The A34 – ancient route or modern artefact of numbering
By Keith Lawrence
A man pulled in to the kerb in his car, in Deansgate Manchester, his wife rolled down the window and asked how they could get to Oxford and Winchester. “Straight on then turn right into Peter Street, bear right into Oxford Street which becomes Oxford Road and head towards Wilmslow”. The date is 1922 and they have just started a journey along the newly numbered ‘A’ roads. The route started as the A526 as far as Newcastle-under-Lyme, then the A449 to Stafford before yet another change of number to the A445 through Birmingham, the A42 to Oxford and finally the A34 to Winchester. There is no sense that this is a co-ordinated planned route with this hodgepodge of numbers. All change in 1953 when this whole route was renumbered as the A34 and in 1993 the route was expanded and designated the Winchester-Preston Trunk Road. The act of designating a long-distance road with a single number seems to suggest a ‘real’ route followed by generations of travellers in this case from Manchester to Oxford and Winchester with an extension to Southampton.
What was the Eighteenth Century route that was supposed to run from Manchester to Birmingham and Oxford (Rusholme & Victoria Park Archive – A Tour of Wilmslow Road – http://rusholmearchive.org/a-tour-of-wilmslow-road) or Oxford and then to Southampton (Wikipedia – Wilmslow Road – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wilmslow_Road)? Is it, as has been suggested, the A34 as described in 1953 before the development of the town and city bye-passes or is it the renumbering that has created a linear feature out of a network of roads? If we take this 1953 route it is possible to assess the history of the roads especially during the Eighteenth Century and early Nineteenth Century by examining the development of the turnpike roads and the coach and carrier traffic.
First a definition of the 1953 route of the A34; from north to south – See Table 1, above.
The road from Winchester to Southampton was and is currently designated the A33 but is now soon lost within the M3/M27 motorway system.
Turnpike Trusts and an Eighteenth Century Route to Winchester and on to Southampton
With a route established a series of turnpike trusts can be elicited which from the list below seem to establish an Eighteenth Century Route – See Table 2.
The dates of these trusts cover a period of nearly 80 years (1714 to 1793) with each seemingly being an independent enterprise, although those between Southampton and Winchester as well as Woodstock and Stratford-upon-Avon are closely dated. However the picture is a little more complex than is evident just from the dates. The Buxton, Chapel-en-le Frith and Manchester Trust was part of the London to Manchester road; the Tittensor to Talke trust was part of the London to Carlisle road which bye-passed Manchester going via Warrington, as well as the London to Liverpool road; the Lichfield to Woore Trust was part of the London to Chester (Holyhead and Ireland) road; the Stokenchurch & Woodstock, Woodstock to Rollright, Stratford & Long Compton as well as the Birmingham & Stratford trust were all part of one of the London to Birmingham roads; the Stockenchurch, Wheatey & Begbroke Trust was part of the London to Oxford, Gloucester and St David’s road; and the Stockbridge & Winchester & Southampton (North District) was part of the London to Southampton and Poole road. Even some of the later trusts on this list such as the Andover and Chilton Pond were associated with London roads, in this case the Exeter & Lands End.
London was the centre from which the early turnpike trusts spread to major centres of population, the early trusts associated with the A34 were not connected to a Manchester/Oxford/Southampton road.
The classic model of the diffusion of turnpikes holds for this collection of trusts between Manchester and Southampton. The period between 1700 and 1750 covered the establishment of the trusts on the major roads in to London. The ‘turnpike mania’ of the 1750s & 1760s completed the London roads and started the major intercity routes in the Midlands and industrial North of England with the last phase, lasting through until about 1840, being a filling in of the secondary roads around centres of major population. Such as roads around Walsall and the Stafford to Cannock turnpike.
