Heritage: ‘Temporary’ Gallows Corner is 50 years old

The flyover was only supposed to last for 15 years. Picture: Ellie Hoskins

The flyover was only supposed to last for 15 years. Picture: Ellie Hoskins - Credit: Archant

Gallows Corner’s “temporary” flyover is 50 this year – but nobody’s saying “many happy returns” says historian Prof Ged Martin

Gallows Corner. Picture: Google StreetView

Gallows Corner. Picture: Google StreetView - Credit: Archant

You hate to forget a birthday. You wish you’d sent a card, or even phoned a greeting on the day.

It’s embarrassing, but we’ve all forgotten an important anniversary, a Big 5-O too.

Sometime during the Covid-19 crisis, Gallows Corner’s “temporary” flyover notched up its half century.

Havering hanged its criminals on a gallows here. It resembled a playground swing – two uprights and a crossbar, an efficient device for breaking three necks at once.

It was last mentioned in 1816, but the grim name, Gallows Corner, was applied to the point where Straight Road met the Essex high road.

When the new A12-A127 superhighway was built in the 1920s, it transferred to the roundabout where the four roads met. Yes, only four. Straight Road wasn’t part of the original traffic flow. That’s one reason why congestion had become a problem in the 1950s.

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Hornchurch’s Conservative MP, Godfrey Lagden, pressed for action. A burly ex-police sergeant, he wasn’t part of the Tory inner circle. In 1956, he invited the Minister of Transport to take a helicopter ride over Gallows Corner to see the traffic jams for himself.

“Attractive as I should find that helicopter journey with my hon. Friend, there is really no need”, came the haughty reply.

Godfrey Lagden strongly supported the death penalty. A Labour MP cheekily interjected that he was an expert on the gallows.

In 1957, the roundabout was enlarged, but problems soon returned. In 1968, the Wilson government announced plans for a temporary flyover. Precast in sections, it was quickly and efficiently erected early in 1970.

Officials planned to divert traffic from Gallows Corner by building the M12 motorway from Woodford to Brentwood – and later on to Southend. An interchange was built to join the M11 at Woodford (it’s still there), but the project was cancelled in 1994.

The flyover was closed for lengthy renovations during much of 2008-9. There were no spare parts for a one-off job undertaken nearly 40 years earlier. Special new steelwork was needed to replace rusty sections.

Transport for London (TfL), who did the job, said the repairs would last “for at least a decade”. Pretty good for a “temporary” structure designed for a fifteen-year lifespan.

Astronomers estimate that the Sun will burn out in five billion years. I suppose the Sun is “temporary” too.

In 2018, Havering Council argued that the A12-A127 link should be “decked over” – a cross between a cutting and a tunnel that would split the traffic into different levels.

By July 2019, TfL was reported to be looking at two options. One would add a second flyover, providing a fast route between the A12 Eastern Avenue and the A12 Colchester Road. The existing flyover would become a Y-shaped overhead junction.

The other would replace the 1970 temporary structure with a permanent flyover. Let’s hope it would be wider.

TfL hoped to put a final proposal to Whitehall in January 2020, to bid for some of the £50million of promised government funding for major schemes. The deadline was missed. And then coronavirus happened.

TfL’s March 2020 draft budget document promises “to progress our Major Road Network funding bids to refurbish key bridges on our network”.

When the “temporary” flyover was built, transport decisions were taken at national level. Now, priorities are sorted out on a London-only basis. Gallows Corner is one of five projects across the capital on the 2020 wish list.

Many of the drivers who endure Gallows Corner live in Basildon or Brentwood. They don’t vote in London elections.

Is the flyover is showing signs of a midlife crisis? It was closed for resurfacing over August Bank Holiday 2019, and briefly for emergency repairs last October.

In the midst of this crisis, we’ve all forgotten to say “happy 50th birthday” to Gallows Corner’s clanking temporary flyover. But I don’t think anybody would add “Many happy returns”.