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23 August 2018: MotorwaysA sleek red car

Unfortunately today’s speakers failed to turn up, so our Programme Officer stepped in at very short notice. He was involved with highways all his working life and opted to speak about the early history of the UK motorways.

The motorways were originally modelled on the German autobahns and were designed for a speed of 100 mph. (At that time there were no speed restrictions on the general roads.) The first motorway, opened in 1958, was the Preston By-Pass. He was living with his parents nearby at the time and recalled his father driving at speed along the By-Pass, which was only six miles long.

The M1 was opened the following year, initially going from London to Rugby. This was a convenient route for the family to take to visit his brother, who was studying at Cambridge University. His father had a Jaguar, which he drove on the M1 at over 100 mph. There was very little other traffic at the time.

Our Programme Officer was too young to drive but he did ride in a friend’s car at 4 am at very high speed along the hard shoulder of the first sections of the M6. Later, as the proud driver of a TR4A, he was driving along a motorway at over 100 mph himself early one morning when he was overtaken by someone in an AC Cobra, whom he estimated was driving at around 150 mph.

In his more mature years he was himself in charge of the section of the M4 between Heathrow and Swindon. He discovered that things which came off or were dropped from vehicles on the motorway tended to end up either on the hard shoulder or the central reservation. The vehicles sent out to inspect the motorway, which were driven slowly along the hard shoulder, were continually getting punctures.

He also realised how easy it is to get killed on a motorway. One motorist, whose car broke down near Newbury, where the motorway passed through a cutting, parked his car on the hard shoulder and walked up the steep embankment to make sure he would be safe until help arrived. He was killed when another car skidded out of control, mounted the embankment and killed him.