On The Turnpike Road To Mumbles and beyond by Carol Powell MA

On The Turnpike Road To Mumbles and beyond
by Carol Powell MA

 Train steam and Lady cyclists near West Cross also lady with basket
Cycling on the turnpike road between
Blackpill and West Cross, pre 1890

Until 1826, when the Swansea to Oystermouth turnpike road opened, Mumbles had been a small isolated fishing village with no road access around the bay to Swansea,  and hitherto reached only on foot across the sands, by boat  or, from 1807 via the world's first passenger railway, which ran from the Brewery Bank in Swansea (adjacent to the canal) to Castle Hill in Mumbles (opposite today's Quarry car park).


          The history of turnpike roads is a fascinating one, in which Mumbles would  play its part.  Toll roads had first been introduced in  England and Wales back in Tudor times and had placed responsibility on each parish to maintain its roads. This might have been adequate in the early days for local roads, but not later on for the longer main roads, which might pass  through several parishes. In  1707, Parliament passed a Turnpike Act which permitted the building of roads and the charging of tolls to travel on them, the income of which would be used for their upkeep. The Act was intended to replace the old system, which by then had weakened to such a degree  that the day per year required of every able-bodied man in the parish to work on the roads achieved so little, that it came to be regarded as a day off  and had come to be known as 'a day for the Queen.'


          In 1764, the first Act affecting Glamorgan was passed with powers to 'raise capital and make charges by gates and toll-bars for the more effectively making and improving the roads of the County.' The Turnpike Trusts would be funded by private investment, the incentive being a good road system and maybe a profit from the tolls. These Acts were repealed and on 1 January 1826,  a new Act stipulated that 'all wheels of wagons and of other carriages are to be so constituted as not to deviate more than ¼ inch from a flat surface in wheels exceeding six inches in breadth; the nails of the tires [sic] of such wheels not to project above a quarter of an inch above the surface.Penalties for non-observance  were 51s for  the owner and 40s for the driver. No wagon or cart to be used with wheels of less breadth than three inches on any turnpike road with the same penalties for non compliance' Additionally, there were  penalties on the toll house keepers for permitting vehicles to pass without their wheels having been measured. A cumbersome and complicated system indeed!



The Dunns, 1890  The photo includes:     

 Oystermouth Coffee, Tea and Dining Rooms with Beds



This advert published in 1880 includes
The Castle Coffee Public House, in
Dunns Place (The Dunns), Mumbles


However, there was an extra fundamental weakness in  the Welsh system, virtually unknown in England, which lay in the fragmented way it had evolved, forming many small Trusts. Glamorgan alone had five —Cardiff, Cowbridge, Bridgend, Neath and Swansea, which were responsible for the upkeep of the roads and toll houses in their areas. In the 1830s, a group of English toll-renters (amongst whom was the extremely unpopular Thomas Bullen, who was to own the Blackpill gate) took over the trusts of South-west Wales and in return for paying higher rents, made the mode of collection even more exacting.



 Turnpike stone at Southend, 2010


In 1826, the Glamorgan Trust, Western Division, opened the Swansea to Oystermouth turnpike road, which ran from near the gaol in Swansea to outside the Beaufort Hotel at Southend, this spot today still marked with a stone  next to the steps at Dickslade.  The road, built adjacent to the Mumbles Railway track, was recorded as being '4½ miles long, passing over Swansea and Oystermouth parishes and having one gate at Blackpill' (where by 1870,  the toll house keeper was William Griffiths). In 1839, it was said to be 'in tolerably good repair' but by 1851 following maintenance,  the cost of materials stood at £165,  labour costs at £67 and repairs to the toll house at £2. By the following year, it was deemed to be in need of 1,000 cubic yards of limestone 'to be supplied from Mumbles Quarry'.



