All Around The Wrekin
Although the name Watling Street may be Anglo Saxon in origin, it is probable that the road itself was originally an ancient trackway used by the Celts and subsequently paved during the Roman occupation of Britain, when it formed part of a major 200-mile arterial route from Dover to Wroxeter. After Roman rule ceased, the highway fell into a general state of disrepair but, by the middle ages, it was once again an important traffic route. In 1726, a local turnpike trust was established in order to maintain the section of Watling Street in Wrockwardine parish and a gate was constructed near Burcot for the collection of tolls from travellers and merchants using the road.
By the 18th Century, the absence of local or national government funding for road maintenance led to the creation of over a thousand turnpike trusts much like the one in Wrockwardine. They were intended as a solution to the problems of dealing with the huge amounts of wear and tear created by the high volume of traffic using Britain’s roads. Each trust was empowered by an Act of Parliament to raise money for repairs and to build and erect tollhouses, tollgates and milestones along the stretches of highway that they maintained.
The Umbrella House
The section of Watling Street passing through Wrockwardine parish was certainly a busy one and there were three pubs on this stretch of road catering for the hungry wayfarer in 1756: The ‘Horse Shoe’, ‘Plume of Feathers’ and the ‘Bluebell’. After unification of the British and Irish Parliaments in 1801, the road, which formed part of the main route from London to Holyhead, was improved again, culminating in work carried out in the area by Thomas Telford between 1835 and 1836. He oversaw the construction of a bypass around nearby Overley Hill and the erection of a new tollhouse at Burcotgate, which still stands today.
This building, which is of a standard ‘Holyhead Road’ design and known locally as the Umbrella House, is situated directly opposite the junction of Watling Street and an unclassified road from Wrockwardine. The system of collecting tolls only continued for a relatively short time after the new house was constructed and Watling Street was ‘disturnpiked’ during the mid 1860s, when responsibility for road maintenance was then vested in local government administration.