Story of the Snake Road — Howard Smith — 24th March 2014.

A most inter­est­ing talk on the Snake Road ( not Snake Pass as many of us know it).  Whilst using Snake Road as the prime example, Howard gave us a fas­cin­at­ing insight into travel in the 1700’s and 1800’s with pack­horses, turn­pike roads, coach­ing inns and tolls.

The pop­u­la­tion of Sheffield was 3500 in 1700 rising to 12,000 in 1800. Sheffield plate, steel and cut­lery were in demand all over the coun­try and abroad. Goods and products were ini­tially moved by pack horse which had been kings of the road for over 2000 years. Sheffield goods went out and com­mod­it­ies such as salt were brought in by return.

In the 18th cen­tury, Turnpike Roads were estab­lished with the author­ity to col­lect toll fees which were laid down by law. Trusts were set up to run the turn­pike roads but also with the respons­ib­il­ity to improve them. From1756 onwards, all pack horse roads were improved to take wheeled, horse drawn vehicles. By 1812, there were 12 turn­pike roads from Sheffield. Sadly, some of the trust­ees were cor­rupt and it was left to a Loudon McAdam to root out the cor­rup­tion and set about improv­ing the roads on a proper com­mer­cial basis.  By 1815, Sheffield had a work­force of 18,500 and exports to America were boom­ing. Goods had to be car­ried faster and better routes to Manchester and Liverpool had to be found.

One answer was the Snake Road built 1818–1820 and offi­cially opened in August 1821. There was not a single set­tle­ment en route and it did not cross another road. It climbed to 1667 feet across moor­land and rough graz­ing coun­try.  For gradi­ents of more steep than 1:9, trust­ees had to supply a horse to help the others ( called a cock horse) and by law the road had to have a mile­stone or stoop every mile.

The build­ing of the Snake Road was funded by the Dukes of Norfolk and Devonshire. The Snake Inn coach­ing inn was ori­gin­ally known as the Lady Clough House and was built in 1821.  The inn stabled up to18 horses and was a wel­come stop over for pas­sen­gers and coach­men. The other coach­ing inn of note was the Royal Oak coming out of Glossop. Toll houses were situ­ated  at the Snake Inn and very near the Royal Oak. Normal wagons trav­elled an aver­age of 2mph and pas­sen­ger flying wagons achieved 3mph and trav­elled 40miles a day with reg­u­lar changes of horses. In 1825, Royal Mail coaches were intro­duced which had pri­or­ity on the roads and achieved 12mph. The guards were armed with blun­der­buss, pis­tols and cut­lasses. The post horn was a famil­iar sound.

However, Snake Road was a fail­ure as a com­mer­cial ven­ture as there was not suf­fi­cient traffic.  There was increas­ing com­pet­i­tion from the Hope Valley and Woodhead roads. Snake Road was a misery in winter weather and often closed. The final straw was the open­ing of the Woodhead Railway in 1845 when jour­neys to Manchester by rail took 2 hours 10 minutes and over 5 hours by coach.

Today, we still have Snake Pass a glor­i­ous drive by car on a fine summer’s day!