Durban’s Tollgate Bridge (Part One)

By 30th January 2020February 5th, 2020Articles

Coming back from a summer holiday you always knew you were home when Tollgate Bridge appeared in your sights. With its iconic curve (that many a teenager has been dared to run over under the cover of night), Tollgate Bridge acts as an impressive ‘Welcome’ sign as people prepare to enter the city. But where does the name come from?

In 1856, the present King Dinuzulu Road (formerly Berea Road) came into being. Originally called the New Pietermaritzburg Road, it offered a shorter and easier route to the capital. But it was a soft sand road, and in the rainy season would become very muddy and difficult to traverse. It was decided that funds were needed to pay for the hardening of the road.

Initially the city council decided that it would sell a portion of the Market Square (now called the Town Gardens) and use the proceeds to pay for the road upgrade, but the Lieutenant Governor put a halt to the sale, saying that the Council had no power to sell Market Square.

The idea of implementing a toll to use the new road was then suggested as an alternative way to raise the funds, but like today’s e-tolls, there were many objections. The Town Corporation voted against the implementation of the tolls, but the Durban County Council countered this, and on the 5th April 1855 brought the proposals into effect.

In 1864, work began on the hardening of Berea Road, with construction finally being completed towards the end of 1866. The total cost of the upgraded road amounted to nearly £32,000, and the Town Council set about trying to recover some of the monies by introducing the controversial Toll Bill. Called the Berea Road Toll Law, it empowered the Council to collect tolls for a period of seven years. The toll was levied at a cost of sixpence (5 cents) for the horse mounted traveller, and half a crown (25 cents) for each ox-drawn wagon.

The Toll Gate was erected in 1866 together with the Toll House, where the Toll Keeper, Mr Henry Bird and his family, lived. Bird was a paraplegic, who had lost the use of his legs when he fell from a scaffolding plank while working as a contractor on the Natal Mercury building. While he wasn’t able bodied, his hearing was excellent, and he would often catch travellers who had muffled their wagon chains with sacks in an effort to sneak through the gate at first light!

In 1872, the Berea Road Toll Law of 1866 was replaced by the Durban Toll Law of 1880. This law authorised the Durban Corporation to erect additional toll gates on Umgeni and Umbilo Roads, with another toll gate later erected at Sydenham Road.

On the 25th March 1901 the Durban Toll Law expired, and tolls within the Borough were abolished. The Toll House was demolished, and Durban was toll free at last!

Images courtesy of citizen.co.za, molegenealogy.blogspot.com and www.fad.co.za

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