London needed new roads and East London seemed to need them even more. Surely a use could be found for a road-sized strip of land through the outer suburbs?
It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a part of East London in possession of an empty corridor, must be in want of a road.
Imagine yourself as a highway planner in 1960s London. Academics and politicians are clamouring for a solution to what everyone agrees is an impending crisis: unless the rising tide of traffic can be somehow tamed, London might be forever gridlocked, and yet building new roads in such a venerable and dense city is enormously difficult.
Now imagine looking up from your laborious work, calculating the least destructive ways to push roads through homes and parks, and noticing a road-shaped gap through East London. It is, surely, a sign from the heavens. Imagine how strong your urge would be to have it easy, just this once, and drop a nice new road into it.
First identified in the 1930s, the handy open space alongside the Beam River between Dagenham and Romford eventually came to be called the Dagenham Corridor, with proposals popping up time and again for a road of some kind to be inserted through the sprawling suburbia.
In the end it turned out that temptation can be resisted after all. It never spawned a road, or even a formal project - just an awful lot of ideas trying to fill an empty corridor. It turned out to be better used for something else entirely.
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This description begins at the northern end of the route and travels south.
Hainault - Dagenham
The road would enter Greater London at Hainault Forest, following the A1112 Romford Road. There’s no indication that it would extend north into Essex, but if it had, an obvious destination would be M11 junction 5, a short distance away across open countryside.
Travelling south east, the existing dual carriageway would arrive at an interchange with the M12, designed initially as a large roundabout above the motorway, but laid out to allow space for the Dagenham Corridor to have a flyover on a third level. The route would continue to follow the A1112 Whalebone Lane to Marks Gate, where it would branch off, meeting the A12 Eastern Avenue a little way east of the Moby Dick crossroads.
Crossing a golf course, the road would meet the A118 London Road at Westland’s Playing Fields before crossing the Great Eastern Main Line railway. The road would pick its way between existing development, meeting the A124 Wood Lane near the boating lake, before turning through what is now Dagenham Central Park, then crossing Eastbrookend Country Park and The Chase Nature Reserve.
Here the route finds the Beam River, and turns to follow it, crossing the A1112 Rainham Road South near Bretons Lake, and reaching what was then the A13 between Oval Road and Lower Mardyke Avenue.
Mind the gaps
Like so many London road plans, the Dagenham Corridor has its origins in Bressey’s 1937 Highway Development Survey, which suggested “Route 44” as a new route up the Beam River and past Romford, which then meandered through rural Essex to finish on the North Orbital Road somewhere near North Weald Bassett.
Abercrombie saw greater potential, and used the corridor as the line of his “D” Ring Road in the east - in which guise it was part of a full circular ring road, one of the most important in his plan. Elsewhere, for example, the “D” Ring evolved into parts of the M25.
The settled plan for the Ringways revised Abercrombie’s orbitals, and while most of the “D” Ring became Ringway 3, this section in the east did not - instead Ringway 3 was further east, passing beyond Romford and over the Thames at Dartford. That left the Dagenham Corridor as an inviting place to put a road, but no road was planned there any more. Surely it could be used for something?
The temptation was all the stronger because this was East London, a major focus for the Greater London Council’s roadbuilding agenda. The decline of heavy industry, coupled with the expected move of the docks and persistent, historic deprivation, meant that East London was seen as a major target for new infrastructure that would bring economic recovery and lift whole neighbourhoods out of grinding poverty.
For this reason, the order in which the GLC expected to build its motorway network was heavily and deliberately skewed towards providing roads in the east as soon as possible. It’s no coincidence that, even after the Ringways were cancelled, East London still got the East Cross Route, the A406 Woodford-Barking Relief Road, the vastly upgraded A13, and many more - new road infrastructure at a scale beyond anything seen in the rest of Greater London.
It was also apparent that the distance between Ringway 2 and Ringway 3 in this part of London was much greater than elsewhere. A road in the Dagenham Corridor, perhaps extending a little way into Essex to reach the M11 as well, would form an additional orbital road in between them - Ringway 2½ , if you like. One sketch plan even shows it continuing south across the river to Thamesmead.
In that context, how could the Dagenham Corridor not be put to good use? It would almost be irresponsible not to build it.
The end of the corridor
The Dagenham Corridor wasn’t the only space in these parts awaiting a new road. Just to the east there were hopes for the Hornchurch Link, another new Secondary Road that would provide a better route to Hornchurch by travelling down Hacton Lane (which clearly has extra space to accommodate it) and through Hornchurch Country Park to reach Dovers Corner roundabout on the A13.
The trouble was that these new roads would just serve existing suburbs. No new houses or industry would spring up around them; they would just be ordinary surface roads through spacious, low-rise housing estates. Providing better infrastructure in districts that already had quite a lot of road space was difficult to justify when the competing demands of the rest of London were considered.
Worse, the Dagenham Corridor in particular could only exist by barging its way through the most significant open ground for miles around. When local authorities were asked for their views, they didn’t think the road was a priority and they didn’t really want this useful breathing space filled with traffic.
If you go looking for the Dagenham Corridor in official documents, you might turn up one or two sketchy plans from the 1960s that show a rough line for a road. But you won’t find detailed plans anywhere, because none were drawn up - at least, not for a road.
In the early 1970s it had become clear that a road would never be built through the Dagenham Corridor. Instead the name was transferred to a new enterprise: the Dagenham Corridor Working Party, a joint effort between the boroughs along the route and the GLC that worked out how to put the space to good use. Detailed plans were produced analysing the parcels of land along the corridor, the public rights of way passing through it, the access points from surrounding suburbs and the links from nearby stations.
The Dagenham Corridor was about to become one of London’s biggest parks.
The scale of this grand project is hidden because it took many years to implement and it's presented to the public as a series of distinct places. But if you want to find the Dagenham Corridor, you only have to look for the trees. Beam Parklands, Bretons Park, Beam Valley Country Park, The Chase Nature Reserve, Dagenham Central Park, and Crowlands Heath Golf Course: they are the Dagenham Corridor, an unusual and welcome legacy for a long-held road plan.
- Dagenham Corridor land use plan is extracted from GLC/TD/PM/CDO/07/014.
- Route map contains OS data © Crown copyright and database rights (2017) used under the terms of the Open Government Licence.
- Photograph of open space at the Chase Local Nature Reserve is taken from an original by Robin Webster and used under this Creative Commons licence.
- Photograph of Romford Road is courtesy Sunil Prasannan.
- 1944 plan of "D" Ring is from Abercrombie, Patrick (1944). Greater London Plan. London: University of London Press.
- Plan showing Dagenham Corridor and Hornchurch Link is extracted from MT 106/453.
- Photograph of Eastbrookend Country Park is taken from an original by Robin Webster and used under this Creative Commons licence.
- Route, Hainault-Dagenham; continuation as Thamesmead Second Crossing; Hornchurch Link: MT 106/453.
- Origin as Route 44: Sir Charles Bressey and Sir Edwin Lutyens (1937). Highway Development Survey: General Report. Available at MT 39/360.
- Inclusion in "D" Ring Road: Abercrombie, Patrick (1944). Greater London Plan. London: University of London Press.
- GLC prioritised East London for roadbuilding to promote regeneration: HLG 159/1024, also HLG 159/572.
- Dagenham Corridor Working Party and land use analysis: GLC/TD/PM/CDO/07/014.