Some of the most interesting historic buildings of the waterways are toll offices. Built by canal companies, they were small but often characterful and until changes following Nationalisation in 1948 they were still in everyday use.
Toll offices were typically sited at basins or junctions. Before starting their journey all boats had to stop to be gauged by the toll clerk and have their cargo (coal, manure or lime for example) checked against an index of boats and tonnages kept in the office. Tolls were levied against this index.
Over time the number of surviving toll offices has dwindled; the eye-catching octagonal ‘Ticket Offices’ on the BCN New Main Line, designed by Thomas Telford, have all gone but there is a similar building at Stewponey Wharf. A fine office in the Greek Revival style stands at Stanley Ferry and there is a white-painted domestic-looking office at Stourport, dated 1853. There are other examples, at Great Haywood Junction, Norton Junction, and Brentford.
Elsewhere, toll offices were combined with larger company buildings or residences – the Stop House at Braunston (built in 1796) is a particularly well-known example and there are others at Sandiacre, Burnley, and Little Venice.
The interior of a toll office was simply furnished, usually with just a fireplace or stove, a chair and a desk holding the index ledgers. The toll clerk would have kept his gauging rod here and in the early days he was sometimes supplied with a gun - usually a blunderbuss, to discourage thieves.
As national heritage manager, Nigel’s role is to lead the Canal & River Trust’s team of regional heritage advisers in England and Wales. He has over 25 years’ experience of working in the conservation, archaeology and interpretation of historic buildings and places. He is a member of the editorial board of the Institute of Historic Building Conservation. He has written numerous articles concerning heritage conservation and is the author of several longer published works, including the English Heritage Book of Canals.See more blogs from Nigel Crowe