Dan Bogart suggested a further method to test if the dates of a list of turnpikes are connected in a 2007 paper entitled ‘Neighbours, networks, and the development of transport systems: Explaining the diffusion of turnpike trusts in eighteenth-century England’ (Journal of Urban Economics Vo. 61 Pages 238-262). Turnpike roads were developed by local enterprise which was represented by the landowning class and the increasing manufacturing and tradesman sectors, which made up the source of the turnpike trustees. Bogart proposed that the development of a turnpike road would be seen to provide benefits for these trustees, especially as the network grew. These benefits were not a direct return on the money invested in the trust mortgages but the increase in the value of land. This would trigger neighbours of the same class, often related, to follow suit. The paper clearly demonstrated that turnpikes were more likely to be developed if other turnpikes were adopted along their route to London. His findings are supported by both William Albert (The Turnpike Road System in England. Cambridge University Press. 1972) and Eric Pawson (Transport and Economy. The Turnpike Roads of Eighteenth Century Britain. Academic Press. 1977), both authors produced maps of the major London-focused roads and showed clear relationships between the dating of trust formation. This relationship is missing from the Manchester to Oxford and Southampton route.
It is evident from the listed turnpike trusts in Table 2 that there was a long delay in connecting Stafford to Cannock and Walsall. This is particularly important when it comes to considering the traffic patterns. In 1761 the Stafford to Wolverhampton turnpike trust was formed which connected with the even earlier Wolverhampton and Walsall (1748) turnpike road. This provided a turnpiked route that had been in existence for some 32 years before the final link in the future A34.
Coach and Carrier Routes of the late Eighteenth and Nineteenth Century from Manchester southwards and north from Winchester
There is a final and more important test – what does the traffic tell us? Traffic can be examined using information from Road Books, Directories and advertisements in contemporary Newspapers. Directories and Newspapers have been selected along the putative route and have been combined with information on the Oxford Carriers to assess the Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century history of the traffic.
Coaches came relatively late to Manchester with the earliest reference being to a ‘Flying Machine’ in 1754 reaching London in 4½ days – “no matter how incredible it may appear”. Whether this actually did make the journey is open to conjecture and the first advertised service was in the Manchester Mercury of January 1760. Contrast that with other destinations on the route to Oxford and Southampton and we can see over a 100 year delay – maybe reflecting Manchester’s relative importance in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth centuries. Southampton and Winchester were first reached by coach in 1655, Stafford 1656, Oxford 1661, Birmingham 1679, Abingdon 1681 and Stratford-upon-Avon in 1705. Local destinations in the proximity to Manchester also had much earlier coaching links, especially with London – Chester 1657, Shrewsbury 1672 (1659?), Lichfield 1677, Derby 1698 and Wolverhampton 1702. Liverpool, however, was even later in the game as it appears to be as late 1766 before it was connected with London. Manchester was also missing from a 1791 list of Towns and Cities with Royal Mail Coaches direct from the General Post Office in London, published in the Hampshire Chronicle and Portsmouth and Chichester Journal of the 24th October 1791.
Coaches – Manchester to London via Oxford change for Winchester and Manchester to Birmingham all change to Oxford and Winchester
A diagrammatic map of late eighteenth and early nineteenth century routes between Southampton and Manchester is presented in Figure 1 with an enlarged version of the northern roads in Figure 2 and the more southern roads in Figure 3.
In January 1783 the Manchester Mercury carried an advertisement for a coach from MANCHESTER through Birmingham and Oxford to LONDON leaving the Coach and Horses in Deansgate at 3.00 am every Monday, Wednesday and Friday to arrive in London some 24 hours later. Oxford here is not seen an intermediate destination to Winchester and Southampton but as part of one of the well established routes to London. As no interim destinations are mentioned the exact route is guesswork. In a 1708 road book (Fifty Six New and Acurate Maps of Great Britain, Ireland and Wales. Begun by Mr Morden and perfected, corrected and enlarged by Mr Moll. London 1708) the recommended route from Oxford to Manchester was via Banbury, Coventry and Derby (then probably the Brailsford, Leek, Macclesfield and Norbury road) entering Manchester via Stockport; the route from Oxford to London being on the London to St David’s route via Henley-on-Thames, Cheltenham and Gloucester.
