LSE Library Archives 2002-11-19

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Arrived, per usual schedule, around noon, and filed a papers request around 12.15. Train left Oxford within five minutes of the scheduled time (10.19 as opposed to a scheduled time of 10.15), and so was technically punctual, but was running 11 minutes behind by Reading and so did not arrive in Paddington until about 11.30-11.35. Computer did not crash this time, but battery is showing effects of repeated half-cycle discharges and probably needs to be discharged all the way before the "memory effect" gets locked in.

Beginning to think I have reached the limit of the usefulness of the Rees Jeffreys papers. Correspondence and diaries are useful in shedding light on RJ's perspectives (and are reassuring in that they show he combined an interest in roads with pronounced "culture vulture" traits), but do not have all that much direct, tangible information to offer in terms of developing motorway design standards. Also, it is apparent that, from about 1920 onward, RJ had no official government position connected with road provision and so was on the periphery of new road developments, and forced to put his contact networks to use to get info on roads--and he does not seem to have gone beyond what would now be regarded as an "upper layer" of information provision, ie brochures with broad-rather-than-deep accounts of road design and construction, rather than (1) environmental documentation (major, commendable exceptions include reports into Severn bridge and inner London motorway rings) and (2) technical advice (roadway design standards plus technical advisories, such as Todt's series of 'Merkblätter'). The files examined thus far also reflect a hierarchy of interest, in which the strategic element of road provision is paramount, road finance is secondary, and design is tertiary, and this perhaps reflects RJ's belief that in order to build an extensive system of new roads it was necessary (1) to agree that they were needed or useful (ie that it was in the national interest to have a small core of trunk roads to handle the majority of traffic), (2) to find the money (defined not as a given amount, but as an annual cashflow subject to appropriation/obligation decisions in accordance with design standards which NEVER go beyond the purely conceptual), and (3) to embark on detailed design and construction.

So what should I be doing with the next few sessions with the RJ papers? There are a number of files, under series 14, dealing with the 1919-20 committee on road taxation (convened by order of Sir Eric Geddes?), of which RJ was a member. This should shed some additional light on the distinction between UK-only and imperial taxation of motor vehicle fuels, the related performance characteristics of cars and the ease with which cars could be changed from one fuel type to another (or adapted for various types of road uses) in response to policy aims or supply constraints, and the ultimate rationales for switching to unit rather than use taxation. There are also files on the Royal commission for Transport which should be investigated. Finally, Rees Jeffreys' Road Board papers should be canvassed for information on the TYPES of new-location roads contemplated but not built.

Curiously, the RJ papers have relatively little information on the original, 1906 proposal for a London-Brighton motor road. That thing has to be cleared up through another avenue of inquiry, based on the InstCE motorways book in which the proposal was mentioned and a bill of quantities was given. And are Montagu's papers on deposit somewhere? Ask at Bodleian personal papers dept, and do a search through the HMC database.

Operating on battery power right now--should be certain to examine the computer occasionally to be sure the battery isn't dying.


The sole content of this file is a large number of reprints of RJ's article in 'Motor' magazine, July 13, 1937, which is largely based on his 1936-37 trip to the West Indies, southeastern US, and Mexico. There is just one illustration, of a causeway road somewhere along the Mexican Gulf. Article transcript in full:

The Pan-American Highway, as originally planned, starts from Ottawa, in Canada, passes through the territories of the U.S.A., Mexico, Guatemala, Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, in Central America, and is to be continued through Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Chile. Its approximate length is 16,000 miles and it is possible now to travel from Ottawa to Mexico City, about 3,600 miles, over perfectly constructed roads.

South of Mexico City to the Guatemala frontier there remains nearly 1,000 miles to be constructed, of which only about 150 miles have been executed. Mexico hopes to finish the section through its country within the next three years.

I have just inspected the greater part of this International Highway on its passages through Texas and Mexico to Mexico City, and on a previous visit to North America I travelled the greater part of the roadway from Texas to Canada.

