The turnpike roads came to the area early. An Act of 1758-9, back in the reign of George II, provided for the upgrade of the roads from “the town of Mold to the town of Denbigh, and from thence to Tal y Cafn and Conway, and from the town of Wrexham to the towns of Ruthin and Denbigh“. It was the Wrexham-Ruthin section, passing through Gegin Wen close to the township border and thence across the bleak moorland by Maes Maelor, that was finally to drag the inhabitants of Brymbo firmly into the 18th century.

Having said that, the process was not immediate. One of the biggest issues faced by the local coal proprietors of the late 18th century was that in winter the lanes degenerated into an impassable morass, leading to coal being stockpiled in the fields. There is evidence of this being done by Robert Griffith of Brymbo Hall and his contractor Lewis Thomas in the 1680s; by John Wilkinson around Smelt in the 1790s, and by Richard Kirk at Brynmally in the same period, and there is no reason to suppose that any of the other coalmasters or landowners (such as James Apperley, Mr. Hill, or the Powells of Broughton Hall) did any different. This was a situation that could not continue, and by the 1780s a petition from the turnpike trustees, backed by local industrialists, was placed before Parliament to extend the terms of the Wrexham-Ruthin turnpike Act by making roads from Pulford Bridge to Llay and then to Pont Plasmaen (at the present-day Ffrwd pub), then from Pont Plasmaen towards the Ruthin turnpike at Gegin Wen, with branches serving the collieries and limeworks at Hope and what was then called “Harwood”. There was clearly an eye on the markets of Chester, and this process eventually led to the road running up from Plasmaen past Penycoed, the Smelt, Pentresaeson and Gwernygaseg (where a milestone still survives) and which John Wilkinson was popularly supposed to have had built (this is probably a bit wide of the mark, as Assheton-Smith was still the proprietor of the Brymbo Estate at the time the petition was first submitted).

The best-known of the local toll houses resulting from this further phase of road-building was that at Pentresaeson, where the old township road up from Brymbo Hall met the turnpike’s later extension towards Penycoed and Ffrwd. Another was located in the middle of the road at Ffrith, just where it crossed the Glascoed stream before climbing steeply up to meet the turnpike north of Penycoed. With the failure of the canal project backed by Wilkinson and Kirk, and the railways still some half a century away, the presence of relatively level, well-drained and properly surfaced roads would have made a great difference to the early years of the ironworks and other industries in the area.

However, the toll bars on the parliamentary turnpikes were not the only gates in the township. Several of the roads in Brymbo, rather than being old rights of way, had been made by the coal and ironworks companies over the years, and there were periodic arguments between their legal owners and the locals. William Low briefly made himself extremely unpopular in the area of Vron by closing what is now known as Tanyfron Hill. The inhabitants of the Lodge were even less fortunate, as when the village first began to develop in the mid 19th century they could only access it via a private road through the ironworks owned by the Brymbo Company, or along another from Glanyrafon owned by the Broughton Coal Company, who had placed a toll-bar of their own at the southern end and charged vehicular traffic. On 1st September 1866 the Wrexham Advertiser reported an accident there involving one such vehicle: Charles Darby’s gig, in which were the Brymbo Company cashier Thomas Morgan, and a servant, Charles Roberts. The horse was startled at the toll-bar, broke into a gallop, and the two men ended up being flung over a wall into the River Gwenfro, though luckily it appears without lasting damage.

Despite the wildly unpopular tolls, the turnpikes were not the goldmine they might have appeared to be and the majority of trusts struggled to break even. In 1844, at the start of the Railway Mania, a parliamentary paper on the turnpike trusts noted that at this point the Wrexham-Ruthin-Denbigh trust had an income of £1,205 in tolls (much higher than most other local trusts) but an expenditure of £1,465 9s. 6d., including £183 interest (at 5%) on debt, £714 on labour and £45 salary paid to the surveyor (William Jones), alongside other costs and salaries. Dwindling budgets, competition from the railways and poor quality roadmending materials led to conditions that were, in places, not much better than the old lanes. The subject of the turnpikes, and of tolls generally, was a divisive one locally as the nineteenth century wore on, with a vocal group of people (including, predictably enough, many involved in the coal and other industries that sent their products by road) arguing against them. On the other side of the argument were the parish ratepayers, who tended to strongly resist any efforts to give them further roadmaking responsibilities and thereby increase the rates; again, this argument was felt most acutely at the Lodge, where the Brymbo vestry (mainly farmers who lived outside the village) were inclined to grumble at the prospect of funding a new, public highway. The problem was a matter of some public interest, and indeed one of the principal motives behind the drive of Wrexham to seek incorporation as a Borough, which was eventually achieved in 1857, was to give it the ability to take control of tolls, which were then under the management of Mr. Yorke of Erddig.

The 1870s were eventually to bring about the end of the majority of the turnpike trusts, and the Wrexham-Ruthin concern was no exception. So on the 8th November, 1878, the Llangollen Advertiser was able to announce that “At twelve o’clock on Thursday night, the turnpike gates belonging to this trust, commencing from the gate near the Old Cemetery in Ruthin Road, and all along up to Cerygydruidion, ceased taking toll“. The Ffrith and Pentresaeson gates, we must imagine, were permanently opened at the same time.

The controversial Broughton Coal Company tollgate at Glanyrafon, against which Mr E. Thomas Williams mounted his campaign. (From old postcard series: copyright status not established)

The controversial Broughton Coal Company tollgate at Glanyrafon, against which Mr E. Thomas Williams mounted his campaign. (From old postcard series: copyright status not established)

However, this did not make anything better for the disgruntled inhabitants of the Lodge, who still had to access their village via private roads and were still forced into paying the toll at Glanyrafon for vehicular traffic. In May 1881 Mr. E. Thomas Williams, the former parish waywarden, urged that the vestry looked into the issue of getting the Glanyrafon road transferred to the parish, and the Rev. Williams and the current waywarden Thomas Charles agreed to form a deputation to the Broughton Company. Matters came to a head in January 1883, when the Wrexham Advertiser reported in its usual jocular fashion on what it called an “outbreak of Rebeccaism” in the village. This was spurred by the previously mentioned Mr. Williams, who during December 1882 was asked for payment at the toll-bar several times, despite supposedly being exempt by virtue of having purchased some land in the Lodge. Williams simply forced his way through anyway, and matters quickly escalated after the Broughton Company posted a staff of men at the gate at the start of January, waiting for Williams’ next visit. A vigorous altercation and two broken locks later, Williams, his horse and his shandry were sent off back in the direction of Wrexham – or so the Company’s men thought. Williams, of course, simply turned left at Broughton Forge, went via the “Broughton Water Engine” (encountering another, newly-erected gate on the way, whose lock he broke) and returned home to Lodge, where he stirred up enough anger that on the following Friday evening a large group of the village’s property-owners went down to the gate, sawed it into pieces, and watched Mr Williams triumphantly drive through.