 Travelling Through Mumbles when the sea
came up as far as the roadside, c1865


Initially, there was to be a two-horse coach and two cars running twice daily on the road from Swansea. This proved too much for the horse-drawn railway alongside, which fell into decline and closed shortly afterwards ( it subsequently reopened in the 1860s). In the 1830s, Pigot's directory mentioned that 'the Pilot Post coach utilised the road to travel to and from the Mumbles at 10.00 am and 3.00pm'.  By  1851, the Swansea Guide advertised that 'the omnibuses run throughout the day from Swansea to Mumbles from Rees's, the Horse and Groom, College Street, twice a day and from Barter's, The Rutland Arms and  Bush Inn, High Street, each three times a day and from the Railway Booking Office, Wind Street several times a day'. In 1858, Slater's Directory publicised that  'omnibuses from the Hope and Anchor, Heathfield Inn, the Swansea Arms and 3, Wassail Square operated several times a day to Mumbles'.


          However, the tolls were not entirely popular with the working public, many of whom  wished to travel to Swansea, but did not want or could not afford to pay the charges.  There was not the degree of hostility here that south-west Wales experienced with 'Rebecca' violence, but several cases of people endeavouring to avoid the tolls came before the courts.  One such took place  in February 1852 when David Thomas was summoned by the lessees of the turnpike  gates to appear before Swansea Petty Sessions, charged with having avoided the tolls by taking his cart over the sands. The case then hinged on whether passing over a public highway and not private land, constituted an evasion of tolls i.e. whether the sands was deemed to be a public highway.  In an earlier test case in May 1846, the Mayor and S. Benson Esq. Presiding, summoned Mr. G.T. Stroud on the complaint of Thomas Bullen (toll renter) and decided that travelling along the sands toll-free was legitimate, but it was not permitted to go along the road to get to the sands. They fined Mr. Stroud a nominal sum and costs.




 The road in front of Claremont Villas,
showing the seawall opposite



          In February 1854, a Mr. Williams was in conflict with the toll collector concerning the collection of tolls on returning mail. On 16 May 1856, William Matthews was charged that on 11 March, he drove twenty sheep and four pigs off the road at Blackpill and on to the nearby sands, thus attempting to avoid the tolls. Witness, William Larkum testified that he saw the defendant come off the road near Squire Vivian's lodge, travel along the sands and return to the road at the finger post.  The defendant denied that he was the owner of the sheep. John John and Richard David stated that their sheep became mixed up with the defendant's and that all three had moved off the road and on to the sands and travelled to Swansea when they were able to separate the sheep.The Magistrates agreed that whether William Matthews was driving six sheep or twenty, it made no difference to his avoiding the toll gate and he was fined 1s and 15..6d costs and if not paid- fourteen days imprisonment. Other people also tried to avoid the toll by travelling on the sands, several becoming  bogged down and having to be dug out.


          Further cases dealt wiith by the Petty Sessions involved toll-keepers demanding too high a  toll, amongst which was a case in August 1854 when a hawker complained that the toll keeper demanded 6d instead of the 4d, he thought was the price. This confusion came about because the hawker testified that his wagon was not employed for carrying passengers, whereas the toll-keeper believed the vehicle was one which was liable for the 6d charge. The magistrates  agreed with the hawker, but said the case would be dismissed if the toll-keeper paid back the excess toll and the costs of the proceedings. A similar case was heard a month later when F. Bennett challenged the amount of toll.


          As traffic increased, accidents were bound to happen, one such  in December 1870 when  Mr. Vivian's trap  driven by Mr. Eley collided with another and on another occasion, road safety was compromised and William Saunders was charged 'with allowing his horses to stray on to the turnpike road'.



The road passes the  Marine Public House (today’s Village Inn)

 and the Horsepool harbour, c 1880


          In the 1880s, Oystermouth Local Board began ideas to extend the road from outside the Beaufort at Southend onwards towards Mumbles Head, thence to Bracelet and Limeslade and  eventually around the cliffs to Langland.  The proposed route caused much objection and argument and, as we know, there was not to be a 'road over the hill', 'a road around the cliff to Bracelet Bay' or 'a road around the cliffs to Langland.'

           The proposed plans and their opposition were played out in the Council meetings over several years, beginning at the  meeting on 6 May 1886, when Mr. Bennett moved that the plan of 'the road over Mumbles Hill' be submitted to His Grace the Duke of Beaufort 'for his approval and leave to make'. However, in August, J.H. Jones seconded by D.E. Michael suggested that there should be an  adjournment in order to ascertain the feelings of the ratepayers on the matter.



