M1 Architecture

It's become something of a cliché to claim that at the end of 1959, Britain was on the eve of a new era. But in transport terms, it was, and one event can be regarded as the turning point. In December 1959, the first section of the M1 opened: more than fifty miles in length, it was the second motorway the country had seen and to this day is the longest continuous length built at once.

The section of M1 between junctions 6 and 19, along with the M10 and M45 spurs, remains surprisingly intact and is recognisably the same road that was opened by Ernest Marples nearly fifty years ago. The main reason is that this section of motorway has its own unique style of architecture, an unmistakeably fifties design. The pioneering road was given a visual treatment by a pioneer in concrete architecture, Sir Owen Williams.

Today most of his sculpted flyovers are under threat: the overdue improvements to this road, which will widen it for the first time since it was opened, will end up destroying most of its unique architecture out of necessity. This page exists to try to document some of the things that make the road unique.



Service areas

M4Simon worked on the widening between junctions 9 and 10, and adds the following information:

"At M1 junction 9, the Owen Williams bridge was widened by stitching on a large reinforced concrete deck which was similar in shape to the original bridge, but wasn't identical. Therefore, from the east, the bridge looks as it always did, but from the west it looks, well, not great, in my opinion. It should either have been built to look like an entirely new modern structure, or it should have replicated the original profile of the bridge. It looks bodged, in my view."


With thanks to M4Simon and A303Paul for information on this page.

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About this page

Published22 October 2005

Last updated24 February 2017