Highways, Toll Houses and Transport

The statute of 1555 made the parish responsible for highways and this continued until about 1663. It was then that an Act of Parliament decreed that a ‘Turnpike Trust’ should be set up. Until then, surfaces were not too important because roads were only used by packhorses and pedestrians. By 1770, five hundred and nineteen trusts had been set up countrywide. Local landowners, merchants, parish officials and farmers were persuaded to become involved because it was to their benefit to have improved communications. Modbury gained its trust in 1759.

In 1823, The Modbury Trust was extended to reach Laira Bridge, Plymouth. Previously, in 1819, a general specification had been decided, making all turnpikes of one standard, consisting of a 10 inch construction depth, built of large stones at the bottom, topped by smaller stones bound by quarry dust, watered in and rolled for compaction, kept 4 inches above drainage channels which drained on to adjacent land. All this remained the same until 1888, when an Act of Parliament decreed that all turnpike trusts were to become the responsibility of County Councils’ Police and Weights and Measures Departments.

Devon County Council already had a County Surveyor responsible for bridges – an appointment set up in 1808 – therefore, Highways were transferred to his department and have been funded and maintained by the Authority to this day.

Standards have improved, the running surface in particular, but the type of construction has remained, albeit now to a depth of 18 inches, before the macadam is placed on top. Going back to 1827, a Modbury by-pass was debated (as it frequently is today!), but it was not proceeded with. Instead it was decided to build a New Road, as we still know it, and the Shambles and Round House at Market Cross were demolished to improve the road width. The New Road, at that time, provided two benefits: to shorten the journey in the Kingsbridge direction and to remove the need for horses to haul wagons up Galpin Street.

The Round House where corn and yarn were sold
The Shambles – meat market.

Improvements are constantly being made to the highways, the last refurbishment in Modbury taking place in 1998. Then, the carriageway surface and footpaths were renewed, as were the railings and the lamp posts in Church Street. The initial design for these Victorian style lampposts was taken from the circa 1925 photograph printed in the History Society’s publication ‘Modbury – Our Inheritance’.

Toll Houses

There were four tollhouses located in the Modbury Parish on the Tithe Map of 1843. One at the foot of Stoliford Hill (A379), one at the end of the Bigbury spur road, another at Goutsford (A379), and the fourth at Mary Cross (B3207). The tollhouse at the bottom of Stoliford Hill is recorded as being built in 1828 and is still being lived in. Although the building has been altered and extended, the façade is original. The other three tollhouses were probably built at the same time. The one at Goutsford was demolished in the early 1960s to make way for a junction improvement. The one at the Bigbury spur road is still standing but is in a poor state of repair. Only the rear wall of the Mary Cross building is now visible in the hedgerow. This tollhouse was near the turning to Shilston Bridge but no records exist regarding its demolition.

Mr Harry Rendell was, in 1914, recorded as having been the last toll keeper. By then he must have been retired because, according to the records, Devon County Council took over responsibility for the roads in 1888. The last toll road ‘extinguished’ in Devon was the one from Combe Martin to Ilfracombe, in 1889.

The wages of the toll collectors during that time were 3/6 (three shillings and sixpence) per week.


History tells us that water transport was the original mode in the Modbury area. A quay was situated at Orcheton with access to the River Erme. There was also a quay at Waterhead, Aveton Gifford, with access to the River Avon – long since redundant, even to small boats. The quay at Orcheton was also used to transport goods from Dartmoor, which was apparently farmed and worked before the lowlands were used for these purposes. The ridge road from Goutsford to Well Cross (Ugborough Garage) is also considered to be one of the oldest tracks in Devon.

Ridge roads date back to the Iron Age and were the chief routes from the moor to the sea. They were built along the bony ridges to avoid the low lying marshes in between, and were busy with wayfarers, wagons and packhorses until the last century. Our ridge way linked the landing place at Goutsford with Dartmoor.


Ridge roads date back to the Iron Age and were the chief routes from the moor to the sea.  They were built along the bony ridges to avoid the low lying marshes in between, and were busy with wayfarers, wagons and packhorses until the last century.  Our ridge way linked the landing place at Goutsford with Dartmoor.

In the late eighteenth century, horse wagonettes and coaches were introduced on to our local roads, but it was not until 1827 that the New Road was built from the site of the old Red Devon Public House (demolished in about 1980) to the tollhouse at the foot of Stoliford Hill. This road was provided because Galpin Street was considered too steep for horses to climb. The road surfaces were not very good, and journeys not very fast. The first recorded wagon that travelled was in 1798, owned by ‘Locks of Kingsbridge’, passing through Modbury on Tuesdays and returning from Plymouth on Thursdays: this indicates how slow the journeys were. A new coach, owned by R. Foale of Kingsbridge, called ‘The Telegraph’ was commissioned in 1827. It left Kingsbridge at 9.30a.m, travelling to Devonport, from where it left at 10a.m the following day; so journeys had started to speed up.

In 1887 Modbury traders, called ‘The Modbury & Ivybridge Omnibus Company’, formed a local syndicate. A two-horse omnibus was purchased, the driver being a Mr. William Stevens and the company secretary Mr. Crocker Mitchelmore. This coach travelled to Ivybridge Station and back twice daily as people had by then started to journey from there, either to Plymouth or to Exeter and on to London. It was always hoped that a railway would be provided to Modbury, but sadly this never materialised. In 1898 the railway was planned, passing below Flete House, past Orcheton (site of the original quay) and on to Modbury – to the site of the old gas works.

In 1904 another syndicate was formed in Modbury with a view to starting a motor bus company, calling it the ‘South Hams Carriers’, but the Modbury and Ivybridge Omnibus Company continued in business. On the 23rd May 1904, the South Hams Carriers purchased a bus and made their first trip to Plymouth, leaving Broad Street at 9.00a.m with a crowd of well wishers to see it off. In 1913, Mr. John Ford, who bought a Dennis lorry and a Studebaker taxi, formed another company in Modbury. Mr. Bill Weymouth was employed as a driver (he used to drive me, the author of this text, to school) and he named his eldest son Dennis after the lorry he used to drive. (Dennis still lives in Ivybridge – in 2004)

In 1921, the company William Stevens & Sons was formed in competition with John Ford. William Stevens even purchased a motor hearse and entered the funeral business. With the death of Mr. Stevens, his sons, Jim, Alf and Sid, carried on the business. In about 1960 Mr. Nuttall purchased the business and ran it for the next thirty-five years. It was then sold to ‘Tally-ho Coaches’ of Kingsbridge. The garage has now been demolished and a new Plymco supermarket is being built on the site.

There is one taxi remaining in Modbury in 2004, run by a Mr. John Edwards. The end of an era.

Author: Don Masters