There was a competing route in George Gray’s Book of Roads (Gray’s New Book of Roads. The Tourist and Traveller’s guide to the Roads of England and Wales, and part of Scotland on an entirely new plan. Printed by Sherwood Jones & Co., London 1824) the London to Birmingham route via Oxford effectively following the 1953 A34 from Oxford through Woodstock and Stratford-on-Avon, from thence to Manchester via Coventry, Lichfield, Rugeley to join the A34, again, at Stone.
There was yet another route from Birmingham to Manchester with the coach going via Wolverhampton to rejoin the A34 route at Stafford. In an advertisement in the Birmingham Gazette of July 1791 it is stated that the ‘Hawk Post Coach’ will travel to Birmingham along the Walsall, Stafford, Stone, Wilmslow roads into Manchester. When advertised in the Manchester Mercury, some eight years later – May 1799, it is described as leave for Birmingham from the Bull’s Head, Market Place, Manchester “by way of Congleton, Newcastle, Stone, Stafford, Walsall and on to Birmingham, being several miles nearer than the Wolverhampton and Lichfield Roads”.
As these roads were not mentioned earlier obviously by that date they were seen as direct competitors. The timing of this coach from Manchester in the 1799 advertisement was to allow passengers to be in time to change to the Oxford Post Coach to finish that particular journey. Both the competing routes had been turnpiked earlier and the evidence suggests they were the preferred routes prior to 1793 when the Stafford to Cannock gap was filled.
In the Pigot & Dean’s New Directory of Manchester and Salford (1821-22) the coaches to Birmingham from the Bridgewater Arms, High Street; Star Inn, Deansgate; Swan Inn, Market Place; Palace Inn, Market Place and the Talbot Inn, Market Place left Manchester through Macclesfield to join the nascent A34 at Congleton then to Stafford and entering Birmingham via Wolverhampton and Walsall. There is no evidence of Oxford Street and Oxford Road being the point of departure for these coaches from Manchester to Birmingham. The same picture is evident in 1830 with ‘The Hero’ coach leaving the Peacock Coach Office, Market Place, taking 45 minutes to reach Stockport and a further one and a half hours to arrive in Macclesfield before reconnecting with the 1953 A34 route at Congleton before entering Birmingham via Wolverhampton, Bilston and Wednesbury. The journey of 86 miles took 10 hrs 15 min an average speed of just over 8 mph. This was faster than the Traveller at 8mph and the Eclipse with an average speed of just over 7 mph. The Eclipse is also picked up in Wolverhampton using the Lion Inn, North Street (Shropshire General & Commercial Directory 1818). Birmingham coaches also ran from Manchester to Macclesfield but then travelled to Birmingham on the Lichfield road. The Express undertook the 87 miles in 11 hrs 15 mins at just under 8 mph. Even the coaches leaving Manchester for London by using the Chester road from Stone initially used the Stockport, Macclesfield, Congleton route.
A different route was only identifiable from Birmingham references; in 1791 the ‘Liverpool New and Elegant Post Coach ran from the Castle Inn, Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Stafford, Stone and Newcastle-under-Lyme but entered Manchester through Holmes Chapel and Knutsford before turning west to reach Liverpool. The usual route for the Liverpool coach was to Knutsford but then continuing to travel north to Warrington, then turning west through Prescot. That same year the Manchester Light Post Coach was horsed from the Swan Inn, Birmingham by the Lichfield Road to enter Manchester on the Stockport Road on Monday, Wednesday and Friday but via Wolverhampton and the A34 from Stafford on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursdays; possibly in the hope of attracting more customers by the use of two diverse routes.
Coaches – from Manchester south – the last days before the railways – 1830s.
The relative coach movements south from Manchester, in the 1830s, are presented in Figure 4. Of the 105 coaches either heading to or coming from the south of England to Manchester, 91 left via Stockport, six through Wilmslow and ten through Holmes Chapel. By 1830s the coach traffic was well defined with the Liverpool Coaches running through Holmes Chapel, Birmingham Coaches via Wilmslow with Stockport being a mixture of London and Birmingham Coaches. The more common route to and from Birmingham was still via Stockport, going through Macclesfield to Knutsford and rejoining the future A34 at Talke or Macclesfield and Leek to meet the Birmingham Road just south of Stone.
