Heritage: Gallows Corner ‘temporary’ flyover nears 50th birthday

Gallows Corner is now 48 years old. Picture: Ken Mears

Gallows Corner is now 48 years old. Picture: Ken Mears - Credit: Archant

As the landmark closes in on its half century, Prof Ged Martin looks at the history of Gallows Corner

We’re just two years away from the fiftieth birthday of Havering’s least popular landmark, Gallows Corner’s “temporary” flyover. It’s time to plan the party!

Gallows Corner was a wayside junction where Straight Road met the ancient London-Colchester highway. Havering once hanged its criminals here.

When the new A12 Eastern Avenue – A127 Southend Arterial Road was built in the 1920s, it became a five-way roundabout.

The quiet byway Straight Road became the main traffic outlet for Harold Hill, built between 1948 and 1958. Two-mile tailbacks followed. The solution, in 1957, a bigger roundabout, was a temporary fix.

In 1968, the government promised a “temporary flyover” for Gallows Corner. In January 1970, Parliament was told that the “temporary” flyover was “under construction”. Note that T-word!

Using their precast FliWay system, Midlands engineering firm Braithwaite erected the structure in just five nights, using specially constructed 62-foot roadway spans designed for the location.

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A fine piece of engineering, it created a narrow switchback, one lane each way – fine for 1970 levels of traffic.

How did the “temporary” flyover become a semi-permanent nightmare?

From the 1960s, planners aimed to build the M12 motorway from Woodford to Brentwood, part of a “box” around London. There would be a services area near Havering-atte-Bower.

In 1971, the government announced a new London airport, on Maplin Sands, mudflats beyond Southend. (Yes, they were talking about a new airport even then!)

To provide access to Maplin, the planned M12 would be extended to Southend, diverting traffic away from Gallows Corner.

Maybe people would picnic on the roundabout and skateboard along the flyover.

But Maplin Airport was cancelled in 1974. The M12 slipped down the queue. Once the M25 was built, a Woodford to Brentwood motorway made little sense. The project was scrapped in 1994.

The M12 leaves just two traces – a slip road leading nowhere alongside the M11 at Woodford, where it was to branch off, and a sarcastic page on the Pathetic Motorways website.

After a quarter century of waiting for a phantom motorway to solve its problems, Gallows Corner fell into a planning hole.

Highways investment now concentrated on the A13 around Rainham.

Worse still, in 1997 the A127 was downgraded (“de-trunked”) from top-class road status.

With the Southend Arterial no longer a major national route, Gallows Corner became just a local problem.

The A13 upgrade included a magnificent mile-long concrete viaduct around Ford at Dagenham. Oh yes, it could be done!

In 2008, Gallows Corner was described as London’s eighth most dangerous road junction.

That year, the 38-year-old temporary flyover was found to be badly corroded.

For nearly a year, the eastbound lane was closed.

Because it had been specially designed decades earlier, standard modern safety railings could not be fitted. One-off steelwork was required.

For two months in 2009, the flyover was closed altogether for renovation.

Transport for London (TfL) claimed their repairs “significantly extended the life of the flyover”.

It was unlikely that “further large scale maintenance” would be needed “for at least a decade”.

There’s a clue there – another ten years, eh? “Temporary” was turning into a very long time.

Local politicians of all parties pressed for action, some arguing for a proper flyover, other suggesting an underpass.

In 2012, the Recorder described Gallows Corner as “driving motorists to despair”, but added: “there is no sign of a permanent solution to its gridlock.”

The flyover faces new pressures. Southend Airport handled one million passengers in 2017.

Planning permission for terminal extension was granted last December.

Summer 2018 will see new routes to destinations as varied as Dubrovnik and Carlisle.

Southend Airport’s ambitious owners aim to handle five million passengers annually by 2022, with an eventual target of ten million.

The A127 provides major road access to Southend Airport.

As Gallows Corner’s temporary flyover approaches its fiftieth birthday, it can only get busier.