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A History of Paving and How it Changed the World

Today, paving is a great luxury that we can enjoy around our homes, in our local town centre and, if we want to travel, we have a network of roads we can use to go almost anywhere we want, at any time. However, life hasn’t always been like this. Even as late as the 18th Century, dirt roads were still prominent in the UK and around the world, making travel between cities difficult.

York stone paving and stone might be used to help us create attractive and hard wearing gardens but it’s also used within towns and cities for both paving and architecture. However, did you know how important paving has been throughout the history of humans and our ability to continue growing and developing our society? We’ve been taking a look at the history of paving and the way it has developed over time.

Early Roads and Paths

We have always needed roads or paths to travel to different places, even if it’s only on foot. The very first roads were formed by humans consistently walking the same paths over and over again in order to find food, water or other supplies. As small tribes of people began to combine into villages, towns and cities and these dirt paths began to form into more formal roads.

The earliest stone paved roads have been traced as far back as 4,000BC as people began to move around more. With the introduction of the wheel 7,000 years ago, it became possible to transport much heavier loads and the limitations of simple dirt roads were revealed as they turned into muddy bogs during poor weather making it difficult to travel anywhere.

The Romans

In the early days, the primary purpose of roads was to speed up the movement of troops but roads became much more important as communication routes between different parts of the Roman Empire.

The Romans developed techniques which allowed them to build a network of durable roads built using multiple layers of material on top of deep beds of crushed stone which allow for water drainage. Some of these roads or their remains are still being used 2,000 years later and form the fundamental techniques of modern-day road building.

At the height of their empire, the Romans had built and maintained 53,000 miles of road covering uch of England, Western Europe, the Iberian peninsula and the full Mediterranean area. Until recently, the Romans were the owners of the world’s straightest, best engineered and most complex network of roads in the world.

The Turnpike Act

Before and after the Romans, roads were simply dirt tracks which turned to mud in the winter and rock solid in the summer. At certain times of the year, movement between the roads was very difficult, if not impossible. By law, inhabitants of each parish were required to look after their roads but, with very few people wanting to travel, no one was particularly interested in the task as it had no benefit to them.

In 1663, with the growth of the Industrial Revolution, a good transport system was needed which lead to an act called the Turnpike Act being passed by Parliament. The act allowed magistrates in each UK county to charge people for using their roads and the money raised was spent on maintaining them.

Private companies called Turnpike Trusts were established with the first one created in 1706. Toll gates were set up on these roads which prevented people from travelling the roads without paying a toll. By 1829, 3,783 turnpike companies were operating 20,000 miles of highways throughout England, allowing travellers and tradesmen to move more easily at all times of the year.

However, towards the latter half of the 19th Century, canal building and the growth of railroads outstripped turnpikes and roads became less important until the advent of the motorcar which made it much easier for people and good s to move more quickly and more comfortably and called for better road networks.

As you can see, one of the strongest indicators of a society’s level of development has been the city’s road structure or lack of one. Increasing populations and the development of towns and cities brought a greater need for communication and allowed for commerce between populations. Today, we are able to use paving in our homes and gardens for both aesthetic and practical uses.

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