National Archives 2003-05-13

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Back at the Public Record Office (now “National Archives” with the rebranding exercise complete in reading room, on the inside-PRO computer screens, even the “Alight here for the Public Record Office” message on the rail/Tube platform at Kew, but not on the external version of PROCAT or the carving above the front entrance reading “PUBLIC RECORD OFFICE”), following a normal schedule more or less. Today’s mission is to go through the PRO files pertaining to interwar bypasses, to determine how many of them were constructed to near-motorway standard, and which ones may be considered good exemplars for eventual motorway design. The search term “by-pass” (with hyphen) turns up about three screenfuls’ worth of possibilities, albeit most having to do with acquisition of land, and most dating from after acceptance of existing bypass schemes into the trunk roads network created in 1936. So far no searches done on “bypass” (without hyphen). Requested three files to start with, before midnight last night, but so far only one of them has arrived—MT 39/305—still waiting for the others.

MT 39/305

This file deals with the Colnbrook Bypass and various administrative issues connected with it. The road was constructed with 75% to 100% grant funding as part of Maybury’s Trunk Roads programme (before trunk roads were formally designated or taken within MOT ownership), by the Middlesex CC in Middlesex and Bucks with Middlesex CC acting as the agent authority for Bucks CC on the portion within that county under provisions of the 1891 act designating highway authorities (rather than the Road Improvement Act).

• There is correspondence between Maybury and Percy Hudson, MD of Robert Hudson & Sons, a wagon manufacturer in Leeds who wants the Ministry to enforce a “buy British” provision in Clause 42 of the specifications (standard specifications?) used on the Colnbrook contract. Maybury and Hudson have disagreements, without going into specific numbers, as to the prevalence of foreign-made wagons on major road construction programs, but in general the Ministry’s position is that Clause 42 requires contractors only to buy British wagons and does not require that the wagons they already own and are using on projects also be of British manufacture. In addition, Maybury checks with Dryland (Middlesex CS) who says that the contractor, Cronk & Sons, has bought British exclusively for the project, and most of the wagons brought in (not purchased for this contract) have originally been acquired from British firms but do not have any markings indicating their provenance. Hudson tries to put pressure—awkward questions on the Order Paper are mentioned—and Maybury replies by explaining that he has circularised DREs to encourage contractors to buy British, and also held a meeting on origins of road construction plant, with the general conclusion being that although American and Continental makers got a toehold in the British market through their larger road construction programs (allowing them to take scale economies in road construction plant etc), the British plant industry was catching up. • Lots of correspondence between MOT and clerk of Middlesex CC clerk regarding acceptance of the three low bids for the contract. Middlesex wanted to choose the third lowest, feeling that important quantities/figures were missing from the two lower bids. MOT says that it is Middlesex’s decision which bid to accept, but in the end Middlesex (reasons not explained, but a handwritten note sheet analysing bids suggests that Ministry informally advised Middlesex re which bids to accept) goes for Cronk’s bid.

Document explaining scope of the Colnbrook BP:




The proposed route is from the intersection of Hatch Lane on the Bath Road in the Parish of Harmondsworth in the County of Middlesex, about 4 miles West of Hounslow and 2 miles East of Colnbrook in a northwesterly direction crossing the Duke of Northumberland’s River, the River Colne and minor streams for a distance of about 2500 ft at which point a curve 4000’ radius brings the line due west and south west to the County Boundary, viz. the Wyrardisbury River, a distance of 1.036 miles within the County of Middlesex.

Crossing this river a reverse curve of 4000’ radius brings the line northwetwards (having the same bearing as the first length from Hatch Lane in Middlesex) at the Great Western Railway the road clears the points of Boyer’s siding (which is situate north of the road) and is straight for a distance of about 7480’. The Colnebrook River and several minor streams are also crossed within the Parishes of Langley Marish and Iver, in the County of Buckingham, joining the Bath Road at the intersection of Sutton Lane and the proposed North Orbital Road, a distance of 1.728 miles within the County of Buckinham, the total length of the By-Pass being 2.764 miles.

