An essay upon projects, by Daniel Defoe

Of the Highways.

It is a prodigious charge the whole nation groans under for the repair of highways, which, after all, lie in a very ill posture too. I make no question but if it was taken into consideration by those who have the power to direct it, the kingdom might be wholly eased of that burden, and the highways be kept in good condition, which now lie in a most shameful manner in most parts of the kingdom, and in many places wholly unpassable, from whence arise tolls and impositions upon passengers and travellers, and, on the other hand, trespasses and encroachments upon lands adjacent, to the great damage of the owners.

The rate for the highways is the most arbitrary and unequal tax in the kingdom: in some places two or three rates of sixpence per pound in the year; in others the whole parish cannot raise wherewith to defray the charge, either by the very bad condition of the road or distance of materials; in others the surveyors raise what they never expend; and the abuses, exactions, connivances, frauds, and embezzlements are innumerable.

The Romans, while they governed this island, made it one of their principal cares to make and repair the highways of the kingdom, and the chief roads we now use are of their marking out; the consequence of maintaining them was such, or at least so esteemed, that they thought it not below them to employ their legionary troops in the work; and it was sometimes the business of whole armies, either when in winter quarters or in the intervals of truce or peace with the natives. Nor have the Romans left us any greater tokens of their grandeur and magnificence than the ruins of those causeways and street-ways which are at this day to be seen in many parts of the kingdom, some of which have by the visible remains been discovered to traverse the whole kingdom, and others for more than a hundred miles are to be traced from colony to colony, as they had particular occasion. The famous highway or street called Watling Street, which some will tell you began at London Stone, and passing that very street in the City which we to this day call by that name, went on west to that spot where Tyburn now stands, and then turned north-west in so straight a line to St. Albans that it is now the exactest road (in one line for twenty miles) in the kingdom; and though disused now as the chief, yet is as good, and, I believe, the best road to St. Albans, and is still called the Streetway. From whence it is traced into Shropshire, above a hundred and sixty miles, with a multitude of visible antiquities upon it, discovered and described very accurately by Mr. Cambden. The Fosse, another Roman work, lies at this day as visible, and as plain a high causeway, of above thirty feet broad, ditched on either side, and coped and paved where need is — as exact and every jot as beautiful as the king’s new road through Hyde Park, in which figure it now lies from near Marshfield to Cirencester, and again from Cirencester to the Hill, three miles on this side Gloucester, which is not less than twenty-six miles, and is made use of as the great road to those towns, and probably has been so for a thousand years with little repairs.

If we set aside the barbarity and customs of the Romans as heathens, and take them as a civil government, we must allow they were the pattern of the whole world for improvement and increase of arts and learning, civilising and methodising nations and countries conquered by their valour; and if this was one of their great cares, that consideration ought to move something. But to the great example of that generous people I will add three arguments:—

1. It is useful, and that as it is convenient for carriages, which in a trading country is a great help to negotiation, and promotes universal correspondence, without which our inland trade could not be managed. And under this head I could name a thousand conveniences of a safe, pleasant, well-repaired highway, both to the inhabitant and the traveller, but I think it is needless.

2. It is easy. I question not to make it appear it is easy to put all the highroads, especially in England, in a noble figure; large, dry, and clean; well drained, and free from floods, unpassable sloughs, deep cart-ruts, high ridges, and all the inconveniences they now are full of; and, when once done, much easier still to be maintained so.

3. It may be cheaper, and the whole assessment for the repairs of highways for ever be dropped or applied to other uses for the public benefit.

Here I beg the reader’s favour for a small digression.

I am not proposing this as an undertaker, or setting a price to the public for which I will perform it, like one of the projectors I speak of, but laying open a project for the performance, which, whenever the public affairs will admit our governors to consider of, will be found so feasible that no question they may find undertakers enough for the performance; and in this undertaking age I do not doubt but it would be easy at any time to procure persons at their own charge to perform it for any single county, as a pattern and experiment for the whole kingdom.

