otherwise, which in our opinion would be calculated to secure a more economical and efficient system.

Methods of Inquiry


In view of the aims, they set themselves to:
1) determine the lengths of roads, how they were managed and their finances, viz. income, expenditure and debt;
2) how the existing system, as determined by these findings, could be improved.
It describes how they obtained up to date information from those responsible for roads, including Burghs and how the Burghs were affected by the current system and how they would be affected by any changes.
They also examined witnesses, representing the different interests in each community, to gather their views on the present and any future system.

The roads are treated under three classes, viz. Statute Labour Roads, also known as Commutation or Parish Roads, Turnpike Roads, and Public Roads not falling under either of those heads.

Statute Labour Roads


The Report gives the background to the development of the Statute Labour system. In 1617, Justices of the Peace were authorised to mend highways and passages to any market town or seaport and from any town to churches. They could impose penalties on those who refused to mend the roads or who damaged them. They were also able to identify where new roads were required.

The 1617 Act was renewed in 1661 but when it became obvious that the system was not working, an Act of 1669 was introduced which required the Sherriff and Justices to meet each year and identify roads needing repair. They would appoint overseers who would then require tenants, cottars and servants to work (unpaid) on road repairs for up to 6 days in the first 4 years, and for 4 days yearly after that. There were penalties for absence.

A tax was also raised on Heritors in a shire to ensure sufficient funds for repair were available. Tolls could be raised on bridges, causeways and ferries.

The Report noted that this system still operated in Bute and Zetland although it had been changed everywhere else.
They then said that in Scotland the only obligation for construction and maintenance of roads was that imposed by statute whereas in England, even without statutory powers, there would still be an obligation for parishes to do this under common law. In Ireland, Baronies would be responsible. In Scotland, this had led to cases where a road, being neither a turnpike nor a Statute Labour road, was not being repaired as no one was responsible for it.

Since 1669, various statutes were passed that modified the Statute Labour system. None, however, applied to the whole country until the General Statute Labour Act of 1845. In the intervening period, counties had obtained local Acts that modified the system, particularly allowing for actual labour to be replaced by a monetary payment (commutation). The 1845 Act recognised the commutation system (which was fairer) and made it permissible for counties to adopt it, and exempted poorer people from having to pay.

Turnpike Roads


By the mid-1700s, the general progress of the country had led to a situation whereby the Statute Labour system was unable to provide an adequate road system. It was realised that new roads would need to be built but to do this authority from Parliament had to be obtained to allow funds to be raised by borrowing.

The first Scottish Turnpike Act was in 1713, for the County of Edinburgh. There had been powers before this to levy tolls into Edinburgh from time to time, the proceeds to be used to repair the roads and burghs in the County but the Act established this on a firmer footing allowing toll gates to be erected and specifying the amount of the tolls. Trustees were to pay particular attention to the Post Road to Haddington.

The Act was renewed in 1750, and other Acts then began to be passed, allowing a rapid growth of good roads and bridges throughout the country. There were drawbacks, however. One was that an Act was often for only a short section of road and not a whole county; another was that they had to be renewed at great expense every 20 or 30 years.

They noted that in England the revenue from a turnpike was used primarily to pay interest on the loans that had been raised to build the road, there being other means of funding a turnpike, whereas in Scotland this took second place to using the money on the actual roads. This often meant that insufficient revenue was available to repay debt.

Roads neither Turnpike nor Statute Labour

The first of this type of road they considered were the Military and Parliamentary Roads which were similar to turnpikes as in some cases they were supported by tolls. These roads were in 10 different counties, mostly in the Highlands.

The Military Roads were formed during the period of Jacobite unrest and there were still about 250 miles being maintained. The Parliamentary Roads, of which there were about 940 miles, were constructed under an Act of 1803, with half the cost coming from the government and half from the districts or counties.

Subsequent Acts applied to both categories with 25 per cent of the costs being defrayed by the government out of an annual grant of £5000. One Act allowed tolls to be levied and this was applied to some roads.

The second of this type of road was in Argyll and Orkney where funding was obtained under special statutes and the management was under local control.

The third of this type of road were roads, which although public, are not the responsibility of anyone to maintain - these are noted only incidentally by the Report.

Bridge Money


This refers to a separate levy for the purpose of repairing bridges on statute labour roads that had its roots in the 1669 Act. However, in many counties it had fallen into disuse.

