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

In 1859, the Commissioners for Inquiring into the state of Public Roads in Scotland published a comprehensive review of Scotland's roads. They recommended far reaching changes that eventually resulted in the end of the turnpike system and statute labour roads.
This section provides an outline of the report and details of the road system in each county at that time.

Summary of Report

Roads in Counties


The Inquiry was set up because there was widespread dissatisfaction with the way roads were financed and managed. Turnpikes were resented because of the tolls and the unfair way these operated. On some roads there might be five toll bars while on others it was possible to travel for miles without paying. It was very expensive to obtain an Act of Parliament and then have to renew it 20 or 30 years later. There were numerous instances of there being large numbers of turnpike trusts in a county, each looking after only a short length of road yet with the expense of having their own management and staff. Most trusts were badly in debt with little prospect for repayment of loans.

Statute labour roads were also resented as there were inequalities in the way they were funded There was very wide variation in the way they were run and financed and it was often difficult to collect the finances. As each parish or district had its own administration there was considerable duplication of effort. It was generally agreed that it was not an efficient system for both constructing and maintaining roads.

The Inquiry had two aims:
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.
2) To look at the way roads were managed and see if any improvements could be made.

With regards to finding an alternative to tolls or statute labour, the Commission recommended the removal of the turnpike road debt as they saw this as necessary if any changes were to be made. To remove the debt a Commission should be set up to determine how much was owed in each county. This should then be charged as a burden on the county, i.e. the money should be raised by an assessment on those living in the county.

They then discussed the drawbacks of the toll system in some detail and noted how the railways had affected the turnpikes.

They looked at various methods of assessment to see how the finances for their maintenance could be raised and finally opted for a uniform rate on lands and property. Tolls could still be levied but restrictions were placed on them.

For new roads they recommended that the proposers of a new road should raise half the finances themselves - this was to prevent influential persons using the system to benefit themselves.

They recommended that the management be under the care of the Roads Trustees under the existing Acts and the Commissioners of Supply. A County Road Board should be formed and a County Surveyor appointed; both would carry out the detailed management of the roads.

With the second aim, of improving the way the roads were managed, they recommended that all the turnpike trusts in a county be consolidated into one trust under Trustees, with a County Road Board and appropriate officials, particularly a qualified Surveyor.

The statute labour roads varied widely in how they were run and how the finances were raised. The Commission recommended a uniform rate of assessment and that they be consolidated with the turnpikes under the management of the Roads Trustees, the County Road Board and the County Surveyor but with a separate finance system.

In summary, the changes they proposed were:
- the removal of the turnpike road debt
- turnpikes would be financed under a uniform rate on lands and property - tolls could still be charged to make up any shortfalls but with restrictions. If new roads were proposed, half the funding had to come from the proposers
- management to be carried out by Trustees, Commissioners of Supply, County Road Board and County Surveyor
- all turnpike trusts in a county to be consolidated into one trust
- statute labour roads in a county to be consolidated with the turnpikes under the above management, with   appropriate local management in the county
- statute labour roads to be financed by a uniform rate of assessment.
Effectively all the roads in a county would be under the management of the county and paid for by that county. There would still be turnpikes but they would be under the one trust, with tolls allowed only if required to make up shortfalls and under stricter controls. The statute labour roads would also be under the management of the trust, with appropriate local management. They also would be funded by the county.

The Inquiry was very influential in determining the course of legislation. The Highland Roads and Bridges Act 1862 saw these come under the counties; and the Roads and Bridges (Scotland) Act 1878 took on many of its recommendations resulting in the end of the turnpikes and the statute labour system with all roads coming under the County Road Boards and no longer being classed as turnpike or statute labour. A few years later responsibility for the roads passed to the newly formed County Councils.

The Report is in two volumes.
Volume 1
Report (pps ix - ccxii), including details of the roads in a county along with their management and funding
Appendices (pps 1 - 87 - these contain useful summaries of information
Volume 2
Minutes of Evidence taken from various people in each county (pps 1 - 734)

The report is available on Google Books where it can be downloaded as a pdf file Text not available
Report of the Commissioners for Inquiring Into Matters Relating to Public Roads in Scotland ... By Great Britain.