The proposal is as follows:— First, that an Act of Parliament be made with liberty for the undertakers to dig and trench, to cut down hedges and trees, or whatever is needful for ditching, draining and carrying off water, cleaning, enlarging and levelling the roads, with power to lay open or enclose lands; to encroach into lands; dig, raise, and level fences; plant and pull up hedges or trees (for the enlarging, widening, and draining the highways), with power to turn either the roads or watercourses, rivers and brooks, as by the directors of the works shall be found needful, always allowing satisfaction to be first made to the owners of such lands (either by assigning to them equivalent lands or payment in money, the value to be adjusted by two indifferent persons to be named by the Lord Chancellor or Lord Keeper for the time being), and no watercourse to be turned from any water-mill without satisfaction first made both to the landlord and tenant.

But before I proceed, I must say a word or two to this article.

The chief, and almost the only, cause of the deepness and foulness of the roads is occasioned by the standing water, which (for want of due care to draw it off by scouring and opening ditches and drains, and other watercourses, and clearing of passages) soaks into the earth, and softens it to such a degree that it cannot bear the weight of horses and carriages; to prevent which, the power to dig, trench, and cut down, &c., mentioned above will be of absolute necessity. But because the liberty seems very large, and some may think it is too great a power to be granted to any body of men over their neighbours, it is answered:—

1. It is absolutely necessary, or the work cannot be done, and the doing of the work is of much greater benefit than the damage can amount to.

2. Satisfaction to be made to the owner (and that first, too, before the damage be done) is an unquestionable equivalent; and both together, I think, are a very full answer to any objection in that case.

Besides this Act of Parliament, a commission must be granted to fifteen at least, in the name of the undertakers, to whom every county shall have power to join ten, who are to sit with the said fifteen so often and so long as the said fifteen do sit for affairs relating to that county, which fifteen, or any seven of them, shall be directors of the works, to be advised by the said ten, or any five of them, in matters of right and claim, and the said ten to adjust differences in the countries, and to have right by process to appeal in the name either of lords of manors, or privileges of towns or corporations, who shall be either damaged or encroached upon by the said work. All appeals to be heard and determined immediately by the said Lord Chancellor, or commission from him, that the work may receive no interruption.

This commission shall give power to the said fifteen to press waggons, carts, and horses, oxen and men, and detain them to work a certain limited time, and within certain limited space of miles from their own dwellings, and at a certain rate of payment. No men, horses, or carts to be pressed against their consent during the times of hay-time or harvest, or upon market-days, if the person aggrieved will make affidavit he is obliged to be with his horses or carts at the said markets.

It is well known to all who have any knowledge of the condition the highways in England now lie in that in most places there is a convenient distance land left open for travelling, either for driving of cattle, or marching of troops of horse, with perhaps as few lanes or defiles as in any countries. The cross-roads, which are generally narrow, are yet broad enough in most places for two carriages to pass; but, on the other hand, we have on most of the highroads a great deal, if waste land thrown in (as it were, for an overplus to the highway), which, though it be used of course by cattle and travellers on occasion, is indeed no benefit at all either to the traveller as a road or to the poor as a common, or to the lord of the manor as a waste; upon it grows neither timber nor grass, in any quantity answerable to the land, but, though to no purpose, is trodden down, poached, and overrun by drifts of cattle in the winter, or spoiled with the dust in the summer. And this I have observed in many parts of England to be as good land as any of the neighbouring enclosures, as capable of improvement, and to as good purpose.

These lands only being enclosed and manured, leaving the roads to dimensions without measure sufficient, are the fund upon which I build the prodigious stock of money that must do this work. These lands (which I shall afterwards make an essay to value), being enclosed, will be either saleable to raise money, or fit to exchange with those gentlemen who must part with some land where the ways are narrow, always reserving a quantity of these lands to be let out to tenants, the rent to be paid into the public stock or bank of the undertakers, and to be reserved for keeping the ways in the same repair, and the said bank to forfeit the lands if they are not so maintained.