Abstracts of Counties


Abstracts for each county were provided that give the lengths of the different types of road, the Acts under which they were authorised and details of their finances.
Based on this, they estimated that the 21,000 miles of road in Scotland cost £252,000 annually to maintain and manage, viz.
Turnpike Roads and Bridges 5678 Miles £145,068
Statute Labour Roads 14,446 Miles £88,909
Military and Parliamentary Roads 1194 Miles £12,307
County Bridge Money and Inverness Bridge £5939

The Road Debt

The amount of turnpike debt they estimated at nearly £2 ½ million, noting that most of this was irrecoverable. They considered that unless it was removed, it would be a major obstacle to any change.

They noted that one class of creditors, those living near main trunk roads considered that they had loaned more money than was strictly necessary to accrue personal benefits to their properties and were therefore entitled to special treatment. The Commissioners felt however that it would be difficult to make separate provision for them.
Another class of creditor was Railway Companies who had often taken over some of the road debt to reduce opposition to the construction of their railways. Their prospects of repayment were now remote.

The Commissioners referred again to the situation in Scotland, unlike England, that only when income is spent on road maintenance can any remaining funds be spent on reducing the debt.

They suggested that Commissioners be appointed to determine the amounts of the debts as had been done in South Wales and Ireland. The debt of each county should then be charged as a burden on the county. They felt this the fairest method as the whole county would benefit from the roads.

They distinguished between the construction of a road or bridge, saying that as it is a permanent improvement it could fairly be charged against the owners of the property who benefit; and their ordinary repair, which should be chargeable on all who benefit, whether as tenants or owners.

They noted that a proprietor living beside a prosperous line of road which had no debt would object to paying for less successful routes, but said that it would be unfair for him to reap such benefits when he had not contributed to the building of the road.

They suggested that Burghs containing a portion of a turnpike in their bounds should pay a proportion of the debt; and that this should also apply to those parts of the Glasgow - Carlisle Road and the Greenlaw Turnpike that lie within England.

They referred to an Appendix (F) that shows the nominal debt by county, noting that in some counties it had either been paid off or was very small. In counties where it was large, it should not prove too onerous to raise money to repay the debt provided that the true value of the debt was taken and not its nominal value. In any case, many of those assessed would receive money back as they were the ones to whom money was owed.

They concluded by examining ways in which counties could raise the money and reiterate the importance they attach to removing the road debt if any progress was to be made.

Aim 1 To see if a means of funding other than by tolls or statute labour could be identified that would result in a fairer and more economical system.
Objections to the Toll System

They noted that the "objectionable nature of tolls" had been taken for granted in their inquiry and that tolls were only considered in assessing whether a substitute would be a better way of raising money. The Inquiry had shown that there were other disadvantages to Turnpikes - there were no consistent principles and Acts had been passed without proper consideration which had led to many complexities.

In speaking about the objections to tolls they referred to the value of the work of William Pagan of Cupar in Fife, who was one of the witnesses and had written about the drawbacks of the present system.

Objections to the toll system were detailed:
- Expense of obtaining and renewing a turnpike act
- Cost of toll houses, gates and steelyards
- Cost of advertising and letting toll bars
- Profits of the tacksmen
- Salaries of collectors
- Peculation
- Providing a ready cause for litigation
- Inequality in their operation - some journeys required several tolls to be paid, others none
- The multiplicity of trusts, each with their own toll bars
- Damage to other roads by people taking a longer route to avoid payment.

They countered the argument that those who use the road should pay for the road by noting that on some roads several tolls have to be paid where on others there may be long stretches where there are no tolls.

They referred to the much reduced revenue from tolls where a railway had been built, giving several striking examples. They also noted the effect the siting of railway stations had had on the use of other roads. This in fact had resulted in making many Statute Labour roads, rather than the turnpikes, major routes and this had removed much of the difference between them.

Financing the maintenance of roads

As they were now so similar, and Statute Labour roads were funded by assessment, this justified the same principle being applied to turnpikes. They recognised that any sudden change in compulsory legislation would meet much opposition but nevertheless recommended that future legislation should be directed towards assessment rather than tolls.

They then examined how this assessment could be carried out. They proposed firstly that all the public roads in a county, of whatever kind, should be united under a common system of management and financing. Bridges should be put on the same footing as roads. Highland Roads and Bridges should devolve on the counties in which they are situated - in any case, counties are already paying the major share for their maintenance. Where a road extended over more than one county or into England, costs should be proportional to the lengths of road involved.

They recommended that the roads and bridges then be financed by an assessment on occupiers whilst they held an existing lease. Where there was no existing lease and in future leases where it was not otherwise stipulated, tenants could retain half of the assessment from the rent payable to their landlords.