In Texas there is great road building activity. Special attention is being devoted to amenities, especially the construction of roadside parks adjoining the highway.

I met one of these two-acre to five-acre roadside parks on an average on every 20 miles of highway in Texas. It is interesting also that Texas employs a landscape architect. So far all our efforts in this country to induce the County Councils to engage landscape architects to secure the amenities of our roadside wastes and advise property owners and speculative builders have been fruitless.

In Mexico I travelled altogether about 1,500 miles, of which 900 were on the International Highway. Its construction has involved great feats of engineering; twice on the journey to Mexico City the road attains a height of over 7,000 ft. and between Mexico and Puebla it reaches 10,000 ft.

As regards the finance of the road, I could obtain no exact information. The construction of good roads to the attractive resorts near Mexico City has brought a stream of American tourists far in excess of the hotel accommodation of Mexico. No doubt under a sound financial system the road can be paid for by the additional revenue it will bring to Mexico from American visitors; but Mexico does not readily evolve or execute sound financial systems.

A contract has been let to modernize the road to Tampico from the point where it joins the International Highway. Tampico is the port and centre of the oil industry.

I travelled the road from Mexico City to Vera Cruz, a little over 300 miles, and found it well graded and engineered, but wanting its final bituminous coat from the point (130 miles from Mexico City) at which it diverts from the International Highway. I was officially informed that these 170 miles will be surfaced next year. This would be the road by which English motorists would approach Mexico. Motor travel in Mexico is cheaper than in Great Britain and in the U.S.A. But English residents and English visitors to Mexico are few--fewer indeed than in the days of Diaz and Pearson.

The progress that is being made and the enthusiasm shown over this International Highway to connect North, South and Central America makes one regret that little progress has been made with the scheme for constructing a modern highway to connect Cairo with Cape Town. As throughout its length it would be constructed in countries which form part of, or are in close association with, the British Commonwealth, it should present fewer difficulties than the American highway. So far the Colonial Office has given the scheme no encouragement and until it is forthcoming effective progress does not seem possible.

In the United States road and bridge construction continues to make phenomenal progress. On my first visit, in 1912, they had no national road system and were 200 years behind Great Britain. They have now passed this country and the highway system--a miracle of post-war achievement--is many years in advance of ours. The design and layout of American roads permit, outside the built-up areas, an average speed of safe travel at least 20 m.p.h. greater than in this country. In amenities and picturesqueness, in which British roads previously excelled, the U.S.A., by the construction of parkways, roadside parks and other devices, have added greatly to the joy of travel. They have still to bring roadside advertisements under control, but progress is being made in that direction.

Bridge 4 1/2 Miles Long

Bridge building is noteworthy. The "Huey Long" railway and road bridge over the Mississippi, 3 1/2 miles above New Orleans, cost £2,600,000. The centre span is 790 ft. long and the length with approaches is 4 1/2 miles. The bridge has a total width of 78 ft., providing for double railroad tracks in the centre; two 18-ft. carriageways, and two pedestrian paths of 2 1/2 ft. Another bridge across the Mississippi at Baton Rouge is being planned.

Everywhere work is proceeding on the separation of grade crossings--American phrase for the removal of railway level crossings.

In order to provide a scenic road along the coast of the Mexican Gulf, many bridges of great length have been constructed across the gulfs and bays, such as the Dupont and Hathaway Bridges, near Panama City. There is one four miles long across Pensacola Bay.

These bridge-building achievements in the U.S.A., of enormous value to commercial road transport, throw into stronger relief the unwillingness of our Parliament to secure the building of new bridges necessary for traffic and development. Compare the attitude here in the matter of the Severn Bridge with the progressive policies of the U.S.A. Federal and State Legislatures.