Another branch of the stock must be hands (for a stock of men is a stock of money), to which purpose every county, city, town, and parish shall be rated at a set price, equivalent to eight years’ payment, for the repair of highways, which each county, &c., shall raise, not by assessment in money, but by pressing of men, horses, and carriages for the work (the men, horses, &,c., to be employed by the directors); in which case all corporal punishments — as of whippings, stocks, pillories, houses of correction, &c. — might be easily transmitted to a certain number of days’ work on the highways, and in consideration of this provision of men the country should for ever after be acquitted of any contribution, either in money or work, for repair of the highways — building of bridges excepted.

There lie some popular objections against this undertaking; and the first is (the great controverted point of England) enclosure of the common, which tends to depopulation, and injures the poor.

2. Who shall be judges or surveyors of the work, to oblige the undertakers to perform to a certain limited degree?

For the first, “the enclosure of the common”— a clause that runs as far as to an encroachment upon Magna Charta, and a most considerable branch of the property of the poor — I answer it thus:—

1. The lands we enclose are not such as from which the poor do indeed reap any benefit — or, at least, any that is considerable.

2. The bank and public stock, who are to manage this great undertaking, will have so many little labours to perform and offices to bestow, that are fit only for labouring poor persons to do, as will put them in a condition to provide for the poor who are so injured, that can work; and to those who cannot, may allow pensions for overseeing, supervising, and the like, which will be more than equivalent.

3. For depopulations, the contrary should be secured, by obliging the undertakers, at such and such certain distances, to erect cottages, two at least in a place (which would be useful to the work and safety of the traveller), to which should be an allotment of land, always sufficient to invite the poor inhabitant, in which the poor should be tenant for life gratis, doing duty upon the highway as should be appointed, by which, and many other methods, the poor should be great gainers by the proposal, instead of being injured.

4. By this erecting of cottages at proper distances a man might travel over all England as through a street, where he could never want either rescue from thieves or directions for his way.

5. This very undertaking, once duly settled, might in a few years so order it that there should be no poor for the common; and, if so, what need of a common for the poor? Of which in its proper place.

As to the second objection, “Who should oblige the undertakers to the performance?” I answer:—

1. Their Commission and charter should become void, and all their stock forfeit, and the lands enclosed and unsold remain as a pledge, which would be security sufficient.

2. The ten persons chosen out of every county should have power to inspect and complain, and the Lord Chancellor, upon such complaint, to make a survey, and to determine by a jury, in which case, on default, they shall be obliged to proceed.

3. The lands settled on the bank shall be liable to be extended for the uses mentioned, if the same at any time be not maintained in the condition at first provided, and the bank to be amerced upon complaint of the country.

These and other conditions, which on a legal settlement to be made by wiser heads than mine might be thought on, I do believe would form a constitution so firm, so fair, and so equally advantageous to the country, to the poor, and to the public, as has not been put in practice in these later ages of the world. To discourse of this a little in general, and to instance in a place perhaps that has not its fellow in the kingdom — the parish of Islington, in Middlesex. There lies through this large parish the greatest road in England, and the most frequented, especially by cattle for Smithfield market; this great road has so many branches, and lies for so long a way through the parish, and withal has the inconvenience of a clayey ground, and no gravel at hand, that, modestly speaking, the parish is not able to keep it in repair; by which means several cross-roads in the parish lie wholly unpassable, and carts and horses (and men too) have been almost buried in holes and sloughs; and the main road itself has for many years lain in a very ordinary condition, which occasioned several motions in Parliament to raise a toll at Highgate for the performance of what it was impossible the parish should do, and yet was of so absolute necessity to be done. And is it not very probable the parish of Islington would part with all the waste land upon their roads, to be eased of the intolerable assessment for repair of the highway, and answer the poor, who reap but a small benefit from it, some other way? And yet I am free to affirm that for a grant of waste and almost useless land, lying open to the highway (those lands to be improved, as they might easily be), together with the eight years’ assessment to be provided in workmen, a noble, magnificent causeway might be erected, with ditches on either side, deep enough to receive the water, and drains sufficient to carry it off, which causeway should be four feet high at least, and from thirty to forty feet broad, to reach from London to Barnet, paved in the middle, to keep it coped, and so supplied with gravel and other proper materials as should secure it from decay with small repairing.

