A History of British Roads.

     British roads are a constant source of complaints for the motorist and of Taxation and politicking for the Government; and it has almost always been the same!

     As the roads, and the motor transport upon them, evolved and improved the impact upon the landscape, communities and people was not only inevitable but much farther reaching than anyone could foresee. New Industries were created and old ones had to adapt to survive, some didn't. Social policies were affected and as class barriers were brought down new ways to live abounded. In less than 100 years the pace of change made cities, towns, villages and even the countryside itself an unrecognisable place for anyone from 1900 should he ever have the opportunity to time travel to 2000! The motor car has surely had a huge effect on they way we live and revolutionised transportation, though it might have more battles ahead as the need for ecologically  sound power sources and recycling efficiency make their mark upon our cars. Who knows what the future will bring us?

     In our collection of brief articles we show how this history has been written, and in some cases is now being re-written, illustrated by models and dioramas we ourselves have made. 

    This section is under construction and we are sorry for any disappointment. Please come back often to see how we are progressing as a new section will be added each month. 

Part 1

The first roads.

   Bronze age, Iron age and the earliest British roads. Archaeologists are re-writing the history of pre-Roman Britain, and it turns out the roads were considerably better than we ever believed before.

Part 2

Rome's gift to Britain.

   Well that's how we used to think of the Roman roads of Britain. Now it seems that Rome's military roads might not have been as useful to the ordinary Britons as was believed. BUT they were still extremely well made and hard wearing, something later Britons forgot about!

Part 3

 The Middle ages and Pilgrimages. 

   After the invention of the Iron age, and the engineering prowess of the Romans, roads in Britain went   'down hill' fast! Travel became very rare and the roads stagnated, in some cases literally! Hundreds of years went by with the roads of Britain being dirt tracks. Impassable in the winter and extremely uncomfortable in the baking heat of the summer. 

Part 4

The Highland roads.

   The highlands of Scotland saw a case of history repeating itself. Roads built by soldiers for the control of the populace. Their legacy remains in the bridges and towns of  the Country not just in Scotland's history. However, they also went a long way to reminding Britons good quality roads are vital for transportation.

Part 5

Highways administration.

   The administration of highways in the UK has been, and in some instances still is, so chaotic, so inept and ludicrous that it was once said 'the pen of a Gibbon wielded with the energy of a Scot could not better it'!

Part 6 

Road ploughs and roads made wavy.

   Road engineering in the modern sense did not exist in the 18th Century. Routes were not surveyed and roads "just growed".

 Part 7

The Turnpike Trusts 1700-1800.

   The turnpike system had many shortcomings, but most were caused by incompetence rather than dishonesty on the part of the trustees.

Part 8

Roads, Riots and Rebecca. 1835-50.

   The General Highways Act of 1835 marked a great step forward. the ancient obligation to give material, perform statute labour, or team duty, was abolished and all the restrictive regulations regarding wheel widths in relation to load weight, number of horses were repealed. 

Part 9

Converting Turnpikes to trunk roads.

   Instead maximum mobility of people and commodities our great-grandfathers aimed at preserving their roads with the minimum of effort and cost. They thought they could make traffic suit the roads by converting every wheeled vehicle into a road roller.....

Part 10

Road construction from 1700-1880.

   Modern tarred roads were the result of the work of two Scottish engineers, Thomas Telford and John Loudon McAdam. 

Part 11

Stage and Mail coaches.

   What a wonderful way to travel - there was no road congestion. Paying the full fare entitled you to travel in comfort 'inside' the coach, or for half fare, you could ride on top. From you seat high up you feel the breeze on your face and have a wonderful view of the countryside, breathing in the wonderful smells of the country.

Part 12

Horse drawn cabs and buses.

   London in 1890, how vivid it must have been with the buses and trams (still horse drawn) with the brilliant colours, yellow and red, blue and green contrasting with the dull colours of the family carriages and the cabs. 
   But all that glitters.........

 Part  13

Steam on the road, 1830-76.

   Early research on the steam engine before 1700 was closely linked to the quest for self-propelled vehicles; the first practical applications from 1712 were stationary plant working at very low pressure entailing engines of very large dimensions. The size reductions necessary for road transport meant an increase in steam pressure with all the attendant dangers of the inadequate boiler technology of the period.

Part 14

Prelude to the Motor Car.

   Whatever the view of the House of Commons in the 1830s it had changed a generation later. The Parliamentary Acts of 1861 and 1865 seriously restricted speeds for self-propelled vehicles in Britain to 4mph in the country and 2mph in towns. To further contain the vehicles they would now also need a person walking in front with a red flag! 

   For anything resembling a motorcar to be developed such restrictions were an impossible hurdle. 

Part 15 

The Motor Car is born.

   For over 4000 years, since the invention of the wheeled chariot by the Sumerians, the maximum speed average for land journeys, over distances greater than a man could ride on horse-back in a day, was about 5mph. 

   A new age was dawning and it was to have huge impacts upon society and the environment.

Part 16

The changing face of industries.

   In 1897 the 'Worshipful Company of Coachbuilders and Harness Makers' declared they saw no reason why anyone should expect a carriage propelled by a motor to differ in looks from the familiar horse drawn model.

   Fortunately not everyone felt the same way and new pioneers came to the fore.

Part 17

The garage industry.

    The motor car first appeared on Britain's roads in 1895 and the 1896 'Locomotives on Highways Act' removed some of the restrictions of previous acts'. But the car still faced a long series of legal and technical difficulties to overcome a nation strongly leaning toward the horse and the railway. 

Part 18 

Building 'Motopolis'.

   The Great Horseless Carriage Company, renamed the British Motor Syndicate boasted it was importing more cars than anyone else, while also manufacturing it's own cars. It unloaded the cost of buying the Coventry Cotton mills (renamed the Motor Mills) onto one of it's subsidiaries........ then it all fell apart!

Part 19

Mass production.

   While both the British and the continental motor industries were flourishing, the first steps towards mass production would be made in the United States.
   Perfectly natural actually as the principles of standardisation and large volume production were already well entrenched there.

part 20


   In America Edward Budd was working in the pressed-steel industry, making pressed steel hubs for railway rolling stock and pressed steel bodies for carriages for the Pullman Company. These were lighter, survived crashes better, were less of a fire risk than any timber bodies and had far superior strength.
   Transferring the technology to the motor car seemed eminently practical.

part 21

Road against Rail.

   "We thought the railway system would last for ever and it is dying now, and the whole movement of the population is being reversed".

   So said the author J.B. Priestley noting the social impact of the Motor car was having on society. Were once people had rushed into the cities to find work and a place to live, the motor car had created an opportunity for people to move to the country to live again, and they were taking their chance 'en masse'.