A look back at when the M4 was first built

PUBLISHED: 11:25 28 March 2017 | UPDATED: 11:25 28 March 2017

Near Woodley in 1970 as work on the M4 cuts a swathe across the countryside

 (Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy)

Near Woodley in 1970 as work on the M4 cuts a swathe across the countryside (Trinity Mirror/Mirrorpix/Alamy)

Credit: Trinity Mirror / Mirrorpix / Alamy Stock Photo

Sue Bromley takes us to work down Memory Lane, also known as The M4. Bob Dylan had warned us ‘The Times They Are A Changin’… and they definitely were

Work is due to start at the end of March on making junctions 3 to 12 of the M4 into a ‘Smart Motorway’ in a project set to last for five years and cost somewhere between £586.4 and £862.4 million (we might come back in 2022 to record what the actual cost was!).

The aim is to use technology to keep traffic moving as the motorway becomes increasingly congested. The hard shoulder will become a traffic lane and some bridges will need major works where no hard shoulder currently exists.

Major work is set to start by the autumn, so expect some lane closures and queues, as if we weren’t already used to them, from then.

So Berkshire faces more roadworks, but nowhere near as much as when the M4 was first built through the 1960s, with the last stretch, much of ‘our bit’ from junction 8/9 Maidenhead to Swindon, finally opening at the end of 1971. Then government junior minister Michael Heseltine, who would become MP for Henley three years later, carried out the opening ceremony.

That ‘double numbering’ at Maidenhead comes about because until then the M4 stopped at Maidenhead. Junction 8 took you to the A308, while Junction 9 offered a route to the old A4 at Maidenhead Thicket (now it is the dual carriageway A404(M) all the way to the M40 at High Wycombe, with just one roundabout on the outskirts of Marlow). It’s the only British motorway to feature a double junction number.

Just sorting the route was as hotly contested as such a plan would be today, at least the equal of the campaigns for and against Heathrow’s Fourth Runaway or the HS2 rail line. What was then the Maidenhead bypass had been completed in the late 1950s aftera scheme for a ‘motor road’ all the way from London to South Wales had been proposed as early as 1946.

The first plan envisaged it passing through the likes of Winnersh and Shinfield and south of Newbury and Hungerford, but this was ditched for a route set to take it across South Oxfordshire via Maidenhead Thicket. But a change to the plans once again instead saw the road stretching just about the length of Berkshire – and it meant a boom time for housing as new developments grew up along what was to become ‘the M4 corridor’.

And then there was the M31, set to be a link motorway between the M3 and M4, but only part of the route was ever developed, following the A329(M) and A3290. People in Wokingham, Bracknell and Ascot feared they would lose their homes and sense of community to new motorway link roads.

Aerial photography had revealed a Roman villa at Cox Green, on the outskirts of Maidenhead, and this was excavated before major work took place. Places such as Theale at Junction 12 at been quiet backwaters for much of the 20th century, but the population of some 900 in the 1930s swiftly grew to more than 4,000.

The section from Maidenhead by-pass to Gloucestershire was handled by Sir Alexander Gibb & Partners, while Junctions 5 to 7 came under the supervision of Bucks County Council’s surveyor for the Ministry of Transport. The contractors were Higgs and Hill Ltd and Richard Costain (Civil Engineering).


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