Northern and Western Motorway

Construction and Use

Back in 1923, there was no Special Roads Act, which is the legislation that made modern motorways possible. Instead, slightly bizarrely to modern thinking, the Company proposed that in order to construct the motorway, it should legally be a form of light railway.

This thinking permeates their documentation. There are lots of references to railway-like terms such as "The Track of the Motorway". They envisaged "fast" and "slow lines", just like on a railway, and also used terms such as "up line" and "down line" in order to describe the different directions available.

As may be expected, the Company made very clear that the motorway would be strictly reserved for what they described as "mechanically propelled traffic", and so pedestrians and horses would not be allowed. They recognised that they would need two lanes in each direction, one which they anticipated would be used for "passenger and light goods traffic travelling at high rates of speed"; and the other for "heavy goods traffic carried on lorries etc, at lower rates of speed". The Company even recognised that they may need more than the 40 feet (12m) of land that they planned to use for the road itself, in order to allow for any future widening.

Much like the later German Autobahns, the Northern and Western Motorway would have been constructed using concrete, and it was suggested that "no gradient should be greater than 1 in 40", and that "no curve will be of less radius than half a mile". There would also be what the Company described as "no level crossings", by which they meant that all roads, railways and canals would be bridged. They even recognised that those bridges would need to be of sufficient width to allow the potential future widening.

The junctions would be designed "with approach roads so designed that not only will there be no interruption of through traffic, but oncoming and off-going vehicles can proceed in absolute safety". As for the junction designs themselves, there were to be two main types. The first would be a very familiar-looking diamond shaped junction, whilst the other design looks quite unusual in modern terms in that the sliproads would be in the centre of the junction, with the carriageways splitting and going either side.

There would be no tollgates or barriers, but a toll house on every junction where motorists would be given a ticket on entry (with presumably the entrance name on it!), and they would then have to produce that ticket on exit and the cost calculated. Much was made of the similarity to buying a ticket for a railway journey.

What were the tolls like?

It was proposed to charge goods vehicles 1/2d per mile, per ton, as the Company calculated that using the motorway would probably save companies 1d per mile per ton. Cars would be charged 1d per mile, which accounting for inflation, is the equivalent of 17p per mile in 2009. Rather coincidentally, the M6 Toll's charges in 2009 work out at roughly 17.5p per mile...

Reaction to the Motorway >>

Northern & Western Motorway


1923 and all that

Justification of the motorway

The Route

Construction and Use

Reaction to the motorway


Maps and Plans