Life Speeds Up

The Black Swan - now in York Castle Museum

It was becoming easier for people to get about.  The 18th century development of canals wasn’t as life-changing to York as it was to some other cities: folk had been coming and going along its natural waterways, the Foss and the Ouse, for centuries.

But the new technology did enable a dam to be built at Naburn Lock in 1757.  This raised the level of the water, which sometimes fell as low as ten inches, and the navigability of York’s River Ouse was no longer at the mercy of the tides.

Parts of the Foss were also canalised to quicken its flow.  The money for these works came from a toll on river cargoes, generally charged at sixpence a ton.  Canalisation further afield helped to revitalise York’s old trading link with Hull.

Another toll – the turnpike – brought great improvements to the roads too.  More than 150 miles of roads leading into York were maintained by turnpike trusts thanks to the charge they levied on traffic.

This was paid to the toll gatekeepers, who could also report coachmen for reckless driving.  The level of payment depending on the size of the transport: on the busiest stretch of road, between Tadcaster and York, the charge was one shilling for a coach and six horses down to one penny for a horse and rider.

The increase in traffic led to numerous improvement schemes in York.  Lendal Hill – now named Museum Street – was widened, as was Skeldergate; new arches were created in the city walls next to Micklegate Bar; houses were demolished to clear the approaches to Ouse Bridge.

Due to the improvements to the nation’s roads, journey times from York to London fell quickly. At the start of the 18th century it took four days to reach the capital, at the end less than 36 hours.

Every day in 1796, three daily coaches ran to London, two ran to Leeds and a Royal Mail coach went to Liverpool.  London coaches departed from the Black Swan in Coney Street or the York Tavern in St Helen’s Square.  Services for the east coast and Hull left from the White Swan in Pavement. 

These new connections did allow York to begin to develop as a tourist destination but they didn't bring the massive changes in industry and growth that many other cities were seeing at the time.

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