The Toll Gate Keeper

by Judith Lloyd

My great-grandfather, William Warrener Eyre, was born on 3 June 1857 at Quinton Gate, where his father - after whom he was named - was the toll-gate keeper. William and Eliza Eyre (nee Bembridge) had moved to the village from Nottingham, where they had married in 1842; and as far as I know there were no surviving children of the marriage until the arrival of young William. - a late baby, since his mother was aged about 44 at the time of his birth.

I have no idea what brought the Eyres to Quinton, but this was an age when the whole population of the country was on the move in the wake of the industrial revolution. It's interesting to note that the previous toll-gate keeper, John Berry, was shown on the 1851 census as born at Sutton-in -Ashfield, just north of Nottingham - though that is probably too small a hook on which to hang anything other than coincidence. Of rather more significance is the fact that the same census recorded the toll collector at Trindle Gate in nearby Dudley as John Cox, whose birthplace was the parish of St Mary, Nottingham - the same parish in which William Eyre senior had also been born.

Young William's mother was originally from Darley, in Nottingham's neighbouring county of Derbyshire. And living at Ridgacre in the mid 1 800s was a farmer named James Wragg, likewise a native of Derbyshire. Interestingly, a branch of the Wragg family also came from Darley. Conjecture, however, is no guarantee of acquaintance or relationship; and in any case Farmer Wragg was a native of Alton (although Alton is only a few miles from Darley). The other native of Derbyshire living at Ridgacre was Mary Arm Dixon, daughter-in-law of the licensee of the Beech Tree Inn, and she had been born at Mugginton.

Sometime during the three years or so following my great-grandfather's birth, the family left the pretty little toll-house at Quinton Gate, and by the time of the 1861 census they were at the Turnpike House in Brettel Lane, Kingswinford. The census recorded them there as William Eyre, aged 46, his wife Eliza, aged 47, and son William aged three. Alas, Eliza was to die not many years after; and in 1867 the boy acquired a stepmother - a relation of his mother's named Harriett Bembridge, whom his father married at Lichfield, where Harriett had been employed as a domestic servant since at least 1851.

Their marriage certificate gives the bridegroom's occupation as clerk of works, though whether this was in the employment of the Turnpike Commissioners isn't known. In any event, William Eyre took up a new post as toll-gate keeper when the family moved to the toll-house 'm Birchfield Road, Perry Barr.

Unfortunately drink was to be his downfall. By the time the toll-gates were finally removed in 1879, he was seriously ill, and he died the following summer of 'disease of the liver, cirrhosis two years'. His son, young William, became a carpenter though Hulley's Directory of 1882 shows him still living at the tollhouse. By this time he had married a girl from Hall Green, Yardley, and had twins, William and Alice (born 1880), followed by Herbert (1882), my grandmother, Annie Eliza (1888) and Arthur (1893), all born at Aston Manor.

QLHS - Judith Lloyd

Eds Comment What a fascinating article and please look for the article later about the window from the tollhouse donated to the society.

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