Occupiers under the present system paid for the maintenance of the roads as well as having to pay tolls which itself helped to pay for the interest on the road debt. There was a lack of fairness in this and placing the burden of debt on proprietors and of maintenance on occupiers would ensure a more equitable system
Many different opinions had been offered by witnesses as to how assessment should be carried out, viz:
- A uniform, or a classified rate on horses
- A rate on lands and heritages, supplemented by a horse rate
- A rate from lands and heritages, subject to classification
- A uniform rate on all descriptions of lands and heritages, as contained in the Valuation Roll for each county.

They recognized that a rate on horses would be fairer than a rate on property as it would be better at showing the use of roads by individuals. However, they felt that the idea quickly became very complex and did not in fact adjust itself easily to reflect the actual use of the road. It was also likely to lead to a great many disputes.

As the idea was favoured by many, the Commissioners in Appendices L - O, provided data on what rate on horses would be required.

With regard to a rate on lands and property, they considered that a uniform rate based on the valuation roll was by far the easiest method. They recommended that Railway and Canal Companies be included, as they benefitted from good access roads and would profit from the abolition of tolls.

Appendix G shows the value of counties and burghs, Appendix K shows the likely rate in each county for the Statute Labour roads, Turnpikes and Military and Parliamentary roads. Appendix H shows the likely rate for all roads in each county.

They noted that there was wide variation between counties but accept that this was inevitable in view of the circumstances of each county.

They recognised a need to prescribe a limit on the rate so that excessive expenditure did not take place, noting that this was the practice of Parliament with Turnpike acts. They suggested however that the rate could in exceptional cases be exceeded provided safeguards were built in.

It had been pointed out that a drawback to a uniform rate was in the case of quarries, mines and public works, the value of which was low yet which caused great damage to the roads. In view of this they recommended that these should be assessed at up to four times the normal rate, but no more than this.

Financing of new roads

New roads should be assessed separately upon owners, using the same argument used on road debt being placed on proprietors, viz. that it is a permanent improvement which benefits owners. The principle appeared to be fair and was already used in some counties.

To ensure that new roads were constructed only where needed and not to benefit individuals, they recommended that half of the finance be raised by the promoters of a scheme, the other half to be supplied by the county.

Management of the roads and bridges

They referred to precedents for the raising of funds by assessment, such as a Turnpike Act of 1811 for Perthshire, and the 1834 Biggar and Leadhills Turnpike Act. They proposed that the management of the roads and bridges be vested in the Trustees under the existing Acts, along with the Commissioners of Supply and some occupiers or tenants as determined by the rent they pay.

Trustees should meet annually and appoint a County Road Board as well as fix the amount of the assessment. Counties could if so wished be divided into districts and these would be the responsibility of trustees residing in the area, and with the advice and assistance of the county surveyor. In case of disputes there would be a right of appeal to the County Road Board.

Appointment of County Surveyors

They recommended the appointment of County Surveyors, saying that this would help to ensure the efficient working of the system. Duties would include:
- The laying out of new lines of road
- Advising and executing improvements
- Preparing plans and specifications form bridges, masonry and earthworks
- Adjusting and supervising the execution of contracts
- Supervising sub-surveyors and workmen.

It was desirable that he should be of some social standing to allow him to feel and maintain a degree of independence, and who would be acceptable to all. He should possess a firm character yet be diplomatic when the wishes of influential parties had to be declined or work had to remain unapproved because it was not up to standard. In Ireland, surveyors were examined before a Board of Inquiry to ensure that they had the necessary qualities for the position. They advised paying a suitable salary; setting a low salary or not appointing a surveyor at all would be a false economy. The surveyor need not be confined to one county.

Each year, he should prepare a report on the roads along with proposed work and estimated costs. He would appoint sub-surveyors and be responsible for them.

On the formation of a County Road Board, all funds would be transferred to the care of a general clerk along with a collector and treasurer. District clerks would also be required. Toll houses etc should be sold and proceeds paid in to the County Road Funds and all accounts would be audited with an abstract made available for the rate payers and the public. Powers of prosecution for roads offences and similar powers would be transferred to the Trustees and officials.


Burghs should become responsible for all roads within their boundaries, with powers to assess lands and heritages in their valuation rolls as for counties.

Appendix J shows the cost to burghs of taking over the turnpikes and the corresponding relief on counties. The latter would be very low except where large burghs were concerned. Statute labour roads within burghs are paid for by rates on property and as the sum raised is usually more than required there would be a loss rather than a gain to counties if the statute labour roads within burghs were paid out of burgh assessments.

However, burghs, especially the smaller burghs, should have the option of having their roads paid by the county road funds provided they place themselves under the county assessment, and the roads themselves under the County Road Board, on which they would be represented.

