BEFORE the first meeting of the Highway Commissioners in 1813, there was no official road network on the Island and many of the roads and tracks crossed farmers and landowners land, much to their annoyance.

These ‘roads’ were the responsibility of the individual parishes they passed through, and thus, the richer parishes had better roads.

Over the years, gates had been erected and journeys were made difficult as is evident when we learn a journey from Newport to Yarmouth in around 1800 meant going through, and opening and shutting, more than 55 gates.

Often, a young boy was taken along with horse drawn carriages who stood on a step to the rear of the coach, and it was his laborious job to undertake the opening and closing of them all.

I sometimes think they had a few good ideas in those days gone by, that might be reintroduced today.

In August, 1806, a service was offered from the Bugle Hotel, Newport, to any destination that the customer desired.

On these occasions, transport was provided by what was termed ‘chaise drivers’ ­— the local taxis of the day with a couple of men driving a carriage pulled by one horse ­— and on this one occasion no ‘gate boy’ was taken.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The road to Shorwell being constructed, circa 1930 (above)

Farming at Priory farm, years after the newspaper advert (below)

Isle of Wight County Press:
Much like today, there were inconsiderate drivers on the roads, and these two men failed to close some of those gates and were compelled later to eat humble pie as the following advert appeared in the newspaper.

“Whereas divers types of damage have been committed by cattle getting into corn fields, at this time of the year, owing to the carelessness of chaise drivers and others who are in the habit of leaving, and in some cases propping open, the several gates passing through fields where cattle were kept and adjoining corn fields and whereas on July 4, 1806, James Boyce and James Wooldridge, chaise drivers at the Bugle Hotel, Newport did pass through the fields of Mr Benjamin Barkham of Priory Farm and prop open the gates of several fields wherein cattle were admitted to adjoining fields of standing corn.

“A prosecution was about to be instituted against the said chaise drivers, but upon their acknowledging their error in doing so and promising not to be guilty of the same any more, and by paying for this advertisement and making this public apology, Mr Barkham has consented to withdraw all proceedings against them.

“Priory Farm, July 26, 1806.

“Witnesess W Westmore, Priory Farm and J Weeks, Barnsley Farm.”

The highway commissioners, it has to be said, did a wonderful job in establishing many of the roads that still exist to this day.

They introduced turnpike gates at the entrances to Island towns to raise money.

The early turnpike gates locally were erected at the bottom of St Johns Road, on Hunnyhill, at Coppins Bridge and Staplers, and at Carisbrooke and on Pan Bridge.

Another of the commissioners’ early tasks was to close up many of the footpaths that had been established by local folk over the years.

One such path was down from a point in Clatterford Road, to the mill pond in Millers Lane, out to Froglands for a length of more than a quarter of a mile.

This was done as early as 1813.

Isle of Wight County Press:

Looking across the pond toward houses in Millers Lane (above)

Millers Lane, with Carisbrooke Castle in view (below)

Isle of Wight County Press:

In 1824, the commissioners received a letter from the all powerful Sir Leonard Worsley Holmes ­— the man who at the time had the power to nominate both Newport and Yarmouth’s members of parliament.

At the time, he lived at Westover House and he complained about the state of the road from Newport to Calbourne.

At the time, the route was a precarious one going high to the left beyond the Blacksmiths Arms over the downs to Ashengrove, the steepness of which resulted in many crashes, some of which were fatal.

When a committee reported, back they suggested it would be beneficial to lower the existing hills at Apesdown and Swainston and to keep costs to a minimum to use what was termed pauper labour ­— those unfortunate men who were housed in the Workhouse

However, the scheme then lay dormant until being resurrected in 1846, possibly because the complainant, Sir Leonard, had died just one year later in 1825 and was no longer in position to berate them for their laxity.

Thus, in 1846, after a delay of 22 years, the scheme was again discussed and they used as an excuse, the fact that Queen Victoria was now residing on the Island.

By using the same argument, the steepness of Coppins Bridge ­— a hill she descended often on her way to Carisbrooke Castle ­— was reduced too.

Isle of Wight County Press:

The toll house at Cedar Hill

The scheme continued to be met with many obstacles, mainly because it was passing over land owned by the Simeon family, but eventually, in 1855, the final go ahead was given.

It was not until November, 1856, that councillors were invited to inspect the completed road.

Thus, here ended a scheme that took a tremendous amount of money and spanned more than 32 years.

However, it was achieved in much less time than it has taken successive County Councils to give us a bridge across the River Medina.