On this Day 11th May 1863

New Road to St Just

The Cornish Telegraph announced on 13 May 1863 that the Penzance and St Just Turnpike Bill had passed its third reading in the House of Commons. The way was now clear for action to be taken to bring the new road into being and the Trustees were soon advertising for a surveyor to work under the consulting engineer. (Cornish Telegraph 10/6/1863)

A turnpike was a toll road administered by a Turnpike Trust which had to be set up by Act of Parliament and whose responsibility it was to construct and maintain the turnpike roads paid for out of the collected tolls. More often than not the bulk of a turnpike would be an existing road, upgraded and maintained by the Trust and this was the case for much of the Penzance and St Just undertaking.

The Act listed the new roads:

  • The main road from St Just to the boundary of the borough of Penzance, in length about 6 miles and 130 yards, which follows the line of the existing highways in many parts

  • A branch road, from the main road, to Nancherrow, 3 furlongs 150 yards in length

  • A branch road, from the main road, to Pendeen, 2 miles 1 furlong and 30 yards in length

  • A branch road from the last-named branch road to Trewellard, 1 mile 1 furlong in length

The total length of the main road and branches will be about 10 miles 1 furlong 90 yards.

The main road is still followed by the St Just road from Penzance through Tremethick Cross and Newbridge and over Leswidden. The branch to Pendeen is North Road which joins at the top of Newbridge Hill, the branch to Trewellard is Trewellard Hill which joins at Woon Gumpus while the Nancherrow branch joins at Chywoon as the road descends from Leswidden. It's worth noting that the road from St Just to Trewellard and Pendeen is not included in this list.

The main purpose of this turnpike is generally stated as being to connect the mining area of St Just to the port of Penzance and while this makes sense one wonders why it took so long to get around to it. By the 1860s turnpikes were being superseded by railways and in fact there was a plan to build a railway to St Just only two years later (Cornish Telegraph 29/9/1865). The first meeting of the new Turnpike Trust took place in the Union Hotel on 4 June 1863 (Cornish Telegraph 10/6/1863) and the report gives a full list of those attending including: chair – Rev. M.N. Peters; Samuel Borlase, T.S. Bolitho and Rev John Tonkin acting as magistrates for the County; Humphrey Pascoe, Rev J.M. Collyns, R.J. Hosking, William Lawrence, Uter Bosence, Edward Bolitho, Stephen Harvey James, Alfred Chenhalls, William Boitho jnr, Rev George Hadow, Richard Boyns, all attending as trustees named in the Act. The mining interest can be clearly seen in the presence of several members of the Bolitho family, Stephen Harvey James the purser of Botallack, Richard Boyns of Wheal Owles and Alfred Chenhalls, a shareholder at Levant where the Bolitho family also held shares.

The first issue was how to fund the proposed road and Stephen Harvey James proposed that, on the basis that the trust would be taking over responsibility for the upkeep of roads from the parish vestries, the parishes passed through by the new road should contribute £250 each payable in instalments. In St Just the vestry meeting decided 15-1 against acceding to this request (Cornish Telegraph 1/7/1863). Maybe the agricultural interest saw no reason why it should pay for the convenience of the mining interest, though the two were quite heavily interwoven. At the same time the Trust were also advertising that they would be issuing mortgages of £1000 at 4.5% which would have first call on income generated by the Trust.

All this happened before the Act was actually signed into law on 28 July 1863. The trustees were clearly keen to proceed. Why the sudden urgency? Levant was entering a period of decline in the early 1860s, largely due to difficulties in obtaining a new lease, but Botallack had just completed a major new development with the opening of the Boscawen diagonal shaft in 1862, designed to give direct access to riches under the sea. Was the driving force behind the new road Stephen Harvey James whose new house, Alma Villa, stood at the end of the Nancherrow branch of the road which also served the Holman foundry and gasworks? Further research may answer some of these questions.

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Penwith Local History Group
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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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