Except for an old partly open wooden barn in the Parish of Harmondsworth, Middlesex, there are no buildings to remove throughout.

The construction includes a roadway 80’ wide between fences with an extra 2’ beyond the same on either side, slopes to embankments and cutting sare of 2 ½ to 1, Approximately 300,000 cubic yards of filling will be required, this material is being obtained from a field close to the job which was purchased by the Contractors (Messrs John Cronk and Sons) and is most suitable for the purpose.

Provision has been made for a suitable unclimbable iron fencing and the necessary gates on each side.

12” x 6” granite kerb form the margin to a 30’ carriageway which is constructed on a well consolidated foundation, afterwards receiving 4” clinker and 8” of 6 to 1 reinforced concrete (the reinforcement being No 9 BRC).

The top surfacing is of granite bituminous asphalt 2” thick.

There is a 6’ footpath and 19’ of grass verge on the south side throughout, the 6’ footpath being constructed of 3” clinker and 3” hogin or gravel which will be twice tar painted and sanded, on the north side there is 25’ of verge throughout.

Approaches giving access to the various occupiers and owners have also been provided and is constructed of 9” hardcore and 4” hard surfacing material.

There are 5 Bridges and 2 Culverts, viz

[in the county of Middlesex]

Bridge over Duke’s River Bridge over Colne Bridge over Wyrardisbury River Culvert No. 2

[in the county of Buckingham]

Bridge over Colne Brook Bridge over Great Western Railway Culvert No. 8

All these bridges are constructed in reinforced concrete and designed by specialists up to the top of the plinth, the superstructure: balusters, piers and parapet walls are to be carried out in Portland stone to the design prepared by the County Engineer (A Dryland, Esq), the width of the rod over Bridges is 70’ clear.

Very good gradients have been obtained throughout except where crossing the Great Western Railway which has a grade of 1 in 30 on each side.

The curves are a radii of 4000’.

Ample provision has been made for surface water drains for the road with adequate gullies which are of the Doulton type with C.I. gratings, together with all necessary cross drains from existing ditches and watercourses.


  • A number of letters have to do with the fruit tree controversy which raged in autumn 1927/winter 1928. Apparently Bucks CC wanted apple trees on its part of the BP, while Middlesex CC wanted beech along its portion. Middlesex CS wanted to know if this was fundable. Before decision as to fundability made by MOT, Bressey writes around to find out which trees are suitable—gets Wilfrid Ashley’s agreement in principle that only nonedible apple trees should be used, to discourage orchard robbers, and writes director of Kew to ask which trees are suitable. Director suggests some attractive crabapples but says that better resource is the National Fruit & Cider Institute at the Agricultural and Horticultural Research Station at U of Bristol. Bressey writes there, and is told not to plant fruit trees unless he is willing to spray them periodically, as roadside fruit trees are susceptible to infection which they can then spread to commercial orchards.


4th January 1928

Dear Sir,

Roadside tree planting

The Minister has asked me to consult you upon a proposal which has been put forward by the Buckinghamshire County Council for the planting of “standard apple trees of mixed sorts” along the new Colnbrook Bypass Road. Colonel Ashley has concurred in the suggestion that any cfonspicuously edible type of apple must be barred and that the only possible type is an extremely unpalatable cider apple or a crab apple. Many of the latter have, one knows, an extremely beautiful blossom and the fruit offers no attraction to boys. Wherever I have seen apple trees planted in France, the trees have usually been of a harsh cider variety. In addition to choosing a type of tree which will offer small attraction to orchard robbers it is also necessary to bear in mind that some apple trees are apt to twist into somewhat gnarled shapes. Blossom being the prime consideration one would naturally like to have a tree of hardy habit which is likely to retain its blossom for as long a period as possible. I may mention that the Colnbrook Bypass runs across low-lying land on the north side of the village of Colnbrook on the Bath Road. For a great part of its length the road forms an elevated causeway across the valley of the Colne.

