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Vagrants Paid a Bloody Toll

With the UK government currently considering road pricing / tolls for the Croydon area, it brings back memories of the past. In the 18th century it was the common custom for travellers to pay tolls for the use of roads and bridges and the toll gate and lodge can still be seen at the entrance to College Road in Dulwich as a reminder of this system.

In olden days, travellers journeying between Croydon and London had to pay for the privilege of passing along the present day A23 London to Brighton Road. At the Croydon / Streatham parish boundary at Norbury, a large toll gate was erected across the London Road, near to the Hermitage Bridge. This barred the use of the highway to those who refused to pay the toll.

The toll gate also served as a barrier for deterring undesirables from entering Croydon parish. It was at the Norbury Gate in June 1802 that two men, six women and seven children tried to enter the parish and, having no money, they were arrested and charged with vagrancy.

In the days before the introduction of the welfare state, being homeless and without any visible means of support met with harsh treatment from parish officials, particularly if the vagrants resorted to begging.

The authorities went to considerable lengths to move such vagrants on so they would not become a burden on parish funds. In this instance, the two men concerned were ordered to be "stripped to the waist and whipped publicly on the Saturday following, between one and two O'clock, from the Town Hall to the Mint Walk in the High Street, until their backs be bloody".

For performing this task, the Croydon beadle was paid the princely sum of 12 shillings (60 new pence in today's money).

Next to the gate stood the Norbury Toll House in which Robert Pitcher, the Toll keeper, lived in 1841. He was assisted in his duties by James Magrath, a young lad who would run from the house to open the gate once the toll had been paid.

By the 1860's John and Harriete Garlick of Clapham were in residence there, and they appear to have been the last toll keepers of the Norbury gate as the system was subsequently abolished. However the gate remained in place, although permanently kept open, until it was eventually dismantled in the 1880's.


Last modified: 14th January 2013 - Copyright Canning and Clyde Residents Association