While the problem of providing safe roads in the rural areas is in process of rapid solution, the U.S.A. has made but little progress in solving the problems of urban traffic. Congestion in the towns, even in towns of moderate size, is increasing. Theproblem of providing adequate parking space for stationary cars is more difficult than in Great Britain because of the larger proportion of the population using cars, and the greater height of the buildings.

The problem of noise is unsolved. All American cities are unpleasantly noisy, particularly the main throughfares in which the hotels are situated. The sounding of motor horns and of bells and whistles of many kinds continues throughout the night.


This file contains nothing road-related. It contains copies and correspondence regarding several articles RJ wrote during the war: (1) discharge of the American debt (RJ wanted early payoff of Britain's WWI debt, on which Britain had defaulted in 1933, in order to enable Britain to borrow money on American markets to finance war activity--preferably by getting rid of some overseas colonies which could then be developed by the Americans, and by selling off national art treasures if nothing else worked), (2) manpower management (RJ wanted a cap on Army size, and a system for making sure good soldiers and essential workers were not wasted or released from service), and (3) efficient bureaucracy.


Strange miscellany in this file.

First item has to do with plans for Charing Cross station: "Charing Cross Bridge. Comments on the advisory committee's report with reference to Scheme 4." Prepared by Sir Murdoch Macdonald, William Muirhead, et al. July 3, 1931.

Second item: authorship not certain, but probably Royal Dutch Shell corporate publications staff (JB Earle will have details and a reference). 'Modern Road Construction'. Illustrated with pictures of bituminous-surfaced roads in various British colonies and commonwealth countries (NEVER GB itself). Touts Mexphalte and Spramex (proprietary asphalt mixtures) at every opportunity, and seems obviously designed as a sales brochure for these products. But interesting comments about asphalt pavement structures. Divides mixtures into "classes": Class I is an open (pervious) uniform- and coarse-graded asphalt. Class IV is an impervious uniform- and fine-graded asphalt. Class II is gap-graded with interlocking coarse aggregates. Class III is gap-graded, noninterlocking. Class III is often described as a "Topeka" mixture (does the name have any connection with Topeka, Kansas?) and this gives the meaning of the reference to "Topeka" in one of the RJ 'Autostrade' files examined first time.

Third item: report on a Mersey Tunnel proposal. (Worth purchasing if can be found at a reasonable price--but would be v. difficult to p'copy, though still P.) 'Mersey cross-river traffic. Bridge or tunnel. Joint report by Sir Maurice Fitzmaurice, Mr. Basil Mott, and Mr. John A. Brodie. July, 1923.' Includes summaries and analyses of the various proposals, plus longitudinal and transverse cross-sections of the proposed tunnel (single-bore, two-way tunnel with four lanes and 17' clearance on main level, room for tramcars on a lower deck, and a massive air vent above the main deck), a map of the tunnel route between Liverpool and Birkenhead, etc.

Fourth item: materials on the Channel Tunnel. These include an article by Sir William Bull MP about the Channel Tunnel proposal, 'The Graphic', January 26, 1929 showing tunnel route through "blue chalk" stratum, two bores with a third smaller bore for drainage, etc.; a Channel Tunnel propaganda handbill issued by the Channel Tunnel parliamentary c'ttee; a printed lecture by the Baron Emile B. d'Erlanger dealing with the CT; clippings from an unnamed newspaper which reprints advocacy articles for CT by one "Callisthenes." Much of this material sent to RJ by Jessie Smout, secretary to the CT parliamentary c'ttee.


This is Rees Jeffrey's miscellany for 1937. One article on the Severn Bridge is of interest: Western Mail, 14/9/1937. Long, written by RJ, transcript here in full.

Safe and beautiful road essential to Wales' Progress

I was much interested to rad the suggestion made by Sir Robert Webber at the Welsh National Eisteddfod for a new national trunk road to connect North and South Wales. It shows that the leaders of public opinion in Wales are aroused to the importance of improved road communication in the Principality.

