Just as parking charges are hated by motorists today, toll roads were extremely unpopular with travellers of the past, write Times Group historians PERCY REBOUL and JOHN HEATHFIELD.

It was the Romans, with their incomparable engineering skills, who built the first major road in our area to supplement the trackways and lanes of earlier people.

Part of today's Edgware Road was originally the Roman Watling Street, which linked London with St Albans and beyond. After that, the quality of roadbuilding was downhill all the way.

The expansion of London in Georgian times, particularly that part known today as Baker Street and Regents Park, created a demand for a new route to the north to replace the old one, which was often impassable and dangerous especially in winter.

An Act of Parliament in 1826 created the Marylebone and Finchley Turnpike Trust, which built a new road across the foot of Childs Hill, past Golders Green and on to meet Ballards Lane at Finchley. The part of the road that ran south from Finchley was called Regents Park Road; further south it was called Finchley Road. It was opened to traffic in 1830 and lasted as a turnpike a road with a barrier that was only lifted when a toll was paid until the coming of the railways around 1870.

The idea of a turnpiked road was sound. It was also unpopular. To provide money for the building of the road and its upkeep, toll gates were located on various stretches of the road. For example, there was a tollgate at Golders Green, which was located to catch the main road traffic as well as east-west traffic the Hendon to Hampstead road. Another caught the east-west traffic from East End to Church End, Finchley today's East End Road.

Among other things, the closure of the old road lead to a relocation of the Queen's Head pub, from its original location near St Mary's Parish Church, to its present site where business would be more brisk. A blue plaque commemorates the location of the gate.

Another notable toll road was the Whetstone and Highgate Turnpike, established in 1731. Here, the road ran from the Woodman pub at the foot of Highgate Hill to Gannick Corner, near Potters Bar, with gates near the White Lion at East Finchley (closed in 1863 and removed in 1903); at Whetstone (removed October 1863) and for a brief period at the foot of Barnet Hill.

For users of the road, the toll charges were at least as popular as today's parking charges and everything possible was done to avoid them. For example, Finchley had an ancient charter from the time of King John which granted freedom from tolls to all tenants of the Bishop of London. The parish of Finchley had been part of the bishop's lands until the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539. Finchley residents argued that this charter permitted them freedom from turnpike tolls and engaged in what proved to be an unsuccessful legal dispute between 1835 and 1840. In May 1828, the parish had paid a Mr Matthews £1, 4s to present a petition to the House of Lords and another to the House of Commons, against an increase in tolls at the Whetstone gate. Both failed. Had they succeeded, would we today be exempt from parking charges? No prizes for guessing.