I hope no man would be so weak now as to imagine that by lands lying open to the road, to be assigned to the undertakers, I should mean that all Finchley Common should be enclosed and sold for this work; but, lest somebody should start such a preposterous objection, I think it is not improper to mention, that wherever a highway is to be carried over a large common, forest, or waste, without a hedge on either hand for a certain distance, there the several parishes shall allot the directors a certain quantity of the common, to lie parallel with the road, at a proportioned number of feet to the length and breadth of the said road — consideration also to be had to the nature of the ground; or else, giving them only room for the road directly shall suffer them to inclose in any one spot so much of the said common as shall be equivalent to the like quantity of land lying by the road. Thus where the land is good and the materials for erecting a causeway near, the less land may serve; and on the contrary, the more; but in general allowing them the quantity of land proportioned to the length of the causeway, and forty rods in breadth: though where the land is poor, as on downs and plains, the proportion must be considered to be adjusted by the country.

Another point for the dimensions of roads should be adjusted; and the breadth of them, I think, cannot be less than thus:

From London every way ten miles the high post-road to be built full forty feet in breadth and four feet high, the ditches eight feet broad and six feet deep, and from thence onward thirty feet, and so in proportion.

Cross-roads to be twenty feet broad, and ditches proportioned; no lanes and passes less than nine feet without ditches.

The middle of the high causeways to be paved with stone, chalk, or gravel, and kept always two feet higher than the sides, that the water might have a free course into the ditches; and persons kept in constant employ to fill up holes, let out water, open drains, and the like, as there should be occasion — a proper work for highwaymen and such malefactors, as might on those services be exempted from the gallows.

It may here be objected that eight years’ assessment to be demanded down is too much in reason to expect any of the poorer sort can pay; as, for instance, if a farmer who keeps a team of horse be at the common assessment to work a week, it must not be put so hard upon any man as to work eight weeks together. It is easy to answer this objection.

So many as are wanted, must be had; if a farmer’s team cannot be spared without prejudice to him so long together, he may spare it at sundry times, or agree to be assessed, and pay the assessment at sundry payments; and the bank may make it as easy to them as they please.

Another method, however, might be found to fix this work at once. As suppose a bank be settled for the highways of the county of Middlesex, which as they are, without doubt, the most used of any in the kingdom, so also they require the more charge, and in some parts lie in the worst condition of any in the kingdom.

If the Parliament fix the charge of the survey of the highways upon a bank to be appointed for that purpose for a certain term of years, the bank undertaking to do the work, or to forfeit the said settlement.

As thus: suppose the tax on land and tenements for the whole county of Middlesex does, or should be so ordered as it might, amount to 20,000 pounds per annum more or less, which it now does, and much more, including the work of the farmers’ teams, which must be accounted as money, and is equivalent to it, with some allowance to be rated for the city of London, &c., who do enjoy the benefit, and make the most use of the said roads, both for carrying of goods and bringing provisions to the city, and therefore in reason ought to contribute towards the highways (for it is a most unequal thing that the road from Highgate to Smithfield Market, by which the whole city is, in a manner, supplied with live cattle, and the road by those cattle horribly spoiled, should lie all upon that one parish of Islington to repair); wherefore I will suppose a rate for the highways to be gathered through the city of London of 10,000 pounds per annum more, which may be appointed to be paid by carriers, drovers, and all such as keep teams, horses, or coaches, and the like, or many ways, as is most equal and reasonable; the waste lands in the said county, which by the consent of the parishes, lords of the manors, and proprietors shall be allowed to the undertakers, when inclosed and let out, may (the land in Middlesex generally letting high) amount to 5,000 pounds per annum more. If, then, an Act of Parliament be procured to settle the tax of 30,000 pounds per annum for eight years, most of which will be levied in workmen and not in money, and the waste lands for ever, I dare be bold to offer that the highways for the whole county of Middlesex should be put into the following form, and the 5,000 pounds per annum land be bound to remain as a security to maintain them so, and the county be never burdened with any further tax for the repair of the highways.