Such a road has been long wanted. The Welsh people would benefit culturally as well as materially if modern roads were built to the south of England and through Wales itself. There is not sufficient personal contact between the inhabitants of the different parts of Wales.

I have recently returned from a visit to the United States of America, where the inhabitants, especially in the south and wst, at the end of a day's work would not hesitate to motor 200 miles to dine. Between five p.m. and midnight they will travel 400 miles to spend two hours with their friends.

Contrast in Wales

In Wales, who would think of leaving Cardiff after tea to dine with a friend in Llandudno and return the same night, although the distance between these two centres is less than 150 miles?

The motor-car, the product of individual inventiveness and initiative, could do the journey quite comfortably, but the roads, which depend upon collective capacity, are quite unequal to a safe average speed of 60 miles per hour. Yet 20 years ago Wales had a fair road system and the United States had not one at all.

Wales has stood still in the matter of road and bridge construction; but Americans in that period have built the finest and safest road system (outside their towns) in the world.

Officially and unofficially, I have had the road problems of Wales before me for more than 40 years. As a member of the council of the Cyclists' Touring Club, I explored the roads of Wales--South, Central, and North--on a cycle in the last decade of the nineteenth century. I recall literally shedding tears of rage and despair over the condition of the great road from London to Holyhead through Merioneth.

Schemes suggested in 1910

I had read all about Telford's masterpiece with its maximum gradient of one in 30 through the mountains of Wales. I was exasperated beyond measure by the condition of neglect into which the local authorities had permitted it to fall.

When the Departmental Committee on Highways was appointed by the President of the then Local Government Board in 1903 I was the principal witness for the plaintiff--the road users of Great Britain--and I remember pleading for better roads in Wales and drawing attention to the state of Telford's road.

When the Road Board was formed by Mr. Lloyd George in 1910 I put before the BOard various schemes for improving the roads of Wales. Unfortunately, very few of them materialised.

It was a condition of Road Board grants that the local authorities should prepare schemes and provide a considerable portion of the cost. The local authorities were not keen to comply with these conditions. When pressed, the invariable answer was, "Our local resources are limited and we prefer to spend our ratepayers' money in education rather than on roads." Thus, the Welsh county highway rate was, on the average, much lower than in the English counties, but the education rate was higher.

The Severn Bridge Project

Then, as now, the major scheme for the benefit of Wales was the construction of a new bridge across the lower Severn as part of a still bigger scheme for a modern arterial road from London to cardiff and Swansea.

An examination of the road system of Wales will show that its main arteries run from east to west. In this respect the conditions are opposite to those of England, where the main arteries run north and south, and the communications east and west are very inadequate. In Wales there are east and west roads as follows:

1. Chester to Bangor via St. Asaph.

2. Shrewsbury to Bangor via Llangollen.

3. shrewsbury to Machynlleth and Aberystwyth.

4. Worcester to Aberystwyth via Rhayader.

5. Gloucester to Cardigan via Brecon.

6. Newport to St. David's via Cardiff and Neath.

Wales has no proper north and south roads within its borders. Its roads connect with the Great West of England North and South Highway, Chepstow-Monmouth-Hereford-Ludlow-Church Stretton-Shrewsbury-Whitchurch-Chester.

In the west of Wales there is an indifferent north and south road, a mere linking up of local roads: Swansea-Carmarthen-Aberayron-Aberystwyth-Dolgelley-Caernarvon-Bangor. Through the centre of Wales--Cardiff and Brecon to St. Asaph--there is no through direct road.

The Best Route

In the interests of Wales I have personally concentrated on building a bridge across the Severen and getting the proper road communication east and west of it. There can be no dispute as to the need for the bridge and the line of the roads east and west of it.

The information is not available on which to come to a decision as to the best route for the north and south road. If it were still my responsibility to advise the executive authorities, or I were myself the executive official, I would have a survey made of--

Road (1) from near Swansea to Conway, more or less parallel to the coast; and

Road (2) from near Cardiff to pass near Brecon, Builth, Llandrindod Wells, Newtown, Corwen, and Ruthin to St. Asaph.