By 1835 the variety of routes to Birmingham had increased as from the Lower Swan Inn, Market Place Lane the ‘Birmingham Regulator Post Coach’ and the ‘Birmingham Herald Coach’ left Manchester via Wilmslow but used the Wolverhampton road into Birmingham and the ‘Birmingham Coach’ used the Lichfield road. From the Spread Eagle Inn, Hanging Ditch the ‘Birmingham Hawk Post Coach’ still ran over the same route as in 1799. The ‘Eclipse’ left Manchester through Cheadle and Wilmslow but entered Birmingham on the Wolverhampton, Bilston and Wednesbury road, travelling the 83 miles in 11 hours 30 mins. Even in 1835 new routes are evident with a ‘Fast Post Coach’ leaving ‘The Hen and Chickens Hotel, New Street, Birmingham via the A34 route to Newcastle-under-Lyme and then Knutsford, Holmes Chapel and Altrincham before entering
Manchester. Thus missing out the section of the A34 from Talke to Manchester and following the current A50 through Knutsford before joining the A56 to Altringham and the centre of Manchester.
Coaches – Birmingham to Oxford
In 1753 a consortium of four owners ran a coach from Birmingham (White Swan) by way of Warwick and Banbury to Oxford after an overnight stay the coach continued to London. This a second example of Oxford being an interim stop on a London route. The ‘Original Oxford and Birmingham Post Coach’ left the Cross Inn in Oxford on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays for the Swan Inn and Hotel in Birmingham. The route was through Shipton and the 1787 advertisement in Jackson’s Oxford Journal shows the owner to be William Morris of Enstone – also on the route. The Angel Inn, Oxford horsed daily Post Coaches to the Swan Inn and Hotel in Birmingham and Shrewsbury via Birmingham as shown in the Jackson’s Oxford Journal in both 1798 and 1799 but no route is stated. However from the 1835 Birmingham Directory and the 1839 Robson’s Directory of Beds, Bucks, Berks and Oxon the Birmingham coaches for Oxford, such as the ‘Tantivy’ and the ‘Oxford Day Post Coach’ appear to run along the A34 route.
Coaches – Oxford to Winchester and Southampton
Looking to the south, a 1789 Jackson’s Oxford Journal lists a Post Coach, named the ‘Southampton Frigate’ from the Angel, High Street to the Coach and Horses in Southampton through Abingdon, Isley, Whitchurch, Sutton and Winchester. This coach is timed to connect to the London, Poole and Lymington coaches but also, unusually, with a packet boat named ANNA that sales to Havre de Grace (Le Havre) in France. An unnamed post coach to Southampton continued to be listed from the Angel until as late as the Robson’s 1839 Directory running through Newbury, Whitchurch and Winchester that later started to pick up passengers at The Angel, The Mitre, The Star and The Roebuck in Oxford. The A34 route coincides with the roads used by these coaches from Oxford to Winchester. There is only one minor variation with an additional route from Oxford to Winchester having been described by Paterson in 1776. This was described as ‘The New Road’ through Wallingford, Pangbourn, Aldermaston, Tadley, Pamber, East Sherbourne, Basingstoke and Popham Lane to Winchester.
What have we learned from the dates of the trusts and the coach traffic?
From an analysis of the dating of the turnpike roads and the London-centred routing of these roads there is no evidence of an obvious route to Oxford using the 1953 route of the A34. It only used sections of these turnpiked roads which were planned to facilitate the movement of goods, services and people to and from London. Other than the one Manchester to London coach that went via Oxford; the passenger from Manchester was likely to have changed at Birmingham and to get to Southampton another change in Oxford. Just because the roads in Manchester at the start of the journey are Oxford Street and Oxford Road does not imply an obvious route; the destination is rarely trumpeted by the first road you pass along.
The coaches heading to Birmingham from Manchester used three exit routes from Manchester – the most westerly route through Altrincham, Knutsford and Holmes Chapel to meet the 1953 A34 at Talke. The 1953 A34 route through Wilmslow and Congleton and an easterly route through Stockport which then proceeded to Birmingham through Buxton, Ashbourne, Derby and Lichfield although some traffic left this road at Bullock Smithy to go via Macclesfield to join up with the 1953 A34 in Congleton. It would appear from advertised coaches that the Stockport route to Birmingham was the most favoured, it was shared with the London traffic which had driven the early turnpiking of these roads.
