Matthew Goodden of Abergavenny: toll gate entrepreneur, forger of railway tickets

We have published a few previous posts about Roger’s work as a cataloguing volunteer.  In the following post, Roger tells us about another recent discovery in the records of the Thornsett Turnpike Trust:

A document in this collection which made me curious was an invoice from Matthew Goodden of Abergavenny for water and gas supplied to a Thornsett toll house: why might someone living in Abergavenny have a commercial interest in a toll gate situated in New Mills? In turnpike days entrepreneurs made a business out of toll collection. Local turnpike trusts would let out toll collection to the highest bidder: the lessee, having paid a fee, expected that the money they collected in tolls would amount to substantially more than the fee. Matthew Goodden was one such lessee.

From census records and a baptism register it is clear that Matthew Goodden was born in Yeovil, son of a toll collector. As a youth he collected tolls at Smallway gate, Castle Cary, close to the Galhampton gate operated by his father. The subsequent development of Matthew Goodden’s enterprise, not only with toll roads but also with toll bridges, can be traced through historic newspapers.  His name, sometimes under alternative spellings of Godden or Gooden, appears in local newspapers particularly through his appearances before local magistrates: characteristically as accused or accuser in disputes with travellers. One interpretation might be that he was a man who gave offence and took offence easily. An alternative is that disagreements about the toll payable were inevitable given the ambiguities in toll schemes. Disputes might easily arise given different tolls, for example, for a chaise in private use and a cart carrying goods. How should a journey be charged if a cart passed through a gate only to return loaded with goods a few minutes later? No toll was to be charged for someone riding to church: but did that concession apply to someone claiming to be travelling to a distant church when their local parish church was accessible without passing through the toll gate?

As a young man Matthew Goodden appears to have had interests in the south west of England. The parish register entry for his marriage in 1846, the subsequent baptisms of three children and the census of 1851 show that within a few years he lived in toll houses at Heavitree, near Exeter; West Lydford, Somerset; Nubbis Ash near Cam, Gloucestershire and Downside, Shepton Mallett. An announcement of Matthew Goodden’s temporary insolvency in the London Gazette in 1856 lists further toll houses in Gloucestershire where he had worked: Hawbridge at Deerhurst; Mythe and Ashchurch near Tewkesbury. By 1861 he was at Dowdeswell near Cheltenham: his first wife Hannah Mundy was buried there in 1862. Later Ann Williams, a young woman from Dowdeswell, became Matthew Godden’s “wife”.

With his brother Robert, Matthew Goodden acquired interests beyond the south western counties. In 1853 they faced magistrates in Dorset about a dispute at a toll gate at the Passage Bridge, Portland and magistrates in Wiltshire about a dispute payment at the Devizes Green turnpike. In the 1860s Matthew Goodden’s name appears in connection with toll roads in Hornsey and South Newington in London and Shavers End on the road from Dudley to Wolverhampton. Perhaps the brothers over-reached themselves: in 1866 they were formally ejected from a contract in relation to a turnpike road near Huddersfield. It is around this time that Matthew Goodden is described as living at the Old Brewery toll gate in Dudley; here at some point a new partner, Harriet Hill, joined Matthew Goodden‘s household. She had been the wife of a fellow toll collector the Dudley area. By 1874 Matthew Goodden had become lessee of tolls for a road in Abergavenny and the census taken in 1881 shows him and Ann living at the toll house on Brecon Road Abergavenny: later they lived at nearby Gilwern. Toward the end of the nineteenth century the practice of providing for road construction and maintenance through tolls was discontinued. But some bridges remained subject to tolls and Matthew Gooden was able to continue as a toll collector at the Glangwryney (or Llangrwyney) bridge over the River Usk in the parish of Llangenny between Crickhowell and Abergavenny. The Llangenny parish registers are available on line and record that Matthew Goodden died at Glangwryney in 1903. He was succeeded as toll collector by his brother Robert, who not only moved into the toll cottage but also married Harriet Hill just ten weeks after Matthew Goodden’s death.

Clearly Matthew Goodden’s interests in turnpikes at various locations across England and Wales involved him in substantial travel. It is ironic that a man who made his living from road users made much use of the railways. While travelling on their trains he was not above taking the railway companies for a ride. At Gloucester Assizes in 1859 he appeared with his brothers having boasted about travelling by train without a ticket. In 1868 he was convicted of a similar offence by magistrates at Dudley. Then on a Friday evening in December 1870 at Derby Midland station Matthew Godden’s ticket for a journey from Rotherham to Smethwick was inspected by a railway employee Levi Till. He was immediately suspicious: Smethwick was not a Midland Railway Company station and that company did not issue such a ticket. The subsequent events were widely reported in local newspapers across the country. Matthew Goodden was taken into police custody: a number of tickets were found in his pockets as well as letters, numbers, a printing frame and ink. He was also holding about £190 in cash, said to be toll receipts. In his bedroom at the Old Brewery toll house were found about one thousand forged railway tickets, with names of a variety of stations, together with rolls of paper, printing materials and ink. Some genuine tickets were also found, bearing alterations to dates and destinations. At Derby Assizes the prosecution failed to persuade the court that a charge of forgery was appropriate: Matthew Goodden pleaded guilty to misusing tickets and was imprisoned for two years. The sentence was served in Nottingham prison. He was caught again in July 1890, travelling by train from Abergavenny to Hereford. At Hereford Assizes he was this time convicted of forgery and sentenced to twelve months in prison. He served the sentence in Hereford prison.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.