The Ringways are back

Published on 24 December 2017

The story of the most astonishing and destructive thing never to happen to London is back on CBRD, after a six month absence.

"Ringways" is the collective name for a series of road proposals made across London in the 1960s and early 1970s that would, taken together, have provided a comprehensive motorway network of four concentric ring roads and twelve radial routes threaded around and through the capital. The four ring roads were named Ringway 1 to Ringway 4.

In their time they cast a shadow across huge swathes of London, blighted homes and businesses and were at the centre of local politics for almost a decade. Greater London Council elections were, literally, won and lost over motorway plans. Even the roads that were never built leave their mark on the buildings, streets and sometimes whole districts that were laid out or modified to accommodate them. And yet today they are almost entirely forgotten, erased from London's collective memory and - despite the fierce battles fought over them and the debates that raged daily in every London newspaper - a surprise to almost everyone who discovers them.

Most of a South London park vanishes beneath a motorway interchange. Click to enlarge
Most of a South London park vanishes beneath a motorway interchange. Click to enlarge

Since 2005, we have been the home of an ongoing research project that has been carefully unearthing and piecing together everything there is to know about these lost motorway plans and the effect they would have had on London. In 2008 we updated our coverage, but since then a lot of new material has come to light that never made it online, and when the new-look CBRD was launched earlier this year we took the pages offline altogether so they could be rewritten and updated.

The first of them are now back - CBRD's Christmas present to you.

What's new?

A brand new motorway under construction, 1970. But where?

The Ringways pages have moved to a new home - they used to be in Articles, but they're now effectively a whole website in their own right, so you will find a new Ringways option under "Features" in the main website navigation.

  • All the pages have been rewritten and expanded with new information and new illustrations. Many of them are now twice as long as they used to be.
  • Every page now starts with a detailed map of the proposed road, showing junction layouts where they are known and connections to other routes in the plan. The maps are overlaid on modern Ordnance Survey mapping and the lines marking the Ringways are, to scale, approximately the width of the motorways, so it's easy to see not just where they would have run but also what would have been lost beneath them.
  • Where the information is available, a full cost breakdown is provided for each route at 1970 prices, and a rough equivalent amount at 2014 prices is given to make it easier to understand the phenomenal cost of the road proposals.
  • There's now a full list of picture sources and references for each article.

What's online now?

This first batch of updated pages includes the whole of Ringway 1 - that's the innermost motorway ring road, and probably the most fascinating and destructive element of the whole scheme - including a summary of the whole ring and individual pages for each of its four component parts, plus the Camden Town Bypass and the Balham Loop.

There's also a brand new page called Cost Estimates that shows a detailed breakdown of the cost of (almost) every part of the whole programme, drawn up in 1970 for the benefit of the Greater London Development Plan Inquiry panel.

Where's everything else?

It's coming! Right now if you click an internal link to another Ringways page that we haven't yet published, you'll be redirected to an admittedly annoying page that tells you the thing you're looking for isn't there yet. That's because most of the pages still need to be rewritten and updated.

Just like Hackney Wick Interchange, we're not finished yet. Click to enlarge
Just like Hackney Wick Interchange, we're not finished yet. Click to enlarge

Getting this first set of pages updated and back online has taken far longer than I originally planned, largely because of the time it has taken to produce mapping of a suitably high standard and to develop the new format of the pages and some of their more fiddly features. Realistically I expect to be able to publish more pages every few months from now on.

The next to go online will be the background pages, telling the story of the genesis of the Ringways plans, their predecessors, the political fights over them, how they came to be cancelled and what London was left with. We'll then start working through the other pages in sequence, starting with Ringway 2, then Ringway 3, and so on. The last will almost certainly be a handful of new pages that sit alongside the background, painting a picture of London with the Ringways and what it would be like to take a journey on them.

That's enough chatter about the Ringways. You'll find the new pages here. I hope you enjoy them - please leave a comment here and let us know if you do, and if (heaven forbid) you find something wrong, you can always email us.


Michael Bach 24 December 2017

Roadbuilding in London is a political graveyard. The 1973 GLC elections were lost/won following a long campaign from the late 1960s by the London Amenity Transport Association and then Homes before Roads.

So our main legacy from all this is Westway and the West Cross Route from Shepherds Bush to Westway. The former should have been a reminder of the damage to communities - it is still a festering sore.

The Department of Transport's corridor studies from 1985-90 reintroduced the West Cross Route, this time called the Western Environmental Improvement Route (WEIR).

These schemes were only abandoned at the end of March 1990 - only a month before the London Borough local elections - because they were unpopular and the Conservatives feared they would lose a number of Councils - but it did not work - they lost them anyway, such as Hammersmith and Fulham.