Further alternative routes were evident from just south of Stone, with some coaches leaving the 1953 A34 at Sandon to enter Birmingham via Rugeley and Lichfield. There was another branching off at Stafford to go via Wolverhampton into Walsall on the line of the A34 or to continue south from Wolverhampton and enter Birmingham via Bilston or Dudley. The Wolverhampton route was favoured because of the much earlier dates of the turnpike trusts. Indeed in Edward Baines ‘History, Directory and Gazetteer of the County Palatine of Lancaster’ it was still favoured by the Royal Mail as late as 1825 for the Birmingham to Manchester Mail.
The 1953 A34 route having a gap between Stafford and Cannock until 1793, it had given an opportunity for the alternate route to prosper, especially due to the enormous growth of Wolverhampton during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.
Where Oxford was on a continuous route from Manchester it was a stop on the way to London, otherwise a change of coaches was need in Birmingham. Some of the Manchester coaches were specifically timed to arrive for the Oxford coaches. The route south from Birmingham again offered alternative routes but the majority of the coaches used the 1953 A34 as certainly through to Oxford the roads had been turnpiked early in the 1700s and were well established routes running through a relatively rural landscape, being much less changed by the ‘Industrial Revolution’.
Having analysed coaching does the carrying traffic tell any different stories? The most well known carrier from Manchester is Pickfords but that is the story of a London Carrier. In Gerald Turnbull’s book ‘Traffic and Transport – An Economic History of Pickfords’ (George Allen & Unwin, London. 1979) he has mapped out the entry routes to Manchester from the south from Lichfield and Derby. Probably unsurprisingly the carrier routes mirror the coaching routes. In the 1730s, Pickfords left Manchester through Stockport and travelled via Macclesfield to Congleton, Talke and Stone taking the London Road through Lichfield, Coventry and Dunstable. The main merit of this route was that it passed through Poynton, the epicentre of the Pickfords growing carrying empire. This route was also favoured because it was a much flatter road than the Buxton road, where the horses had a tough climb through the Pennines and it was shorter than the Altrincham/Knutsford or the Wilmslow roads. With the turnpiking of the Macclesfield and Leek to Ashbourne roads in 1762, the wagons moved to this road joining the London road just south of Stone at Sandon, giving a near due south route that was also useful for Birmingham. As late as 1835 Pickford & Co was still leaving Manchester via Stockport for both London and the Midlands with their ‘guarded caravans on springs’.
Carriers are widely listed in directories and local newspapers but while the towns served are listed there is often little evidence of the exact routes. The newspaper advertisements tend to provide a more detailed picture. For instance a Birmingham to Oxford carrier in 1775 travelled the Warwick, Banbury, Deddington road to Oxford, taking nearly three days. More usually a Birmingham carrier such as William Judd (1764) just stated he runs a service to London through Stratford or via Banbury and Aylesbury or through Oxford. Which roads he used are going to be open to conjecture, but Stratford and Oxford do suggest the 1953 A34 route. The key to understanding carriers is not necessarily the routes they took but the meeting points for the transhipment of loads between individual operators. So for instance in an 1812 listing for an ‘Oxford Waggon’ it is shown being met “by regular carriers to and from Reading, Wallingford, Newbury, Winchester, Salisbury, Witney, Bristol and Southampton and to all the intermediate and adjacent Places.” So it would not be difficult for a barrel of wine landed at Southampton, from Jersey (French wines mixed with port to reduce taxation), Spain or Portugal, to travel via Oxford and Birmingham to Manchester – a multi stage journey much the same as a passenger in a coach.
If the eighteenth century route between Manchester and Oxford was of significance is there any evidence at the Oxford end? Oxford University was in a unique position as they ‘licensed carriers’ for which a significant amount of information is available. There is no evidence of any direct trade between Oxford and Manchester – during the period 1721-1770 the Oxford Carriers collected goods from Chester & North Wales – but by 1770-1825 were trading no further north than Birmingham. This does not imply that Manchester had nothing of interest to Oxford which could have still supplied goods moved southwards by the Chester Carrier Network or transhipped in Birmingham, a major carrier hub – see Figure 5.
