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Burrowbridge Toll Gate

Dave Evans

On 29th December 1838 the Burrowbridge Commissioners held their auction at the Sweets Hotel (now the Castle), to ‘farm’ the tolls arising from use of the bridge. The previous year the tolls had amounted to £30.

The idea of paying to cross the bridge did not go down well with the locals, which often led to disputes, as reported in the Frome Times in 1866: “Mr. Robert Hurd  was summoned on Thursday, by Thomas Pollard, toll-keeper at the Burrowbridge-gate, for refusing to pay toll for a horse which he rode on May 21. It appeared that defendant, who is member of the West Somerset Yeomanry, had been present at the assembly of his regiment, at Taunton, on Saturday, May 19. He rode home the same evening, and was returning to Taunton on the morning of Monday, May 21, dressed in the regimental stable dress, but had no arms with him. The collector demanded the usual toll for the horse, but the defendant refused to pay it, claiming exemption as a volunteer in uniform proceeding to duty. The lessee took action under the regulations which enact that volunteers claiming exemption must be armed and accoutred.” He was fined 6d.

The annual bidding session moved to the Langport Arms and the bids were regulated by a ‘Sandglass Auction’. At the start of bidding a three minute sandglass was turned over. It was turned over again after each bid. If the sand had run through without a new bid, the glass was turned over again three times before the last bid was accepted as final. The final bidder then had the right to take the tolls.

In 1903, the rights were bought by a private company, which led to further protest including this letter to the Taunton Courier: “Some London syndicate has purchased the toll monopoly for the next period, and the gate-keeper insists the gate being closed all day and locked at night. The village of Burrowbridge lies on both sides the Parrett, and the inhabitants cross and re-cross the bridge many times daily. Everything on wheels has to come to a standstill when this bridge is approached and await the leisure of the tax collector. In my mind it appears an anachronism, and an infringement of liberty that a public highway should be barred by a private Company, however rich they may be. I am, Sir, Yours, &c , JAS. B. ALLISON.”

In 1937 the bid was a record:  “£ 1,560 was paid by Mr. Frank Dyer. Motorists all over the country are familiar with the toll gate on the Taunton—Glastonbury main road, where small fees are charged for the privilege of crossing a bridge over the River Parret. Mr. Dyer's bid was £210 more than the sum paid for the current year by Miss Elsie Boobyer and her brother, Mr. Donald Boobyer, of Burrowbridge.”

In 1943 there was only one bidder. The rights were sold for £170, the lowest figure since 1927, to 28 year old farm worker, Mr. Ernest Frank Priddle, Stathe Road. In 1944, it was reported that “BURROWBRIDGE TOLL BRIDGE RIGHTS BOUGHT FOR 15-YEARS-OLD GIRL. There were 14 bids . . . the purchaser was Cuthbert Hembrow, 33-years-old withy worker, of Silver Street, Boroughbridge.‘I bought it for my sister Queenie,’ he told a reporter.”

In April 1945, after 40 years discussion, the toll over the bridge was finally removed: “The toll bridge which spans the River Parrett at Burrowbridge, was freed for ever at noon on Sunday. It became the property of the Somerset County Council, and a ceremony in celebration was held at the bridge on Tuesday afternoon. For the past 12 months the toll collector has been Queenie Hembrow, aged 16. Her father was the last motorist to pay the 3d. toll on Sunday, as the clock struck twelve.The amount actually paid in tolls has been estimated at about £75,000.”