And that I may not propose a matter in general, like begging the question, without demonstration, I shall enter into the particulars how it may be performed, and that under these following heads of articles:

    1.  What I propose to do to the highways.
    2.  What the charge will be.
    3.  How to be raised.
    4.  What security for performance.
    5.  What profit to the undertaker.

1. WHAT I PROPOSE TO DO TO THE HIGHWAYS. — I answer first, not repair them; and yet secondly, not alter them — that is, not alter the course they run; but perfectly build them as a fabric. And, to descend to the particulars, it is first necessary to note which are the roads I mean, and their dimensions.

First, the high post-roads, and they are for the county of Middlesex as follows:

                                               Miles.
                   Staines, which is . . . .     15
                   Colebrook is from Hounslow     5
                   Uxbridge . . . . . . . . .    15
    From London to Bushey, the Old Street-way    10
                   Barnet, or near it . . . .     9
                   Waltham Cross, in Ware Road   11
                   Bow . . . . . . . . .          2
                                                 ==
                                                 67

Besides these, there, are cross-roads, bye-roads, and lanes, which must also be looked after; and that some of them may be put into condition, others may be wholly slighted and shut up, or made drift-ways, bridle-ways, or foot-ways, as may be thought convenient by the counties.

The cross-roads of most repute are as follows:

                                                                  Miles.
          London              Hackney, Old Ford, and Bow            5
          Hackney             Dalston and Islington                 2
          Ditto               Hornsey, Muswell Hill, to             8
                                 Whetstone
          Tottenham           The Chase, Southgate, &c.,            6
                                 called Green Lanes
          Enfield Wash        Enfield Town, Whetstone,             10
                                 Totteridge, to Edgworth
    From  London              Hampstead, Hendon, and                8
                                 Edgworth
          Edgworth            Stanmore, to Pinner, to               8
                                 Uxbridge
          London              Harrow and Pinner Green              11
          Ditto               Chelsea, Fulham                       4
          Brentford           Thistleworth, Twittenham,
                                 and Kingston                       6
          Kingston            Staines, Colebrook, and Uxbridge     17
          Ditto               Chertsey Bridge                       5
                                                                  ===
                                                                   90
                 Overplus miles                                    50
                                                                  ===
                                                                  140

And because there may be many parts of the crossroads which cannot be accounted in the number abovementioned, or may slip my knowledge or memory, I allow an overplus of 50 miles, to be added to the 90 miles above, which together make the cross-roads of Middlesex to be 140 miles.

For the bye-lanes such as may be slighted need nothing but to be ditched up; such as are for private use of lands, for carrying off corn, and driving cattle, are to be looked after by private hands.

But of the last sort, not to be accounted by particulars, in the small county of Middlesex we cannot allow less in cross-bye-lanes, from village to village, and from dwelling-houses which stand out of the way to the roads, than 1,000 miles.

So in the whole county I reckon up:—

                                    Miles.
    Of the high post-road              67
    Of cross-roads less public        140
    Of bye-lanes and passes         1,000
                                    =====
                                    1,207

These are the roads I mean, and thus divided under their several denominations.

To the question, what I would do to them I answer:—

(1). For the sixty-seven miles of high post-road I propose to throw up a firm strong causeway well-bottomed, six feet high in the middle and four feet on the side, faced with brick or stone, and crowned with gravel, chalk, or stone, as the several counties they are made through will afford, being forty-four feet in breadth, with ditches on either side eight feet broad and four feet deep; so the whole breadth will be sixty feet, if the ground will permit.

At the end of every two miles, or such like convenient distances, shall be a cottage erected, with half an acre of ground allowed, which shall be given gratis, with one shilling per week wages, to such poor man of the parish as shall be approved, who shall, once at least every day, view his walk, to open passages for the water to run into the ditches, to fill up holes or soft places.

