Around 1823 Samuel Jackson painted a watercolour entitled Totterdown and Bristol from above the Bath Road. There is a small cluster of buildings on Totterdown, whilst below the wide carriageway dominates the picture as it follows the curve of the river in an extravagant sweep.
In a similar way the history of Totterdown seems dominated by roads. One of its earliest mentions is that in 1642, at the time of the Civil War, a small fort or earthwork known as a sconce was built there 'to command the southern road'.
A hundred years later, in 1748, a new Turnpike Act came into force and gates were erected all around the city, so people using the road had to pay tolls. This so enraged the Somerset country people that they marched in protest against the Totterdown gate and began smashing it down. A force headed by the Sheriffs with officers, constables, several Turnpike commissioners and a party of sailors armed with staves arrived on the scene before the demolition was completed and drove them off, wounding some and taking about 30 prisoner.
The name of the Turnpike Inn, the Victorian Gothic Grade II listed building on the Bath Road, is a reminder of those times.
Almost another century passed and the trustees of the Bristol turnpikes decided to eradicate the steep gradient below Totterdown. The hill had been a constant cause of complaints from coachmen and was also prone to subsidence. The problem was resolved by digging a very deep cutting near the junction of the Bath and Wells Roads. Tolls on foot passengers and cattle were dropped in 1852 and in June 1863 the unpopular tolls were completely abolished.
The Finger Post shown above is known as The Three Lamps and marks the junction of the Bath and Wells roads.