Roads and motorways

Improving Britain’s roads

In the 1930s the British Government were looking at ways to lower the number of accidents on Britain’s roads. They looked overseas for solutions.

Overseas research visit to Germany

In September 1938, engineer Richard John Pugh joined a County Surveyor’s visit to Germany to study the autobahns.

The delegation of County Surveyors during their 1938 visit to Germany. Pugh is indicated with a red dot. [ICE Archive Acc 1188]
View of the Dresden to Gorlitz autobahn heading towards the suburbs of Dresden. [ICE Archive Acc 1188]
Bridge crossing the Mulden-valley, near Siebenlehn. Commenced Autumn 1935, finished Autumn 1936. [ICE Archive Acc 1188]

Overseas research visit to North America

Sir Frederick Charles Cook, Chief Engineer to the Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport and ICE Member, visited the USA and Canada to examine their national road network in 193?.

However planning work was put on hold during the war, when the autobahn system showed its value in transporting troops and equipment.

In 1943 the Cabinet endorsed the planning of future road network. Private car ownership was low at the time and it was anticipated the network would be of greatest benefit to the freight industry.  

Comparative costs per mile were estimated for upgrading the existing trunk network compared with the new motorway.  (figures).

This document shows Cook’s recommendations and PPS’s (Permanent Private Secretary?) comment that there should be an overall scheme of a national motorway network but that motorways should be built as and when individually needed.

Cook’s recommendation for a national motorway network. [ICE Archive F. Cook Collection]

ICE’s Road, Bridges and Tunnels Panel produced a map of proposed post-war motorway programme on 9 Feb 1943  (see if we have this).

This map by the Ministry of War Transport shows the existing trunk roads with the motorways proposed by the County Surveyor’s Society:

Ministry of War’s map showing existing roads with proposed motorways [ICE Archive]

Cook retired from his post as Chief Engineer to the Roads Department of the Ministry of Transport in 1942, but remained at the Ministry in an advisory capacity until 1945, when he became a partner in the firm of Howard Humphrey and Sons Consulting Engineers, engaged in schemes of road construction, water-supply, and sewerage.