MT 39/465

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MOTORWAYS: Maidstone By-Pass (Motorway)

Date range1934-1954
LocationNational Archives (see all files stored here)
CatalogueSee entry
File baseSeries MT, subseries MT 39

Context

This file deals with proposals to build a bypass of the A20 around Maidstone and adjacent villages as they evolved between 1934 and 1954. Kent County Council began planning this project sometime in the 1920's to relieve intense summer holiday traffic congestion in Maidstone, the A20 being then the principal route between London and the Channel ports. As proposed by Kent CC, the bypass consisted of a dual carriageway bypassing just Maidstone, at a net length disadvantage compared to the existing route, and with ribbon development likely at the eastern terminus. The Ministry of Transport inherited this scheme in 1937 as part of the A20 trunk road and, under the leadership of H.E. Aldington (then Divisional Road Engineer for London), developed it into a proposed dual carriageway roughly the same length as the existing route through Maidstone and also having grade separation at all intermediate crossings except for a few minor road accesses near the eastern terminus. The Maidstone Bypass was therefore tantamount to a motorway.

The Treasury reluctantly granted the Ministry's request for financial approval because Treasury officials felt the design was excessive for traffic requirements The Ministry stored this precedent for future roads having comprehensive grade separation, but World War II began before construction could actually start on the bypass. After the war there was no funding for construction, although Ministry officials kept the design under review and eliminated footpaths and cycle tracks (which had been provided for in accordance with 1930's standards for dual-carriageway trunk roads) while also bringing interchange designs into better alignment with German Autobahn standards. Changes to routing were developed in the early 1950's to embrace a Ditton diversion, and in 1953/4 the Ministry returned the project to Kent CC for development as a full motorway (the future M20). Despite its catalogued title, this file deals only tangentially with motorways.

The importance of this file arises from the role played by the Maidstone Bypass as one of the very first roads for which comprehensive grade separation (on motorway lines) was proposed. Its design, as of 1938, indicates that Britain was planning comprehensively grade-separated roads before World War II and thus did not lag Continental road developments as much as might be suggested by the relatively late opening date (1958) of the first British motorway. Taken together with parallel files on London Division road improvements such as the St. Albans bypass, as well as the 1937 costings for a London-Birmingham motorway, this file supplies the background for F.C. Cook's 1942 memorandum endorsing the construction of motorways as town bypasses though not necessarily as a national system.

A parallel file deals with correspondence concerning a high-level bridge across the River Medway, whose cost was included in that of the Maidstone Bypass and whose design the Ministry farmed out to consulting engineers.

Contents of note

  • Ministry correspondence (both internal and with outside entities such as the Treasury and Kent CC) dealing with design aspects of the Maidstone Bypass
  • Forms submitted by Kent CC and by the Ministry concisely describing various aspects of the scheme for purposes of attracting grant
  • A newspaper article on the Bypass, focusing on the proposed Autobahn-style cloverleaf at the A249 Maidstone-Sittingbourne road
  • Accountings of the comparative cost of the Maidstone Bypass as an all-purpose road and as a motorway (prepared for a 1937 investigation into comparative costs of motorways, later used for Cook's 1942 memorandum)
  • Green-ink letter, berating everyone in the government from Neville Chamberlain downward for sanctioning a "lethal speedway" around Maidstone

Links to other files

MT 39/466 BRIDGES: Bridge over River Medway: Maidstone By-Pass (Motorway)
MT 39/468 ARTERIAL AND TRUNK ROADS: St. Albans By-pass Road

People with camera copies

Jonathan Winkler (copy believed to be complete)