For some people it’s canals, for some it’s railways, and there had to be some curious fellow who would get the same thrill out of compiling lists of turnpike roads.
It turns out to be Mr S. who writes from Droitwich, not for the first time, to thank me for the contribution of my note 18 and to ask what else I can tell him about the impact that turnpikes had on landscape.
How about the grass? According to the economist Adam Smith, who should have known, one immediate consequence of turnpikes was the impetus that they gave to the hay market, enabling the remoter counties ‘to sell their grass and corn cheaper in London’. He might have added that turnpikes had galvanised the demand for hay in their own right because people started travelling so much more. Tobias Smollett’s Matt Bramble had spotted the phenomenon as early as 1771: ‘the incredible increase of horses and black cattle, to answer the purposes of luxury, requires a prodigious quantity of hay and grass’.
Turnpikes increased the traffic by a factor of ten, cutting inter-city journey times by a factor of three, as Columella exclaimed: ‘Who would have believed, thirty years ago that a young man would come thirty miles in a carriage to dinner, and perhaps return at night? Or indeed, who would have said, that coaches would go daily between London and Bath, in about twelve hours; which, twenty years ago, was reckoned three good days journey?’
Put yourself in the position of a country squire, Mr S., one who fancies a slice of London life, staring out of the window and wondering how many acres of grass he’s got in the park, and how many trips he can get out of them, and hoping for warm weather, warm and damp, then dry for the mowers.
The value put on grass was to dip after Brown’s death. As soon as 1795, his successor in the trade, Humphry Repton, was to comment that ‘altho’ the lawn yields some profit by feeding it with cattle, yet it would doubtless yield more as arable land’ and to refer, as though it were a matter of course, to the use of arable crops such as straw (and turnips) to fodder the cattle, and to refer without blinking to farms that bought in dung, rather than making it themselves.