Children on the beach at Southend.

Notice that in the background the road extension has begun, but there is as yet no Cutting, lifeboat house, railway extension or pier

           The following January,  Mr. Milward proposed that 'a promenade and road round the Mumbles Hill to Bracelet Bay' be built in celebration of the Queen's Golden Jubilee. His idea was that 'the Duke of Beaufort be asked to hand over to the Board, the gardens in front of the village at a nominal sum,' that 'the Board be granted the right to make a road to Bracelet Bay 25 feet wide' and that a deputation be sent 'to wait upon the Duke to explain the details.' The Duke consented subject to certain conditions, namely that he would permit the gardens to be handed over and that 'the tenants should express their willingness to give them up'. He would also allow the road all along the village to be widened to 30 or 36 feet, a road 30 feet wide  to be built from Southend to Limeslade Bay, a pier for landing passengers 'somewhere near the lifeboat house' and that the Board should provide the monies to carry out the scheme.


          J. Beynon proposed that specifications be set in motion for the removal of walls and for the curbing, channelling and widening of the road, also that the Engineer be paid 5% commission to cover plans and proper supervision of the work. It was decided that Mr. Davies's estimate of the costs of a section of the road of £3,098..14s..0d be accepted and that the Clerk be instructed to apply for a loan for that amount.


          In June 1887, it was  proposed that the time for the completion of the contract for the road around the cliffs be altered from seven to nine months and that the Chairman  be instructed 'to effect a loan of £8,000 at 4% repayable in thirty years by annual equal installments'.  Later it was decided  to accept a loan of £8,000 at 3.7% to be taken in sums not less than £2,000 and to accept the tender put forward by James Dickson for constructing the road 'around the cliffs'. The Board believed that the construction of the proposed part from Limeslade to Langland 'would be most beneficial to the ratepayers and a boon to the public, but the cost of this section should be paid by the adjacent landowners as they would benefit thereby.' The Chairman, Mr. Nicholl, offered to pay for the portion between the points A and C on the plan , although another landowner, Mr. Graham Vivian refused to allow the road to be made through his land, prompting the Duke of Beaufort's solicitor, Mr. Baker to comment that it would be 'useless to make the road along the planned route . . . and an alternative should be submitted.'


  The Prince's Fountain, Southend


          In May 1888, in an alteration to the plans the Council asked the Engineer to prepare an estimate for 'a cutting (through the rock) by the back of the lifeboat house, the entrance to be 30foot wide, tapering to 24 foot to the top of Bracelet Bay' and to 'fill up the cut on Mumbles Hill.' The final payment of £700 would be paid to Mr. Dickson on the recommendation of the Engineer upon the satisfactory and certificated completion of the project, although the plans for the section of road from Limeslade to Langland were to be rescinded. The 'cutting' was duly completed in October 1888, but shortly after due to heavy rain a large quantity of stones and debris fell onto the road near the Boathouse. Consequently men had to be employed to clean up and others to take the debris away, a tender of £18 being accepted for its removal. Madame Patti presented  sufficient ferns 'to plant alongside the New Road to Bracelet Bay.'


          In December 1888, a committee was set up  to select a new route for the road from Limeslade  to Langland 'more likely to meet with landowners' approval'.  To that end, in a letter to the Council in 1896, Mr. Nicholl Morgan  informed them that he had arranged with the Duke of Beaufort for the extension of the road from 'its present termination at Bracelet Bay to Limeslade and thence through his land to join the Plunch Lane . . . and that he intended dedicating the proposed road to the Public when the existing highway from Plunch to Marepool had been widened.'



 The Cutting, c 1890


           Maintenance of the existing road was an ongoing affair with work on the section from West Cross to the Beaufort at Southend  in 1889 now being carried out by the County Council,  the surface being  'metallised'  and  an estimate  being prepared for a 'thorough repair' on the section from the New Inn to Southend. In February 1889, the Council also advertised for tenders for the  'breaking of 300 yards of limestone' and instructed the surveyor to 'form a slope with stones . . . to protect the road from the sea at an expense of no more than £50'. The tender from David Thomas for 1s ..1½d per yard was accepted. In May 1890, the Council arranged to 'put a little clay on the rough places and to cover the same wit gravel from the beach.' on the section from the Marine Hotel to the Beaufort Arms.


