About Us

The Motorway Archive

The Motorway Archive is often referred to as "the Motorway Achievement" - indeed this title is used for the three printed volumes referred to below. This reflects the fact that it encompasses the engineering achievement involved in the conception, planning, design and construction of over 2,000 miles of motorway built in the UK since 1958. A full list of these motorways is available on the website.

What is the Motorway Archive?

It is a vast collection of information and artefacts relating to the development of the UK's motorway infrastructure and has been brought together by a large team of dedicated professionals led by the former Permanent Secretary to the Department of Transport, the late Sir Peter Baldwin. It is funded wholly by sponsorship from Professional Institutions, and Companies working in the construction industry. A list of these sponsors is included on the website. The Board of the Motorway Archive Trust (a charitable trust), which is made up of mostly retired engineers, planners and administrators who were involved in the development of the motorway network, and managed this massive endeavour under the Chairmanship of the late Sir Peter Baldwin.  The current Board is chaired by Professor John Wootton.

The Motorway Archive is split into three distinct streams. The first of these paints the administrative and Political background to the Motorway system prior to and during its development. The second charts the key determining points in the growth and output of research and development, experience and invention, and its translation into the standards and directions which formed engineering practice in planning designing and building the motorway network.

The third stream deals in detail with the process of building the network. It includes all of the individual schemes which together form the UK motorway network. It is divided into 10 "regions", and the input, which has been made by a substantial number of contributors, has been pulled together and summarised into single Regional documents by the "Regional co-ordinators". These 10 regions are Scotland (Regional co-ordinator: John Howison), Northern Ireland (Jackson McCormick), Wales (the late Owen Gibbs), North West England (Harry Yeadon), North East England ("Joe" Sims), Midlands (John Carrington), Eastern England (Di Evans), South West England (The late Fred Johnson) and South East England (Phil Lee).

All of the information collected by the Regional co-ordinators for each Motorway scheme is stored as a "mini-archive". Each of these mini-archives contains copies of reports, opening brochures and other documents, lists of relevant material held in establishments elsewhere and personal recollections prepared by a number of the personnel who were directly involved in the development of the motorway network.

They are, generally, stored in County and other Records Offices throughout the country, where they are (or will be) referenced for easy location. Since much of the motorway network was completed before Local Government Re-organisation in 1974, it is inevitable that the scheme descriptions will often fall within the former (traditional) County boundaries.

The Archive Mission

"The Motorway Archive Trust promotes and seeks means further to promote for the benefit of students and the public generally, academic study and research, professional education, administrative competence and public understanding of economic, environmental and social conditions, by compiling, amending, extending, maintaining, conserving and making publicly available, by documentary, electronic or other means and by display, with due provision for security, a record based upon first-hand insight and continuous research of what has been involved in visualising, planning, designing, financing, constructing, maintaining, repairing, or reconstructing the motorways of the United Kingdom, and regulating their use; and in public consultations insofar as undertaken with wider policy background upon each such process."

The Motorway Achievement

In addition to the collection and storage of the mini-archives, it is proposed to publish much of the accumulated material in four volumes plus separate volumes for each Region. The current state of preparation of the volumes can be found on the Publication update page. Briefly, they will cover:

Volume I: ‘Visualisation and Policy’.

This introductory volume is an assembly of individual essays by authors eminent in particular fields related to motorways. It kicks off with the background history of the motorway concept in the UK, prior to construction commencing, and touches on the personalities involved, such as Sir James Drake, one of the prime movers. It moves through the formation of official government policy and strategy towards a motorway programme, the traffic analysis techniques, forecasting of traffic flows and safety issues. It broadly covers ground survey and geometric design, environmental considerations, and includes some examples, such as the construction of Britain’s first motorway, The Preston By-Pass.

This volume amounts to 650 pages and includes about100 illustrations.

Volume II: ‘Frontiers of Knowledge and Practice"

This volume charts, over a wide spectrum of topics, the key determining points in the growth and output of research and development, experience and invention, and the resultant translation into the standards and directions, which formed engineering practice in planning, designing and building the UK motorway network. The contributions are set against a backcloth of issues such as land use and its relationship with transport, effects on relocation of industry, increasing mobility and accessibility, pollution etc. Administrative and construction practices are analysed, as well as topics such as the role of Public Inquiries. A chapter deals with the dramatic effect of the advent of computers on the planning and design processes.

This volume amounts to about 600 pages and includes 98 illustrations.

Volume III: "Building the Network" (Regional Accounts)

This is intended to be a synopsis of all the material assembled by the individual regional teams. In the order of 650 pages, with 250-400 illustrations.

These volumes will, when completed, be made available for sale, and further information will appear on the Publication update page when they are available.

Volume IV: "Motorway Management in the United Kingdom'

This is in a different format to the first three volumes, and examines how motorway building and preservation has been adapted and improved.  It stresses how experience gained from the construction and management of the early motorways has been fed back into the process, ensuring that lessons learned are passed on, to ensure that engineering continues to progress.

The Regional Summaries

In addition to the three volumes described above, some of the full Summaries for each Region have been published by their authors as free-standing documents. These will obviously, in most cases, be far more comprehensive and detailed than those published in Volume III described above. Again, further information will be found on the Publication update page.  Volumes are now available for Northern Ireland, Wales, North East England, North West England, The Midlands (incorporating South West England), Wales and South East and Eastern England.  

This website

Because of the sheer volume of material available, and the need to include much of it, the old website was, of necessity, very simple in concept and implementation. This new website will allow the incorporation of greater sophistication, including audio and video samples and improved navigation.

This website aims only to provide a brief résumé of the various Volume 1 and Volume 2 papers. With regard to Volume 3, it is intended that all of the individual motorway schemes in the UK should, in time, be included on the website, together with an identification of the location of the mini-archive, its reference number, a catalogue of the contents and the contacts required for anybody who wishes to view the full information available for any particular scheme.

The documents written by the 10 Regional co-ordinators varied substantially. In some cases a detailed description of schemes, broken down into several sub-sections was provided, and some of this has been edited prior to incorporation on the website. Others provided only brief details of schemes which nevertheless generally provided sufficient information to whet interest and encourage further research. The third group dealt with schemes only in the most general manner, and it is regretted that in some Regions there is very little information on individual schemes. Where possible, information gleaned from other sources has been substituted. The website therefore concentrates on individual schemes, which are recorded in varying levels of detail, but excludes much of the more general (but often extremely interesting) information about the Region and the background to schemes. This will be found, of course, in the individual Regional Summaries or in Volume III.

The mini-archives are generally related to individual schemes, but most regions will include a separate collection of material which is of a general nature. This will incorporate many miscellaneous documents including such matters as broad Policy issues, general design standards and advice etc etc. The archive reference for these collections is attached to one (generally the first) of the introductory papers for each region, which is appropriately annotated.

Because of space limitations, the archive website covers, essentially, only the motorway network and sections of a very few high-standard non-motorway routes such as the A1, A14 and A55. The contribution of other high-standard non-motorway routes is not ignored but these will generally appear only in a brief summary form, or as an addendum to a motorway where they form a logical continuation or connection. Where they have been dealt with in greater detail by the authors of the Executive Summaries, they could be included in the published volumes.

In a website of this size, there will inevitably be errors and gaps in some of the information available at the time of the website development. The gaps will invariably show as a question mark against the item concerned. If anybody accessing the website has this missing information or notices an error which should be corrected, it would be appreciated if they could pass it on to the motorway.archive@ciht.org.uk