The Commission also said that if tolls are abolished there should be no levying of causeway-mail in burghs, or any tax placed on cattle passing through the town although the loss of revenue would be made up by assessment.
They argued that there was a need for enforcing the repair of roads and streets in counties and burghs though it was not clear where this responsibility for enforcement should lie.

Further considerations


Having made its case for maintaining roads and bridges by assessment, the Commission recognised that it might be inexpedient to make this compulsory throughout Scotland. Instead, the Roads Trusts in counties should be given the power to abolish tolls and statute labour and introduce assessment, but only after full consultation.

Although some had argued that allowing a county to abolish tolls without this applying to the whole country was a bad thing, this situation already existed as in Argyll and Sutherland. The fact that they might have to pay tolls elsewhere was exceptional and not worth considering. In any case, if a county chose to abolish tolls, the fact that they existed elsewhere would not materially affect its own circumstances.

Aim 2 To look at the way roads were managed and see if any improvements could be made.

Leaving aside the question of tolls versus assessment, the Commissioners felt that the existing system could be improved.

Although there were serious drawbacks to tolls, these were not necessarily the cause of what was inadequate about the present system; it could be possible to make changes that would improve the system.

Consolidation of Trusts

They pointed to the number of small trusts with their own funds and accounts, management and staff and the expense of obtaining a separate Act to set up the Trust. They listed many examples such as Dumbartonshire with 133 miles of road and 11 trusts.

They also gave examples of the large numbers of individual Acts that have had to be passed. Fife, for example, had nine separate acts, eight of which required regular (and expensive) renewal.

They saw the answer to lie in the consolidation of all the trusts in a county. This would allow the conflicting interests of the different trusts to be reconciled and remove much of the nuisance of frequent toll bars and payments. They anticipated that consolidation preceded by the removal of the road debt would in many counties lead to the eventual removal of tolls.

They recognised that even under an improved system there would still be some disadvantages (this was presumably said to appease those who would want to remove tolls immediately), viz:
- The admitted inequality of tolls. However, they felt that any system would result in some inequalities and that this had to be accepted.
- The expense of collecting tolls. They were satisfied that this was not as high as some said and was at an acceptable level
- Having to make frequent small payments at tolls. They pointed out that although annoying it was hardly less so than having to pay a larger sum once or twice a year under assessment.

They recognised that consolidation, while it might not remove all objections to the toll system did have considerable benefits, in association with assessment.

The similarities between turnpike and statute labour roads since the railways now made it desirable to amalgaamate them under the one management and financial system. However, as the proposed legislation would still allow tolls and statute labour where desired, they recommended that the consolidation be restricted to their management but that separate records of their finances be kept.

Turnpike Roads and Bridges

The Commissioners reiterated some points already made.
They proposed that turnpikes in each county be consolidated into a Trust with its own management and funding. Specific points were:
 - The management body to be that already stated under an assessment system, viz. Trustees, Commissioners of  Supply and tenants
 - A County Road Board be appointed annually. They would manage the roads in the county and appoint a County Surveyor
 - The County Road Board could subdivide the county in districts, if desired
 - Roads in a district would be managed by Trustees living there
 - The Surveyor to submit an annual report
 - Appeals could be made against decisions of District Trustees
 - Districts would have powers to take over roads already formed, close roads, or withdraw support from those that were not of public utility, subject to appeal,
 - County Road Board to appoint County Surveyor and fix salary. Surveyor could act for more than one county if Boards so desired
 - Surveyor to assess turnpikes and statute labour roads
 - Surveyor to allocate funding to Districts and roads within each District
 - Surveyor to appoint sub-surveyors and fix salary in consultation with Road Board
 - Existing Trusts to cease at a fixed date and all funds be passed to Road Boards
 - General Clerk, collector and treasurer to be appointed
 - County Road Board to authorise district clerks if required
 - Annual audit of accounts with abstracts to be published
 - Roads in adjacent counties to be subdivided and made the responsibility of each county. Provision to be made for roads running into England
 - Uniform tolls to be charged throughout a county
 - Tolls not to be charged more than once in 6 miles, whether in one county or more
 - Pass tickets to be adopted allowing return by a different route
 - County Road Board may remove or alter location of toll bars, on application from a District
 - If the consolidated toll revenues were insufficient, the Trustees may supplement this by assessment
 - County Road Board to be able to raise funding for necessary expenses until assessment is payable.

To ensure that the Roads Trustees carried out their obligations, the Commission suggested that as it would be very unpopular to have a central authority do this, the legislation should prevent them from charging tolls or raising money through assessment.

