On this day - December 5th

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first motorway

First motorway in UK opens

Germany had its Autobahn network before WWII , but in Britain we had to wait until December 5th, 1958 for the first section of what was to become the M6 to open.

This was an 8 mile stretch taking traffic around the then town now city of Preston , chosen to alleviate the terrible jams caused by the funnelling through Preston of traffic on the A6 to and from Blackpool and The Lakes , though Lancashire has a distinguished history of firsts in such transport matters: the first white lines; the first British inter-city highway ( Manchester to Liverpool ); and the first county to erect road signs. The new road ran from Bamber Bridge in the south to Broughton in the north.

Plans were drawn up for the eventual network in 1946, but this was the first given the go-ahead, in 1953. The contractors Tarmac began work in 1956, their two year schedule extended because of the appalling weather in 1956, incessant rain making the ground extremely difficult to work on (especially given the absence of modern hydraulic machinery).

Prime Minister Harold Macmillan opened the new road and was the first (officially) to travel on it.

Although noticeably different from normal A roads, the Preston Bypass was also definitely a different animal from the motorway as we know it now: the hard shoulders were not hard, just a shale strip into which heavy vehicles in distress were wont to sink; and the central reservation divided the two sides of the road not by a crash barrier, but a hedge, with plenty of gaps that tempted drivers to do U turns if they felt like it.

For a time the road became a tourist attraction in its own right, drivers drawn by the chance to put their foot down at a time when there was no speed limit on such open stretches of trunk roads — that was to come in 1965 as a temporary measure — temporary in the way that income tax was introduced as a temporary measure to pay for the Napoleonic Wars .

Such was the standard of car engineering then that the AA and RAC were constantly in action, their vehicles adapted with rubber bumpers to push stranded motorists to safety.

True to form the road closed soon after opening — the surface had been damaged by a hard frost. Obviously, given our record in these matters, the wrong sort of frost.

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