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!