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Nostalgia: Even the A127 has a history

The A127 Southend Arterial road. Picture: Steve Poston The A127 Southend Arterial road. Picture: Steve Poston

Thursday, February 21, 2013
3:15 PM

Even the Southend Arterial Road has a history.And that history explains some of the problems of the A127, Havering’s almost-a-motorway.

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In 1920, Prime Minister Lloyd George announced a programme of new roads around London to create jobs for ex-soldiers from the 1914-18 war.

One of these was Eastern Avenue, from Wanstead to Romford’s Gallows Corner.

In 1921, new plans were announced for a 21-mile extension to Southend.

Work began on the first seven miles of the Southend Arterial Road on December 8, 1921.

The arterial cut across the old Havering roadscape. Wingletye Lane had extended into Redden Court Road. Ardleigh Close had crossed the railway to link with Bryant Avenue.

By early 1924 the road was ready for “final surfacing”, but it was becoming controversial. There were protests against erecting ugly poles and wires for a direct London-Southend phone line.

A West Ham MP criticised the priority that built a holiday highway to “Southend-on-the-Mud” instead of improving road access to Silvertown’s docks.

A £100,000 grant from Southend Council had jumped the queue – a good investment since the road cost £1.25 million.

Officially opened on 25 March 1925 by Prince Henry, later Duke of Gloucester, it was England’s longest new road since Roman times.

There were four ribbon-cutting ceremonies, one of them at the railway bridge by Bryant Avenue.

Cheered

The Prince was cheered when he praised the labourers for surviving the Essex mud – the experience they had endured on the Western Front.

In fact, only the 24-foot wide southern carriageway had been built.

Far from being a British autobahn, the Southend Arterial Road was a two-way straight, fast, lethal country lane. It soon became notorious for accidents.

Driving tests only began in 1934, and anyone could get behind the wheel.

As early as 1927, £200,000 had to be spent on repairs, as road sections sank into the Essex mud. There were below-ground schemes for the new road too.

In the freezing winter of 1943-44, gangs laid a pipeline under the central reservation.

It was a top-secret wartime project, but the pipeline probably supplied fuel to D-Day convoys assembling off Southend Pier. Maybe it’s still there.

Nobody foresaw the growth of car ownership in 1930s: Ford’s started at Dagenham in 1930.

By summer 1935, the single-lane Southend Arterial Road was so congested that motorists avoided it.

In 1936, funds were granted for “duplication”.

The work began with a 6,300-yard stretch eastward from Squirrels Heath Road, at a cost of £68,500.

Traffic lights were a new safety feature for the Squirrels Heath Road junction – the only lights between Ilford and Southend. 76 years later – they’re still there.

Another £16,000 was spent widening Ardleigh Green Road as a feeder – money well spent!

Four miles east of Gallows Corner were ready by 1938, but the work was done in stages, and the dual carriageway was only completed in 1940.

It had taken 19 years to build the Southend Arterial Road.

The Romans would have been much faster!

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