Roads, canals and railways

New forms of transport that made travelling and transporting goods easier were built in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Toll house in Great Missenden



In the medieval period no one had responsibility for looking after the roads. What do you think the roads were like? Remember that people got around by foot, on horseback or in a cart. Tick one answer below:


1. The roads had hard surfaces and were easy to ride on.

2. The roads were very busy and you were likely to get knocked over.

3. The roads were very muddy and it was difficult to get anywhere.


That’s right, the roads were difficult to walk or ride on. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the government decided that local people should improve the roads by giving them a hard or metalled surface and by widening them where needed. These groups, called turnpike trusts, had to charge a toll to those using the roads in order to make enough money to repair them. They built tollhouses to collect the money. What do you think those using the roads thought of this? Circle one answer:


Milestone between Adstock and padbury1. They didn’t mind and were happy to pay the tolls for better roads.

2. People rode past the tollhouses not realising what they were for.

3. People didn’t like paying to use the roads and rioted, knocking down tollhouses.


Some people rioted in 1735 and 1750 because they were so angry at having to pay a toll to use roads that once had been free. However, once the roads improved most people were happy.


Look at the map of the turnpike roads in Buckinghamshire your teacher gives you. Compare them to the modern road map that your teacher will also provide and try to work out which modern roads were originally turnpike roads. To give you a head start, we have highlighted the A413 from Buckingham to Gerrards Cross.


The government also made the turnpike trusts set up signposts and milestones. Search Buckinhamshire's Heritage Portal and the internet to find some of the milestones in Buckinghamshire. You will find some at Print off the pictures from this website, cut them out and stick them onto a large version of the turnpike road map in the right place. Milestones have sometimes been moved or taken away. Draw on where you think there should be a milestone. 

Three Locks, Soulbury



The rivers of Britain had been used for centuries to transport goods from one place to another. Canals, man-made rivers, were constructed in the middle of the eighteenth century to supplement the river system. The first canals were built in the northwest of England and the Grand Junction or Grand Union Canal, which served Buckinghamshire, opened in 1805. Four branches came off this canal into Buckinghamshire. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find out the names of the branches that passed through the following parishes:




Name of branch/arm                   

Foscott, Leckhamstead, Thornborough


Aston Clinton, Bierton


Buckland, Drayton Beauchamp


Iver, Wexham



Mark these names on the map of canals in Buckinghamshire attached to this page. You can also search for structures related to the canals, such as locks, lock keeper’s cottages, canal bridges and tollhouses (there were tolls on the canals too). Mark one of each on the map of canals in Buckinghamshire attached to this page.


How do canals work? Do some research on the internet and in books to find out how these aspects of a canal were used: 

  1. Towpath
  2. Lock
  3. Aqueduct
  4. Wharf
  5. Barge
  6. Reservoir 

Dog Kennel bridge, Iver



The time of the canal was short-lived because engineers built railways in the early nineteenth century.


The earliest line in Buckinghamshire, 1837-8, was from Euston in London to Bletchley, stopping at Cheddington. A branch line was built between Cheddington and Aylesbury in 1839. The station in Aylesbury was on the High Street. Lines from Bletchley to Oxford and Buckingham were opened in 1850-1.


Another line passed through the south of the county, the Great Western Railway opened in 1838 and there are several bridges by the famous engineer Brunel surviving along this line, Dog Kennel and Thorney Lane bridges are in Buckinghamshire. A branch line from Maidenhead in Berkshire served Bourne End and High Wycombe by 1854 and then was extended to Princes Risborough and Aylesbury in 1862-3.


Lines serving Quainton and Brill were opened in 1868 and 1872 respectively and the line through Denham, Gerrards Cross and Beaconsfield was the last to be opened in 1910.


All the lines going north from Aylesbury and west from Bletchley have closed, the railway itself has been taken up and the stations demolished. Do a search for railway bridges and stations in Quainton and Brill and mark where they are on the map of railways in Buckinghamshire attached to this page.


Growth of towns

Lots of houses were built wherever the railways went. Look at the maps of Winslow in 1880 and 1927 that your teacher gives you. Shade in red where the new houses have been built. Winslow station is now closed. Do a search on Buckinghamshire’s Heritage Portal to find out when it was knocked down.


Gerrards Cross was a small village before the railway was built in 1910. Your teacher will give your two maps of Gerrards Cross, one before and one after the railway arrived. This time, try to identify the original settlement in the later map and shade it in red. The railway through Gerrards Cross is still very important and is one of the main routes from London to Birmingham.



Aylesbury had two stations during the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, as you can see from the old map your teacher will give you. One was where the remaining train station is now; the other came onto the High Street. Draw where you think the old station was on the Aylesbury in 2000 map that your teacher gives you.

Grand Junction Canal in MarsworthVerney Junction on the Bletchley to Oxford railway


Canals v. railways

Canals were not around for very long before the railways came. The Grand Union Canal was opened in 1805 and the earliest railways through Buckinghamshire were opened in 1837-9. What do you think the canal owners and workers thought about the railways? Tick one answer:


1. They welcomed them because it meant they didn’t have to do as much work.

2. They didn’t like them because they took business and money away.

3. They didn’t know about the railways and were surprised when they were built.


That’s right, the owners and workers didn’t like the railways and tried to get them stopped by complaining to the government. It didn’t help that the first railway followed the line of the Grand Union Canal very closely. Canal employees destroyed one railway bridge at Wolverton near Milton Keynes to try to stop the railways taking over. What could the canals do to compete? Circle one or more answers:



1. They could lower their prices to entice people to travel with them.

2. They could rebuild the locks so they worked faster.

3. Nothing they could do could compete with the railways.


That’s right, all of them are correct! The canals lowered the tolls they charged so that goods were still transported on the canals. Some locks were rebuilt and made narrower so they worked faster at Marsworth. But, in the end, nothing they could do could compete with the cheap, fast travel offered by the railways.


Your class will be divided in two. One half of the class will argue that canals are the better form of travel, the other half will argue for the railways. Do some more research on the canals and railways for evidence to back up your arguments.


Go back to find more Changes in the landscape.