The Minister will be extremely obliged for any advice you can tender him in relation to this proposal.

Believe me, yours truly,

CH Bressey Chief Engineer

The secretary The National Fruit & Cider Institute Long Ashton, Bristol




Colnbrook Bypass, Bath Road, A4

Length Allocation Grant Middlesex 1.06 miles £100,000 75% Bucks 1.70 miles £150,000 100% TOTAL 2.76 miles £250,000

This BP eliminates a winding and constricted portion of the Bath Road through Longford and Colnbrook and the level crossing thereon. The new road is 80 ft wide clear of banks, with a 30 ft carriageway, one 6 ft footpath, and grass verges of 19 ft and 25 ft 6” x 12” granite kerb has been laid. The foundations consist of 4” of clinker and 8” of reinforced concrete laid in alternate bays. The surfacing (a 2” bituminous carpet) has been laid by Messrs. Wimpey. The contractors for the foundations and bridges are Messrs. John Cronk and Sons (£64,925 for the foundatiosn of the Middlesex section, £108,164 for the Bucks foundations, and £32,046 for the five bridges and two culverts). The bridges which are 70 ft between parapets are all of reinforced concrete, and are over the GWR (design by Messrs Mouchel), River Colne (design by Messrs Considère), Duke of Northumberland’s River (Considère), Wyrardisbury River (BRC Co.), Colne Brooke (Indented Bar Co).

The work is practically completed, and the BP will be opened for next month’s Ascot traffic, although thebridge over the railway will only have temporary parapets.

(The Ministry’s experimental road is alongside this BP.)

CH Bressey

Chief Engineer

Roads Department

May 5th, 1928.

• Middlesex CC had other bypasses under construction by 17/5/1928. These included Longford, Colnbrook, Watford & Barnet, and the Great West Road. • 20/7/1928: DRE to CE—can we reimburse the Middlesex CS for providing reflex lenses to the signboards recently erected on the Colnbrook BP? • 20/8/1928: the Ministry decides: reflex lenses (brand name Mur-Ray) can be added to the signboards, but MOT won’t increase grant to pay for them. • BP opened to traffic at midnight on 17/6/1928. Then, in early September 1928, negative press coverage: traffic finds itself slipping and sometimes even overturning when it has to come to a stop on the railway bridge or its approaches. Letter from Dryland to Wimpey & Co (the pavers) dated 6/9/1928 dealing with this issue.


14th September 1928

Dear Colonel Ashley,

Colnbrook BP and enclosed cutting from Daily Express

Long before this article appeared, I had given instructions to our Divisional Engineer to see the County Surveyor of Middlesex and the Contractor, and get the road surface on the approaches and over the new bridge somewhat roughened, and this had, in fact, been done. The report in the “Express” is very much exaggerated. There were no cars wrecked, and three only had skids, one of them being damaged.

I suppose the Colnbrook BP supports the fastest traffic on any road out of London, and it had been noticed that the approach roads to the bridge (which are on a gradient) had worn smooth. I have now had the whole section, three miles in length, treated and roughened. The work will be finished today, when I hope there will be no further cause for complaint.

The conditions obtaining on this road are somewhat exceptional. The contractor finished the surface some 18 months ago, but it had not been used because the railway bridges on the line of route were not in evidence. The contractors for the bridges were hauling their material over the road surfacing contractor’s work, and for self-preservation he, without any reference to us, put on an additional coat of bitumen. It was this last treatment which gave us trouble. Now, however, I hope that trouble is a thing of the past.

