By the mid 18th century it was apparent that the parish based road system with statute labour intoduced in the 1555 Act failed to provide the growing need to fund and develop an improved nationwide road system. A turnpike system had been introduced in 1663 as part of the Great North road improvement. In 1706 the first turnpike trusts were introduced in and around London. In 1752-3 the first trust, the Shaftesbury and Sherbourne Trust was introduced in Dorset.
The Trust, setup by a local group, empowered by an Act of Parliament, raised capital for new construction and repair of old roads recovering this out of tolls levied on the road user. Such Acts were for a period of twenty-one years and renewed through a series of local or statute, requiring new powers, continuation acts. Several trusts were consolidated as part of the General Turnpike Act of 1773 whilst others were split into Divisions. Later the rights to collect the tolls was leased to the hightest bidder.
Initially it was expected that such Trusts would maintain the road, pay a dividend and repay the initial capital. Strangely most trusts continued to exist because they were a financial failure, unable to repay the capital and needing relief acts, rather than a success.
The term turnpike relates to the hinged gate, set across the road opened when a toll had been paid to the turnpike-keeper in his adjoining toll house. These were setup along the route as were milestones giving the traveller an indication of his progress. Once the roads had been improved old roads may be stopped or gated to eliminate toll avoidance.
From 1850s railways started to compete for long distance goods transport reducing road traffic and hence toll revenue. From the late 1870s Trusts were wound up and their powers expired. These, and other main roads, became the responsibility of the new County Councils formed in 1888.