Before the mid-18th century, the roads in this area of Lancashire were 'miry ways', unmade packhorse tracks and drove roads which criss-crossed the high ground of the region. Narrow, steep and winding, they were totally unsuitable for wheeled traffic. The few market waggons that ran between the local towns had to toil along the appalling valley roads, deeply rutted and floating with mud in winter. Evidence for these early routes can still be seen in the form of 'hollow-ways' descending from the moors into the valleys, deeply scored into the landscape by centuries of packhorse traffic. River crossings were vitally important, from fords and narrow 'clapper' bridges to more substantial arches.
The Highways Act of 1555 established that the repair of roads was the responsibility of the parishes through which they passed. Each parish had to appoint a 'Surveyor of Highways' who had the thankless task of arranging statutory labour and materials for the upkeep of the roads. The maintenance of major bridges remained the responsibility of the whole county, reflecting their importance. However, despite regular indictments at the Quarter Sessions, parishes were neglectful of their duties and the roads remained in a poor state.