They've been delayed for over a year, but now they've finally arrived: the story of London's unbuilt motorways to the west.
It's been so long since we last published anything new on this subject that we should probably do a quick recap. For more than 15 years, we've been researching and documenting the secret history of London's unbuilt urban motorways, the Ringways. The short-lived plan was to reshape the whole city around an unbelievably vast network of roads. Our original pages on this subject were taken offline in 2017, on the basis that they were so out of date that it was becoming an embarassment. We're now progressively adding pages describing each route in detail, and today sees the publication of the Western Radials.
This group of four routes would have provided ways in and out of London from the west, and today these are some of the city's hardest-working roads. Because all four routes already existed in the 1960s, the plans here are for improvements and upgrades, though the ways in which each would have been upgraded varies from one to the next, and none of them are quite as conventional as you might expect.
In the north west, we meet the A41(M). Only a tiny fragment of this motorway was ever built, and it was downgraded in the 1980s so you won't find it on a map today, but in the 60s it would have been a brand new radial motorway 15 miles in length and possibly longer. To the west, we meet the A40, a flagship new road from the 1920s where engineers struggled to find a way to handle the enormous demand for travel. Open before the Ringways were even announced, the M4 is a road you'll already know, but inwards from Chiswick to Kensington the A4 was a problem that couldn't be solved. And to the south west, the M3 and A316 are the main road that nobody wanted, subject to protests and complaints in the 1930s and pushed onto the back burner for fear of upsetting the locals.
All this was online before, of course, once upon a time - but our old material on the Western Radials was pretty sparse. Huge amounts of new research have turned up a wealth of new information about these roads, from some very basic facts like the alignment of the A41(M) to some genuinely unexpected treasures. Untold before today, for example, is the history of the many junction designs planned for the Hogarth Roundabout on the A4, where one firm of consulting engineers forgot their brief and left Hogarth behind in their inexplicable quest to build a motorway through the West End where traffic drove on the right.
Included in this batch is also a major update to our existing page on the Ringway 2 North Circular Road. Since it went online, contemporary junction layouts for most of the interchanges along its length have been discovered, showing for the first time how the road would have looked if it had been upgraded to form part of London's second motorway ring road. The new plans include some real surprises, including three diversions of the North Circular onto new bypasses that appear never to have been seen or published online before.
And, of course, the rewritten pages include all the other features common to our Ringways pages:
- Brand new information, previously unseen illustrations, and entirely new text.
- Detailed maps of each road, with detailed junction layouts, overlaid on modern Ordnance Survey mapping.
- Costings and rough equivalent amounts at 2014 prices.
- Full lists of references and picture sources.
In early 2022 we'll be finishing our journey around the radial routes, looking at new roads to the south coast with the Southern Radials. Five more roads will be explored in detail, starting with the A3 and its mysterious London terminus; the M23, probably London's most fascinating unbuilt radial road, which might have gone further into the city than anyone previously suspected; Parkway E, an entirely new motorway of which no trace exists on the ground; and the A20(M) and A2(M), a pair of motorways heading south east to Kent.
The whole Ringways research project has been delayed by the pandemic, since access to archives and libraries has been seriously restricted over the last 18 months. We were actually supposed to be finished by now, with all the pages online, with the Western Radials originally pencilled in for publication in summer 2020. But we're now in a situation where those delays are behind us, so we're hopeful that the rest of the pages are going to follow by the end of 2022.
Not to worry - the longest wait is done. Go take a look at the Western Radials, a lesson in just how hard it can be to fix an existing road... especially if your existing road runs through built-up West London.