Where a burgh decided to retain tolls, these should be used for the roads. Causeway mail could continue to be charged.

They mentioned that special arrangements would have to be made for Glasgow and for the bridge at Perth.
Where a county retained tolls, these should only be used for maintenance and repair. Funding for new roads and bridges should be raised by assessment on proprietors of lands and heritages contained in the Valuation Rolls. Half the funding should be raised by the promoters of a scheme and half by the county. Bridges on rivers that form a boundary between two counties should be managed jointly by the counties.

A new General Roads and Bridges Act would be required to replace the General Turnpike Act and local acts. The new act would give powers to levy tolls and would incorporate provisions of the General Turnpike Act that were consistent with the proposed alterations.

Statute Labour Roads and Bridges


Whatever might be done about turnpikes an immediate change was necessary with the statute labour system which was generally defective. There was in fact no general system - each county had its own Act, and practice varied widely even within the same county. In some counties, management was by districts, in others by parish, and in others a mixture of both.

Assessment also varied widely with some organising this by district, and others by parish. In some cases there was definite abuse where the funds found their way back to the proprietors to be spent at their own discretion and not for the good of the public.

Surveyors were not generally employed - in some counties expenditure was at the discretion of individual proprietors or their factors, in others a committee of farmers or others. In some cases persons with no special knowledge or skills were employed as surveyors.

There were properly qualified surveyors acting for some counties and sometimes a neighbouring county also. The evidence pointed to greater efficiency when turnpikes and statute labour roads in a district were under the one person.

They pointed to the great variation in how assessments were levied and how this led to unfair burdens being placed on some. They listed the following:
 - Rate leviable in 9 counties on Ploughgates, itself a variable measure
 - Auxiliary assessment on horses in 12 counties, with many variants
 - Rate in 6 counties based on the real rent under the valuation roll; in 16 others, the old Scots valued rent is used which was so variable that it led to unequal amounts being levied even within the same locality. Another inadequacy of this was that it did not apply to mines, quarries, railways, manufactories and other places so that they contributed nothing to the roads
 - Variation in those liable to pay the statute labour rate - in most cases it was occupiers; but in others it was paid by landlords with relief against their tenants; in others again it was on occupiers up to a certain limit when it devolved upon owners. In one or two counties it was paid by owners
 - Roads in Bute and Zetland were maintained by the old system of personal service but this was totally inadequate to keep the roads in order

In view of this they recommended:
 - One uniform mode of assessment, viz. a rate on the real rent of lands and heritages under the valuation roll
 - Mines etc to be rated at a higher level
 - Assessment to be on occupiers (as is the case in most counties at present) but with provision in existing leases to retain a proportion from their landlord if the landlord as owner paid something under the present system
 - A limit on the amount of assessment to be set with provision for special exceptions.

They listed a number of points which should be introduced. These were very similar to those for turnpike roads, viz:
 - Roads to be managed by counties or large districts, funds to be spent on all roads in that area and be under the oversight of a county surveyor 
 - Consolidating them with turnpike roads with a management of Trustees, County Road Board and District    Trustees
 - Funds to be kept separate from turnpikes
 - Surveyor to allocate finds of each district to roads within that district
 - District trusts to have power to adopt and existing road, or close or cease to maintain those of no public utility
 - Assessment in each district to be proportionate to its requirements
 - Assessment to be imposed at the AGM of the Roads Trustees
 - Any changes to existing statute labour districts to be done by County Road Board in concert with the county surveyor. There would be benefit in having the same districts as the turnpikes
 - County Road Board to alter districts as necessary
 - Separate bridge money assessment to be abolished
 - With new roads and bridges, half the cost to be paid by the promoters and half by the districts
 - Statute labour roads within burghs to continue as at present except assessment to be on real rent of lands and heritages rather than on property
 - Powers in the general statute labour act such as being able to take land and launch prosecutions to be transferred to the County Road Board and District Trusts and officers
 - Annual audit of accounts with publication of an abstract
 - Where a ferry had its rates set by roads trustees, this power to be passed to the County Boards.


They concluded that their proposals would reduce expenditure on the roads and greatly improve their condition, especially Statute Labour roads. They noted, however, that the roads in Scotland generally, particularly the turnpikes, were mostly in a reasonable condition, with many running efficiently.

They considered that although their Inquiry had not aroused great excitement or agitation, this was of benefit as it did not negate their proposals and would allow for deliberation on an important subject, and which, because of the impact of railways, was becoming urgent.

They realised that not all their suggestions would be acceptable to everyone but had been guided throughout by choosing measures of the most general benefit and which would have the least inconveniences.