Yours faithfully,

Henry P Maybury

Lt Col the Rt Hon WW Ashley, MP Egton Manor Egton Bridge, Yorks

• Letter from editor of the Express (18/9/1928)—Maybury is just wrong: his reporter says otherwise (but he’s going to the US for two months anyway, to do something near the Minnewaska?). The negative article in the Express appeared on 10/9/1928.



Colnbrook By-Pass

I beg to report on the action taken with regard to the slippery condition of the asphalt surface of the above mentioned road prior to the date on which the article appeared in the issue of the Daily Express, viz. the 10th instant.

I visited the road on the 27th July when the weather was showery following the prolonged spell of heat and I found certain sections of the road to be in a very slippery condition.

At a point a short distance west of the approach to the railway bridge a lorry had skidded, struck the kerb and overturned on the roadside waste. I saw a car skid when descending the railway bridge approach going at a speed of not greater than 15 MPH.

On the same date I wrote to Mr Dryland informing him of what I had witnessed and expressed the opinion that surface dressing was necessary and asked for his views as to what should be done. I also spoke to Mr Dryland on the telephone and he raised the question as to whether the cost of surface dressing should be charged to the cost of the Trunk Road Scheme or to Classification Account. I then looked into the matter of the contract and came to the conclusion that the liability for leaving the surface in a non-slippery condition remained with the Contractors, Messrs. Wimpey and Company.

I rang up Mr Dryland’s office and informed his representative of my views and Mr Dryland wrote to me on the 7th August stating that he had been in communication with Mr Mitchell of Messrs Wimpey & Co, and suggested that it was up to him to remedy the cause of complaint. Meanwhile I had also informed Mr Mitchell of the slippery conditions and he had expressed his concern and promised to look into the matter.

I wrote to Mr Dryland on the 8th August asking him to keep me informed as to what was done to deal with the slippery conditions.

I again visited the road on the 23rd August (prior to going on leave on the 1st September) and I found the contractors were commencing to treat the approaches to the railway bridge by the application of treated granite chippings laid hot and steam rolled. The contractors’ representative (Mr Lewis) informed me that this treatment had been tried out on a road in Devonshire and had proved satisfactory and he proposed to treat the bridge approaches in this manner. I informed him that in my opinion two othe sections of the road were also in need of immediate treatment, namely a length at the eastern end of the new road and a length continuing westwards of the railway bridge approach.

I took Mr Lewis along to inspect the latter section and he agreed with me that there was an excessive amount of bitumen on the surface and I came away from the interview quite satisfied that the Contractors would immediately proceed to treat the sections above referred to.

On making enquiries with a view to arriving at some conclusion as to the reasons for the slippery conditions I ascertained that the Contractors, with the concurrence of Mr Dryland, surface dressed the road with bituminous compounds immediately after laying but this arrangement had been made without rference to me.

The surfacing was carried out in sections as and when the length of carriageway was ready to receive the asphalt carpet, the bulk of the work being executed between October 1927 and February 1928.

The completion of the BP was delayed owing to the protracted negotiations with the Grat Western Railway Company for the construction of a bridge across their line and the Contractors adopted the surface treatment with a view to protecting the carriageway durings its use by vehicles hauling clay and other materials in connection with works prior to the road being opened from end to end for general traffic.

Owing to the proximity of fishing streams it was not permissible for tar to be used as a surface dressing and various compounds were applied containing from 40 per cent to 70 per cent of bitumen also a quantity of pure bitumen.

On my inspection I formed the opinion that the above-mentioned sections were particularly slippery owing to an excessive quantity of bituminous compound remaining on the surface due to the low temperature conditions at the time of application.

Since my return from leave I have made further enquiries and ascertained parts of the sections pointed out to the Contractors on the 23rd ultimo were treated by various methods before the 10th instant with a view to forming a conclusion as to the best method for general adoption having regard to the difficulties occasioned by the proximity of fishing streams.

It has not been possible to obtain information in order to locate the strip of 100 yards of road referred to in the newspaper article but I conclude that, owing to continuous hot weather a further section became particularly slippery.