The road to be built would depend upon the result of the survey, careful estimates of cost of construction and of future maintenance and all the economic factors which have to be taken into consideration when an unbiased authority is considering the route, design, and finance of a new road. These include the economic development it would bring to the country it will serve; the long-distance traffic it would support--in fact, a careful summary of all the debits and credits over a period of 25 years.

A larger local population would benefit by a modern road more or less parallel to the coast serving the many resorts which make the west coast of Wales so attractive. On the other hand, a route through the less populated and mountainous parts of the country might have greater claims as a scenic highway.

U.S. Mountain Parkway

I was much impressed when in the United States of America with the work being done on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the State of North Carolina. The following helpful information regarding the parkway is in a letter I received from one of the officials of the State. It shows how little altitude troubles the American road engineer. I have travelled in Mexico some hundreds of miles over the new International Highway perfectly graded at altitudes of from 5,000 ft. to 9,000 ft.

With regard to the Blue Ridge Parkway, we have about 75 miles under construction of a total length of 275 miles in the State, and we hope that the balance may be completed within the next three or four years. Out of 275 miles there is but little--perhaps 10 miles--below 2,500 ft., and over 30 miles of it is about 5,000 ft., and the highest elevation is slightly above 6,000 ft. It will be located through the most beautiful section of our state.

This construction is being financed by the Federal Government from National Park appropriations, and it is intended to be purely a recreational road on which all commercial traffic willbe prohibited. The entire route through North Carolina and Virginia is approximately 500 miles long, and when completed will be maintained and policed by the National Park Service. The States through which it passes have obligated themselves to turn over to the Government without cost sufficient right of way to insulate the parkway from adjoining property, this totalling about 125 acres per mile, with additional acrege where scenic attractions justify it.

My considered conclusion

With reservations as to the route, I am convinced from my long experience of road conditions in Great Britain, checked and enlarged by knowledge of road developments in other parts of the world, that next to the building of the Severn Bridge with good east and west communications a modern north and south arterial highway through Wales on which motor traffic can travel at high speeds in safety would confer enormous benefits, economic and cultural, upon the people of Wales--benefits far outweighing the cost of a soundly conceived and efficiently executed scheme.

One word of warning. The miraculous development of roads and bridges in the United States of America has been rendered practicable because both the Government and the people are satisfied that good roads are a sound economic investment and the long-distance railway interests have been either benevolently indifferent or actively helpful.

[continuation of previous sequence of notes]

"Victorian Conceptions"

In Great Britain Parliament is not convinced that modern roads are a good investment and the railway interests are actively hostile.

It ws the railway interests, which are very powerful in South Wales--which caused the Severn Bridge Bill to be thrown out by the House of Commons last year. Are the people of Wales satisfied to remain under the dominion of the Victorian conceptions of railway bureaucrats? If Wales is to progress it must modernise its transport.

The first step in such modernisation is the provision of safe and beautiful roads.


American stuff--mostly stuff RJ was sent by his US contacts, who included Gibb Gilchrist (Tex SHE), CH Purcell (Calif SHE), TH MacDonald, Garrett Browning (NC), and others. Some real treasures here, including a series of overpass pictures (many from California) which Purcell sent RJ.

"The Engineer": articles on AK Highway construction.

CHPW April 1939 issue mentions an exhibit--of "highways of tomorrow", featuring grade-separated interchanges--at Treasure Island.

Road Builder News, January 1940: article on PA Turnpike.

Highway Highlights, January 31, 1941: opening of Arroyo Seco Parkway, blurb about California's "Freeway Law."

WG Robertson: "History of the Trans-Canada Highway," presented 24/10/1940 at annual meeting of Canadian GRA at Chateau Frontenac in Québec City.

LOTS of treasures here--must definitely be revisited.

A US 66 Highway Association brochure.