JF Ptak Science Books Post 1121
I think that in a way the introduction of the toll house was as a significant a development in the history of the industrial revolution as the toilet. Without the toilet, you can’t really have a concentrated population to run industries–or at least without making everyone sick because of unsanitary and pestilential conditions. If you create the possibilities for having industries that employed 100 or so people, and had a bunch of them in a city setting, it wouldn’t much matter if you didn’t have the people to run them, and you can’t have the people far-flung and living apart if there’s no way for them to get to their work. Concentrated living called for lots of innovation, and perhaps the most important of those was how to get rid of human waste.
Without good roads you can’t get your produced goods to a market outside of the one you’re in, isolating chances for growth and development. If you have a good serviceable, dependable road to transport your stuff, then you have an expanded market; that means you can sell more, produce more, and theoretically charge less, which means you expand your consumer base, and on and on. But that means you have to be able t depend on your road. And a good road needs to be paid for. And one of the chief ways of funding these early roads was by a toll, which called for a toll house and a little gate. And a person to collect the money. Merchants figured out very quickly that it was much cheaper to pay a toll to use a good road than it was to use a bad road for free and have to depend on the graces that it be maintained; and since the graces weren’t kind, there would be all sorts of repairs necessary because of the poor road: harnesses, wheels, wagons, horses, and the like, not to mention food and such that could spoil along the way, or goods damaged in transport.
This all comes up from looking at a curious book by WH. Pyne1, who provided a thousand or so images of “picturesque” (meaning “working or laboring) life that could be used by artists to populate more general images of landscapes or cityscapes or seascapes. I’ll address this in a later post. It was several small pictures of toll houses that caused this thinking about the industrial revolution....pictures of things intended for gentle artists who may never have seen such sights in their life, and who might need to fit a curious little image of a gate-keep in their picture of some prosaic cow-filled landscape.
In the 17th and 18th centuries the introduction of serviceable roads over old trails and bad roads that connected towns wound up expanding markets for farmers and cottage industries, lowering prices because of easier availability of the product, and creating more consumers. And so on.
I realize that this might very well be a "turtles all the way down" argument, but since I've already named one turtle in a post here, I might as well name two.
1. William Henry Pane (1769-1843), Picturesque groups for the embellishment of landscape : in a series of above one thousand subjects : comprising the most interesting accessories to rural and domestic scenery, shipping and craft, rural sports, pastimes and occupations, naval, military and civil employments, implements of trade, commerce and agriculture, etc. , the whole forming an encyclopaedia of illustration of the arts, agriculture, manufactures, &c. of Great Britain Publisher: London (Bedford Street, Covent Garden) : M.A. Nattali, 1845.