Two riders shall be allowed to be always moving the rounds, to view everything out of repair, and make report to the directors, and to see that the cottagers do their duty.

(2). For the 140 miles of cross-road a like causeway to be made, but of different dimensions — the breadth twenty feet, if the ground will allow it; the ditches four feet broad, three feet deep; the height in the middle three feet, and on the sides one foot, or two where it may be needful; to be also crowned with gravel, and one shilling per week to be allowed to the poor of every parish, the constables to be bound to find a man to walk on the highway every division for the same purpose as the cottagers do on the greater roads.

Posts to be set up at every turning to note whither it goes, for the direction of strangers, and how many miles distant.

(3). For the 1,000 miles of bye-lanes, only good and sufficient care to keep them in repair as they are, and to carry the water off by clearing and cutting the ditches, and laying materials where they are wanted.

This is what I propose to do to them, and what, if once performed, I suppose all people would own to be an undertaking both useful and honourable.

2. The second question I propose to give an account of is, WHAT THE CHARGE WILL BE, which I account thus.

The work of the great causeway I propose, shall not cost less than ten shillings per foot (supposing materials to be bought, carriage, and men’s labour to be all hired), which for sixty-seven miles in length is no less than the sum of 176,880 pounds; as thus:

Every mile accounted at 1,760 yards, and three feet to the yard, is 5,280 feet, which at ten shillings per foot is 2,640 pounds per mile, and that, again, multiplied by sixty-seven, makes the sum of 176,880 pounds, into which I include the charge of water-courses, mills to throw off water where needful, drains, &c.

To this charge must be added, ditching to inclose land for thirty cottages, and building thirty cottages at 40 pounds each, which is 1,200 pounds.

The work of the smaller causeway I propose to finish at the rate of a shilling per foot, which being for 149 miles in length, at 5,280 feet per mile, amounts to 36,960 pounds.

Ditching, draining, and repairing 1,000 miles, Supposed at three shillings per rod, as for 320,000 rods, is 48,000 pounds, which, added to the two former accounts, is thus:

                                                   Pounds
    The high post-roads, or the great causeway    178,080
    The small causeway                             36,960
    Bye-lanes, &c.                                 48,000
                                                 ========
                                                  263,040

If I were to propose some measures for the easing this charge, I could perhaps lay a scheme down how it may be performed for less than one-half of this charge.

As first, by a grant of the court at the Old Bailey whereby all such criminals as are condemned to die for smaller crimes may, instead of transportation, be ordered a year’s work on the highways; others, instead of whippings, a proportioned time, and the like; which would, by a moderate computation, provide us generally a supply of 200 workmen, and coming in as fast as they go off; and let the overseers alone to make them work.

Secondly, by an agreement with the Guinea Company to furnish 200 negroes, who are generally persons that do a great deal of work; and all these are subsisted very reasonably out of a public storehouse.

Thirdly, by carts and horses to be bought, not hired, with a few able carters; and to the other a few workmen that have judgment to direct the rest, and thus I question not the great causeway shall be done for four shillings per foot charge; but of this by-the-bye.

Fourthly, a liberty to ask charities and benevolences to the work.

3. To the question, HOW THIS MONEY SHALL BE RAISED. I think if the Parliament settle the tax on the county for eight years at 30,000 pounds per annum, no man need ask how it shall be raised . . . It will be easy enough to raise the money; and no parish can grudge to pay a little larger rate for such a term, on condition never to be taxed for the highways any more.

Eight years’ assessment at 30,000 pounds per annum is enough to afford to borrow the money by way of anticipation, if need be; the fund being secured by Parliament, and appropriated to that use and no other.