The development of the carrying trade in Hampshire in the environs of Winchester and Southampton was hindered until the mid 1750s. This was because of the poor roads and the rather late adoption of turnpike trusts see – M.J. Freeman. The Carrier System of South Hampshire 1775-1851. The Journal of Transport History. New Series Vol. IV No.2 pp. 61-85. Even after that time the volume of wagons from Southampton was relatively small compared with Portsmouth. The Southampton traffic to Winchester was approaching 100 wagons per week with traffic then evenly spread between Arlesford and Basingstoke leading to London, Newbury to the north or the western routes though Stockbridge and Romsey to Salisbury and beyond. These trade routes were well established from as early as the 1400s. In an article about the early port it is stated that “long-established routes took all types of goods: through Surrey to London, via Guildford; to Reading via Basingstoke; to the west and Exeter via Shaftesbury and Sherbome; to Bristol via Warminster; and north to Banbury via Andover, Newbury and Oxford, whilst the route to Chipping Camden lay through Marlborough and Burford. The latter two routes led to the great wool producing areas of the south midlands. One town in particular seemed to figure in most of Southampton’s dealings with its northern hinterland – Salisbury. It lay both at the junction of the major roads to the west, and at the hub of the well-to-do textile industry. In 1443-4, over a third of the outgoing journeys from Southampton carried Salisbury trade.” Little appeared to changed over the next three hundred years.
The route between Manchester and Oxford to Southampton in the eighteenth century was a complex of alternatives driven by road quality (dates of turnpiking), the rapid development of the ‘Black Country’ during the ‘Industrial Revolution’ and the search for sufficient traffic to make a coaching or carrier enterprise profitable. Manchester looked to Lancashire and Yorkshire for cloth and raw materials to Liverpool and Hull for access to the sea and London as the powerhouse of the country. What attraction did Oxford and Southampton hold to the growing metropolis of Manchester? Oxford was certainly a centre of education for the landed gentry and burgeoning merchant class of Lancashire and Cheshire but what else? The Southampton ‘Port Books’ show contacts for the export of cloth and importation of wines but the hinterland of the port was relatively local with a bias towards Salisbury to the west and London to the east.
Would the 1922 ‘A’ road numbering system have suggested that an Oxford Road in Manchester was obviously an ancient route to Oxford and the sea? However the 1953 re-numbering seems to have produced simplicity from a variety of competing routes there is now only one way to Oxford.
The defined 1953 A34 is however not without historic interest and while the long-distance route may prove to be a 20th century invention it is the journey we are going to take. Along the way we will visit the people and places that have provided the pageant of history flowing along the road.
Table 1. The 1953 Route of the A34 from the North (Manchester) southwards to Winchester.
Manchester – Levenshulme – Burnage – East Didsbury – Cheadle
Chipping Norton (not through the town but 1 mile north)
Table 2. A sequence of Turnpike Trusts from Manchester to Southampton on the 1953 route of the A34.
Manchester & Wilmslow Trust (Initially a branch of the Buxton, Chapel-en-le-Frith & Manchester Trust) 1729
Ardwick Green to Didsbury 1749
Didsbury to Wilmslow 1753
Wilmslow and (Church) Lawton Trust 1781
Tittensor to Talke Trust 1714
Litchfield to Woore 1729
Stone to Stafford Goal 1761
Stafford to Cannock 1793
Walsall & Great Wyrley Trust 1766
Birmingham & Stratford Trust 1725
Stratford & Long Compton Trust 1730
Woodstock to Rollright Trust 1730
Stokenchurch & Woodstock (Initially a branch of the Stokenchurch, Wheatley & Begbroke Trust) 1719
Abingdon to Chilton Pond 1755
Andover & Chilton Pond 1776
Winchester to Newtown River 1762
Stockbridge & Winchester 1758
Southampton (North District) 1758