Fraser Mitchell 24 December 2017

At the time these roads were being planned, public transport, especially railways, was regarded as 'old hat', and expected to run without subsidy. The trams started being scrapped in the 30s, and their replacement, the trolleybuses, were scrapped very soon after leaving stinking diesel buses the only road service. As time went on, the value of public transport in supressing demand for car journeys became clear and subsidies re-assessed as being a traffic preventative measure. So in latter years the London Underground has been greatly expanded and buses get huge subsidies. However, whilst almost nothing has been done for London roads, except removing capacity, it seems to me that a measured program of improvements is now essential. What this would consist of is open to debate, but the intent should be to have a road network that can handle off-peak travel reasonably well, and be combined with other measures like congestion charging or toll gates to give people an incentive not to use their cars. Gateless tolls are now in place, (Dartford and new Mersey Gateway). The Congestion Charge needs a serious rethink so that it really does attack congestion. This means far fewer exemptions to it and it applying 7 days a week not 5. However, the need for a roads program in London is there and in desperate need of a start to be made..

Aidan Johns 7 January 2018

It seems that London is a city that has grown too big for itself. You can't build new roads, you can't build more public transport (London's tunnel network is approaching the point that fitting more in is almost impossible), you can't expand the city outward because of Greenbelt - it's getting to the point where somewhere else needs to be developed into a city. Perhaps relocate the capital? Build a new financial center, with lower tax rates for companies that move in - then hopefully London can finally breathe and become itself once again.

Toby Speight 8 January 2018

That's some excellent work - and the maps are exceptionally well-crafted! Thanks for updating this section (I think 'overhaul' is the word I'm looking for; 'update' falls far short of the truth).

One thing I could suggest - REL="prev" and REL="next" on the links would make sequential reading slightly easier. But that's a trivial gripe - my overall take is "well done!"

Chris 23 January 2018

Thoroughly enjoyable and knowledgeable.

Great work.

Curious to know why the Eastern Radial section is currently omitted in the work-in-progree Ringways page though, as particularly interested in visually seeing how the A12/M11 route would have likely traveled from Hackney Wick to Angel.

Since the Ringways pages first went online in 2005, I've always grouped the radials into three sets of northern, western and southern. The A13 is the only radial that goes decisively east; all the others fit quite comfortably into those categories. The M11 will appear in the "northern" group.

You've asked this question at an interesting time, though, because the Eastern Avenue Extension from Hackney Wick to Angel would have been a major new road and it was never really covered in any detail on our old Ringways pages. The GLC fairly consistently marked it as a Secondary Road, but as I work on the route maps I keep coming back to the thought that it really deserves a page of its own. It may yet get one.

I see. Have heard vague mentions of the Eastern Avenue Extension from Hackney Wick to Angel either traveling through or around Victoria Park. Though the section to Angel is confusing since it seems one proposal appeared to involve traveling over / parallel with part of the Regent's Canal just past Victoria Park, whereas another alternative way to Angel from Victoria Park suggests a different route via Old Street.

Whether the Eastern Avenue Extension from Hackney Wick to Angel ends up part of the Ringways pages or given a separate page of its own, look forward to reading it down the line.

You've more or less got it. It would have run through Victoria Park, close to the northern edge, partly in cut-and-cover tunnel and partly in the open. A route along the canal was considered but ultimately rejected; the preferred route was to run it below Hackney Road and then a bit north of Old Street to join City Road.

Bob 6 November 2019

Not sure whether the following map stands with regards to the updated Ringways feature, though curious to know the story behind the proposal to link the North-South (Euston-Strand?) and West-East (Victoria-Fenchurch Street?) Arterial roads at the Strand as additional contiguous precursors to the Westway along with the planned Eastway and Camden Town Bypass. -

Also fascinated by the B Ring proposal for a crossing linking Deptford with Millwall / Isle of Dogs, presumably a precursor to the East Cross Route.

Somewhat OT though was wondering if there are any plans to do future articles (including visuals) on unbuilt proposals like the A11(M), M12, M13 as well as pre-war yet post-1900 proposals like Stepney Greeting* and the 1937 Woolwich Crossing on the SABRE Map (it is not clear whether the latter was intended as a bridge or more akin to the Rotherhithe / Blackwall tunnels)?

*- Stepney Greeting - Would have entailed the railway running between Limehouse and Fenchurch Street being buried underground with a 110 feet wide road being built on top.…

That's one of the road network maps from the County of London Plan, published in 1944 and written by Abercrombie and Forshaw. It's described on the Early Plans page of the Ringways section and is a precursor to the Ringways.

The north-south and east-west routes were abandoned in about 1950 as being unaffordable and unfeasible, and for a short time replaced with the Arterial "A" Ring (detailed on the Post War Planning page), which in turn was abandoned in favour of the route that eventually became Ringway 1.

The M12, M13 and other unfinished or unbuilt Ringway-era radial routes will be included in the Ringways section over time.

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Picture credits

  • Artist's impressions of M1 interchange and Belsize Park tunnel are from "New Roads in West and North Central London", GLC, 1965.
  • Plan of motorway interchange is extracted from the "South Cross Route Consulting Engineers' Interim Report", 1965, in GLC/TD/DP/LDS/02/097.
  • Archive photograph used under licence from London Metropolitan Archives, City of London.

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