          A Local Government act of 1888 had given responsibility for maintaining  roads to the County Councils and County Borough Councils and the turnpike system came to an end amid great celebrations as the gates were thrown open.  The Mumbles Chronicle and Gower Advertiser of 6 April 1889, reported that 'Blackpill children watched as  local men pulled down the turnpike gate following the abolition of tolls'. The County Council took over the care of the part of the road from West Cross to the New Inn, its tender in 1889 for the maintenance being £120 per annum and 'that the road would be kept to the satisfaction of their surveyor.'   But by 1895,  it was noted that the expenditure on the roads was exceeding the amount from the County Council, even though the following year the County Council 'offered £449..2..10d towards the maintenance and improvement of the main road for a period up to 31 March 1896.'


          In February 1895, J.K. Clement offered 'ballast gratis' from his quarry to widen the road at Horsepool. That year, a gate was to be installed in the sea-wall and there should be an immediate deposit of ballast onto the Horsepool.  A tender of 8/- per day (1/6d per load or 1/6d per ton) from Ivor Davies for haulage of stone for the road was accepted. The following year the contract went to Thorne and Sons.


          In 1896, the Council suggested that quarrying and disposal of certain protuding portions of the rock abutting on the new road be undertaken, but then had to erect notices prohibiting people taking spar from the new road cutting without 'payment thereof.' During that summer notices were put up informing 'several dealers in oysters' on the main road that in future 'all oyster shells were to be removed by the Council's scavenger to avoid  people throwing them on the beach and creating a nuisance. The Council in 1896 also decided that 'it was advisable to stop persons from erecting stands etc on the road and common land at Bracelet' but by 1898 had to 'enforce the Act affecting hawkers and others vending goods on the New Road and at Bracelet.'.



  The New Road at Limeslade


          These latter years of the nineteenth century were  busy times for the Council as with a rapidly expanding village, much attention had to be paid to road communications, the  construction of a seaside promenade, installations of  a water supply and sewers, the erection of  street lighting and the granting of planning permission to the burgoining number of shops and houses in the area.  At the same time, came the proposal by the Mumbles Railway Company to alter the course of the railway between Blackpill and Norton from the roadside to nearer  the shore and to  extend the line from its Castle Hill terminus out across the Horsepool Harbour and onwards to Mumbles Head, where as an integral part, it proposed the construction of a pier.  This major project  was  completed in May 1898.  

          The road and all these innovations helped shape the Mumbles that we  recognise today (although the Mumbles Railway is no more)  and we owe a debt of gratitude to the Victorian visionaries of Mumbles, who saw the possibilities of the making of this small fishing village into a modern yet picturesque place to live, work and holiday.

Articles which may also be of interest-


Primary Sources

The Cambrian  5 October 1822, 22 July 1826, 8 May 1846, 27 February 1852, 6 June 1852, 16 June 1852, 4 August 1854,  15 September 1854, 16 May 1856, 17 May 1878

The Mumbles Chronicle and Gower Advertiser, 6 April 1889

Pigot and Co. Directory, 1835

John Lewis, The Swansea Guide, 1851

Slater's Directory, 1858-9

Oystermouth Local Board Minutes. Glam R.O. cat. no. T.C. 68/1/3 and 4, 5 and 6

Swansea Turnpike Trust document dated 12 October 1839. Glam R O,  cat. no.D/D WCR/PR 33


Secondary Sources

Thomas Bevan, 'Glam. Communications—The story of the Roads' in Glam. Hist. Vol I

Gerald Gabb, The Story of the Village of Mumbles, 1978

Pat Molloy, And they blessed Rebecca, 1983

Carol Powell, Days before Yesterday, Llandybie, 2000

Norman Thomas, The Story of Swansea's Districts and Villages, Llandyssul 1969

David Howell, 'The Rebecca Riots' in People and Protest: Wales, 1815-1880, Cardiff, 1988


Mumbles Rd, Swansea