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First [and second] report from the Committee on acts regarding the use of broad wheels, and other matters relating to the preservation of the turnpike roads and highways of the Kingdom. [With] First [-third] report from the committee on the highways of the Kingdom.
London, the House of Commons, 13th June, 18th July 1806 (reprinted 8th March 1808); 11th May, 30th May, 17th June 1808

Regulations to protect roads by controlling the design of vehicles and limiting to their loads first appeared in 1621 and from then on laws proliferated, relating to the form of wheels, dictating breadth, form of rim, use of iron tires, position of felly, spokes and axles, height of wheel etc. together with the number of horses permitted and the design of harness and traces.

Nevertheless, roads continued in a dire state of repair and in 1773 this mass of legislation was brought together under a consolidating act. Under this act waggons with broad wheels, which were intended to act as rollers to consolidate the surface, had been allowed some exemption from tolls. However, because narrow wheels allowed for greater speeds and ease of draught, carriers habitually managed to abuse the law by using wheels of the required width but of which only the central portion actually touched the ground.

In 1806 Sir John Sinclair, President of the Board of Agriculture, laid a bill for reforming highway administration before the House of Commons and this committee was set up, initially to investigate the design of wheels and try finally to ascertain which form would cause the least damage. The first two reports appeared in 1806 but were reprinted in 1808 shortly before the appearance of the three main reports, which frequently refer to them and to which they form a necessary companion. In each one the committee's findings are summarised but also included is all the information on which their conclusions were based in the form of correspondence or of minutes of evidence from engineers, carriers, coach builders, wheelwrights, farmers, landowners, turnpike trustees, county surveyors etc. It is this material which makes these reports so rich in interest.

Illustrations from the 1806 report on 'Highways of the Kingdom'
Two pages from 'Highways of the Kingdom', 1806

Amongst the many contributors was Alexander Cumming, author of the highly-regarded and much reprinted, "Observations of the Effects which Carriage Wheels with Rims of different Shapes", while Robert Russell of Exeter and William Deacon of Islington, two of the largest carriers in the country had also carried out a series of experiments both on the design of wheels and of the waggons. There is a long essay, "Of the general principles on which the construction of wheel carriages ought to be founded", by Adam Walker, inventor and well-known lecturer in mechanical philosophy. Davies Giddy (Gilbert), a member of the committee, discusses springs while William Jessop discusses experiments carried out on cylindrical wheels at Butterley Iron Works both for road vehicles and for those intended for iron railways; there are also long letters from the engineer, Richard Lovell Edgeworth.

As a concomitant to their work on vehicles the committee looked into the construction of roads. Here they were supplied with information from John Farey, whose impressive report is included. They also considered the design of traces and harness, the merits of different numbers of horses and the effect of these factors and the size and shape of wheels and waggons on draught.

Of considerable interest, too, is the material on railways, both iron and stone, as an alternative to road transport. Adam Walker, in a further communication, puts forward his plan for a single iron rail on which would run one set of wheels while the other would run on the road. He saw this as an experimental move to accustom the populace to the idea of a double line of rails. Henry Matthews (described in the DNB as judge and traveller) proposes a stone plateway where the masonry blocks would be laid with tapering tenons to prevent relative vertical movement.

The bill for which all this research was so painstakingly undertaken was lost in its passage through the House and the controversy over the respective merits of conical, barrelled or cylindrical wheels rumbled on for several more decades. Nevertheless, it began a new era which saw the construction of Telford's Holyhead Road and McAdam's successful method of road making.


Folio. 2 volumes. 2 reports in 1. 7 + (1)pp, incl. docket title; 55 + (1)pp, 4 engraved plates (3 folding, with light dampstains); 3 reports in 1, continuously paginated. (ii) + 215 + (3)pp incl. docket title, 6 engraved plates and some wood-engraved text ills. Seemly modern boards.



Catalogue No: 5931