The Ross Motorway

Published on 27 January 2018

Just posted, a brand new motorway opening booklet to download and enjoy: the commemorative book published to mark the opening of the M50 Ross Motorway.

We've been finding and making opening booklets available since 2002, when we first published an electronic version of the book that accompanied the opening ceremony for Britain's first motorway, the M6 Preston Bypass. It's been a few years since we had a new one to add to the list, but today we present The Ross Motorway, a small but packed-out book about the M50. It appears courtesy of Wesley Johnston and the brilliant Northern Ireland Roads Site.

What makes this one particularly special is that it was published in 1960, just two years after the first motorway opened and at a time when motorways were still very unfamiliar to most people. Even the engineers designing and building them were considering them a little experimental at that point. So, as a result, the M50's commemorative booklet is just as interesting for all the general information it offers on motorways and the then-government's road programme as it is for details on the M50 itself.

Rudhall Bridge across the M50 in Herefordshire, shortly before the motorway opened. Click to enlarge
Rudhall Bridge across the M50 in Herefordshire, shortly before the motorway opened. Click to enlarge

Take the time to read the book and you will learn, for example, that the M50 opened without emergency telephones, and that when they were installed shortly afterwards, the Ministry of Transport was keen to remind drivers that they would only connect to a police control room and the operator would not be able to connect calls to anyone other than the emergency services. There is also a lengthy description of the precautions taken against the road being covered with ice or snow, which seemed to be a particular anxiety for the book's author.

There is also a step-by-step guide to planning and building a motorway, the rules for numbering roads and motorways, a map of the new M50 and its place in the wider improvements then happening to the route between the West Midlands and South Wales, and a rather map of the motorway system then being planned and built, on which not all the motorways go where they were eventually built.

Any commemorative opening booklet is an interesting and diverting relic of its era, but this one in particular is worth a look because it offers a perfect view into the optimistic world of 1960 and the modest excitement about Britain's first steps in motorway building.

The Ross Motorway can be downloaded from CBRD's Opening Booklets page.

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Picture credits

  • Pictures and graphics are taken from The Ross Motorway, HMSO, 1960, now out of copyright.

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