4. As to WHAT SECURITY FOR PERFORMANCE.

The lands which are inclosed may be appropriated by the same Act of Parliament to the bank and undertakers, upon condition of performance, and to be forfeit to the use of the several parishes to which they belong, in case upon presentation by the grand juries, and reasonable time given, any part of the roads in such and such parishes be not kept and maintained in that posture they are proposed to be. Now the lands thus settled are an eternal security to the country for the keeping the roads in repair; because, they will always be of so much value over the needful charge as will make it worth while to the undertakers to preserve their title to them; and the tenure of them being so precarious as to be liable to forfeiture on default, they will always be careful to uphold the causeways.

Lastly, WHAT PROFIT TO THE UNDERTAKERS. For we must allow them to gain, and that considerably, or no man would undertake such a work.

To this I propose: first, during the work, allow them out of the stock 3,000 pounds per annum for management.

After the work is finished, so much of the 5,000 pounds per annum as can be saved, and the roads kept in good repair, let be their own; and if the lands secured be not of the value of 5,000 pounds a year, let so much of the eight years’ tax be set apart as may purchase land to make them up; if they come to more, let the benefit be to the adventurers.

It may be objected here that a tax of 30,000 pounds for eight years will come in as fast as it can well be laid out, and so no anticipations will be requisite; for the whole work proposed cannot be probably finished in less time; and, if so,

                                           Pounds
    The charge of the county amounts to    240,000
    The lands saved eight years’ revenue    40,000
                                          ========
                                           280,000

which is 13,000 pounds more than the charge; and if the work be done so much cheaper, as is mentioned, the profit to the undertaker will be unreasonable.

To this I say I would have the undertakers bound to accept the salary of 3,000 pounds per annum for management, and if a whole year’s tax can be spared, either leave it unraised upon the country, or put it in bank to be improved against any occasion — of building, perhaps, a great bridge; or some very wet season or frost may so damnify the works as to make them require more than ordinary repair. But the undertakers should make no private advantage of such an overplus; there might be ways enough found for it.

Another objection lies against the possibility of inclosing the lands upon the waste, which generally belongs to some manor, whose different tenures may be so cross, and so otherwise encumbered, that even the lords of those manors, though they were willing, could not convey them.

This may be answered in general, that an Act of Parliament is omnipotent with respect to titles and tenures of land, and can empower lords and tenants to consent to what else they could not; as to particulars, they cannot be answered till they are proposed; but there is no doubt but an Act of Parliament may adjust it all in one head.

What a kingdom would England be if this were performed in all the counties of it! And yet I believe it is feasible, even in the worst. I have narrowly deserved all the considerable ways in that unpassable county of Sussex, which (especially in some parts in the wild, as they very properly call it, of the county) hardly admits the country people to travel to markets in winter, and makes corn dear at market because it cannot be brought, and cheap at the farmer’s house because he cannot carry it to market; yet even in that county would I undertake to carry on this proposal, and that to great advantage, if backed with the authority of an Act of Parliament.

I have seen in that horrible country the road, sixty to a hundred yards broad, lie from side to side all poached with cattle, the land of no manner of benefit, and yet no going with a horse, but at every step up to the shoulders, full of sloughs and holes, and covered with standing water. It costs them incredible sums of money to repair them; and the very places that are mended would fright a young traveller to go over them. The Romans mastered this work, and by a firm causeway made a highway quite through this deep country, through Darkin in Surrey to Stansted, and thence to Okeley, and so on to Arundel; its name tells us what it was made of (for it was called Stone Street), and many visible parts of it remain to this day.

Now would any lord of a manor refuse to allow forty yards in breadth out of that road I mentioned, to have the other twenty made into a firm, fair, and pleasant causeway over that wilderness of a country?

Or would not any man acknowledge that putting this country into a condition for carriages and travellers to pass would be a great work? The gentlemen would find the benefit of it in the rent of their land and price of their timber; the country people would find the difference in the sale of their goods, which now they cannot carry beyond the first market town, and hardly thither; and the whole county would reap an advantage a hundred to one greater than the charge of it. And since the want we feel of any convenience is generally the first motive to contrivance for a remedy, I wonder no man over thought of some expedient for so considerable a defect.

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Last updated Saturday, March 1, 2014 at 20:37