Characteristics and Forms of Road Transport

14-15 April 2007

One of the changes initiated by the industrial revolution was the collapse of self-sufficient local economies as materials and goods from larger and specialist areas infiltrated everywhere. An important contribution to this growth in inter-regional trade was made by the road network which predated the canal age and which continued to play an important role, especially at the urban scale, during the railway age.

But curiously enough, compared with canals and railways, roads are an under-researched area, partly because archival material of hauliers, typically very small undertakings, is sparse, and partly because roads themselves have been subject to drastic modernisation during the motor age, leaving scant physical trace. Even roads constructed during the interwar period – the arterial roads and urban by-passes – have been modified, while the early motorways beginning with the Preston by-pass in 1958 have been widened to cope with increasing traffic.

The railway might have seen the end of the turnpike, but horse-drawn and later motor vehicles provide a vital feeder system to and from railway stations. Similarly, horse and later electric trams, and then buses and motor cars, allowed the separation of work and residence, contributing substantially to the growth of towns.

Industrial archaeologists are predominantly concerned with physical artefacts, and indeed speakers at the weekend looked at the field evidence of former roads, bridges and trams, but others broadened the canvas by examining the legislative background to early roads, the care of surviving evidence and the efforts being made to create a databank of surviving turnpike relics.

A fuller report of the weekend can be found in IA News issue 142

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