From enquiries made at a local garage it was ascertained that three cars were damaged. No information can be obtained as to the number of cars involved in the skids.

The whole surface has now been treated with a bituminous emulsion and grit and no further trouble should be experienced during the winter months.

(sgd) WS Richmond DRE/London 26th September, 1928

MT 39/468

Took pretty damn near two hours to go through this file—this is the first St Albans bypass file. Covering dates 1928-1950, closure date until 2001. Obviously worth photographing at some future point, but no individual documents are worth retyping at this stage. A brief, high-points chronology as follows:

• 1931—bypass is specified in St Albans town plan, as a town planning scheme. • 1931-36—two possible alignments are in play. One calls for leaving the existing road (A5) near the St Albans city boundary and cutting across Gorhamsbury Park, the country seat of the Earl of Verulam, who bitterly opposes this proposal as impinging on his amenities even though the existing road is already visible from the same point and the new bypass would be no less than 1550 yds from his house. Matters deteriorate to the point where the Earl hires solicitors to refuse entry to the CS for surveys (at one point the MOT suggests that the CS should make the scheme anyway, but on legal advice holds back, because if the scheme were made the CC would be forced to admit that it had entered the Earl’s property to investigate the scheme with a view toward making the CPO without actually having had the CPO and the rights to enter that come with it—a classic Catch-22 situation which was only cleared up when a DRE/London [Aldington?] pointed out that the scheme could be made on the basis that the survey data had been gathered before the Earl hardened his opposition). The alternative involves running close to Bluehouse Hill, through the center of an ancient and untouched Roman town of importance (Verulamium), and was bitterly opposed by the Historic Monuments people for this very reason. • 1936-1938—the main roads through St Albans become Trunk Roads, owned by the Minister, with Herts CC acting as the agent authority. As a result, MOT and CS start listening and investigating more closely a compromise alignment proposed by Verulam and his sister Lady Elizabeth Motion: west of Gorhamsbury Park, running for nine miles between Barnet and Flamstead/Markyate and bypassing towns other than St. Albans as well. Despite initial reluctance by MOT and CS, this option is investigated and gradually becomes accepted as the preferred one. Treasury consent as to the expense (about £1.5m by this stage) is sought in about 1939 or so. • During the war—it becomes recognized that it will be necessary to build the St. Albans BP to motorway standard if it is to connect to a proposed LBM. However, proposals for a parallel cycle track continue to be considered. • 1950—file closes. (Continuation?)

This file has a LOT of content which is worth photographing.

MT 39/152

OMG, this file is huge. 3 separate tagged portions and a note on top dated August, 1964: “Owing to its bulkiness, this file has now been split into two sections, the latter section being numbered RA 250 Part 1a.” Covering dates 1920-1934, closed until date 1985. It concerns the Kingston BP, but there is a lot of material about London arterial roads generally, including minutes of a 1920 conference sponsored by the MOT to explain its London arterial road ideas to the boroughs concerned (chaired by Bressey).

Had a chance to go through only the first of four separate tagged and foldered pieces. It opened with the Bressey meeting (where he announced the MOT’s intention to fund new arterial roads on a 50% grant basis) and closed with a meeting chaired by Maybury, with a full, exact, and very interesting transcript, at which Maybury chivvied Surbiton and Kingston to exercise town planning powers to preserve the line of an arterial road in those portions of Surrey which Surrey County Council would have to build. Maybury was lobbying for a 100’-120’ corridor protection but the two councils were reluctant to consider corridor protection to a width greater than 50’ because they didn’t want to pay compensation. Maybury used the phrase “a thousand pities” repeatedly, but arguments didn’t sway the councils, b/c compensation was a present reality while the construction of the road/future alignment of the road was an uncertainty (although in principle at least a tentative alignment should [?] be available for corridor preservation activity, even if this were subsequently amended?).