Skip to start of page content

Early Highways

Liverpool-East Lancashire Road A580


The Liverpool - East Lancashire Road was Britain's first purpose built intercity highway linking the cities of Manchester and Liverpool. It was officially opened by King George V on 18th July 1934. A feature of the road even today is the large width of the land-take. The explanation for this is that the road, although built initially as a single carriageway, was designed ultimately to comprise triple carriageways - the two outer ones were to be for slower traffic and were to be added later when traffic levels justified it. This futuristic layout did of course not come to pass, the road was actually upgraded to dual carriageways. However, the stretch within the Liverpool City boundary was designed and built as a dual carriageway.

Lay-bys with water points were provided for Steam powered vehicles, which were still in use in the 1930s!

In its early years the road resulted in a large number of accidents attributed to its single carriageway and many side access points. It was largely as a result of this that when the issue of a new north-south route through the County arose it was realised dual carriageways with grade separation was essential - the motorway era was begun!

A question often asked is why is it known as the "East Lancs Road" when it is in south Lancashire. The answer should now be obvious! Its original title was Liverpool - East Lancashire Road indicating the original intention was to go from Liverpool to east Lancashire (not just Manchester) - a forerunner of the M62. Over the years its name has been shortened to just the "East Lancs. Road".

The following description of the works is taken from the 1934 opening brochure:-

The Opening Brochure


The question of improving the means of road communication between the two Cities of Liverpool and Manchester had been under discussion among the commercial communities of both Cities as far back as 1912, and later became the subject of serious consideration.
The War intervened, and no progress was made until after the Armistice, when the project was again considered, and meetings were held, convened by Sir Henry Maybury, G.B.E., K.C., M.G., C.B., M.lnst.C.E., on behalf of the Ministry of Transport, at which the Authorities of Liverpool, Manchester, Salford, BootIe, St. Helens, Warrington and the County Council were represented.
At the first conference, the Ministry of Transport offered a contribution of 50 per cent. towards the scheme, and asked that the aforementioned Authorities should contribute the remainder, but at a later meeting held at the County Offices, Preston, it was announced that the Ministry would be prepared to make a grant of 75 per cent. towards a scheme for which a preliminary survey had been made, which was at that time estimated to cost £ 3,000,000 for the whole length of the road from a certain point in the City of Liverpool to a point in Salford, in length 28 miles.

The Lancashire County Council and the Corporations of Liverpool, BootIe and St. Helens, with the Mersey Docks and Harbour Board agreed to accept this offer and to contribute the balance of the cost, and it was arranged that the unskilled labour should be taken from each town :-that for the first 12 miles of road from Liverpool within the County area being assigned to Liverpool, BootIe and St. Helens, and that for the remaining 13 miles being recruited in the County Council's administrative area.
The Minister of Transport and the contributing Authorities agreed that the Highways and Bridges Committee of the Lancashire County Council should be empowered to carry out the scheme within the Administrative County and the County Borough of St. Helens, and in April, 1927, convenient offices were opened, the staff was engaged, and designs, estimates and bills of quantities were prepared.

Chairman : County Alderman Sir John Aspell, J.P., Chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee.
Vice-Chairman : County Alderman James Walker, I.P. 1927-1931
County Alderman Percy Macdonald, I.P.
County Alderman George H. Ashworth, I.P.
County Alderman G. H. Hallas, I.P. (Retired 1934) County Councillor James Smith (Retired 1929)
County Councillor William Hughes (Retired 1929)
County Councillor George G. Senior, O.B.E., I.P.
County Councillor Edmund Walkden 1927-1933
County Councillor I. H. Smith, I.P.
A. I. Lyddon,' O.B.E., M.lnst.C.E. (Ministry of Transport Representative).
W. H. Schofield, A.M.lnst.C.E.,
Sir George Etherton, County Surveyor and Bridgemaster.
Clerk of the County Council. 1898-1930 H. W. Cleaver,
P. Schofield, Deputy Clerk of the County Council
County Surveyor and Bridgemaster, Henry Swire, Engineer.

The following have been actively associated with the carrying out of the scheme:
Minister of Transport, The Hon. Oliver Stanley, M.C., M.P.
Mr. C. H. Bressey, C.B., C.B.E., Chief Engineer, Roads Department, Ministry of Transport.
Mr. A. J. Lyddon, O.B.E., M.lnst.C.E., Divisional Road Engineer, Ministry of Transport.
Mr. A. P. Reid, Supervising Engineer, Ministry of Transport.
Mr. Henry Swire, Engineer for the Scheme within the Administrative County Area.
Mr. William Debney, A.M.Inst.C.E., Deputy Engineer.
Mr. A. A. Findlay, B.Sc., A.M.Inst.C.E.,
Chief Assistant Engineer, Mr. Ronald Sawtdl, A.M.Inst.C.E.,
Chief Bridge Assistant. Mr. A. J. B. Wardle, B.Sc., A.M.Inst.C.E.
Mr. W. Shegog .
Mr. J. Manson, B.Sc., A.M.Inst.C.E.
Mr. J. P. Watson, A.M.lnst.C.E.
Messrs. Mott, Hay & Anderson, M.M.lnst.C.E., Railway Bridge Engineers.
Mr. T. Pierson Frank, M.Inst.C.E., Engineer for the Scheme within the City of Liverpool.

The following firms have acted as Contractors in the carrying out of the scheme :
Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Company, Limited, Contractors for the Construction of the Road.
Messrs. A. & G. Paterson, Ltd., Glasgow, Fencing Contractors.
Messrs. Neuchatel Asphalte Company, Ltd., 58, Victoria Street, S. W. I.
Messrs. Wirksworth Quarries, Limited,
Bank House, 286, Pentonville Road, N. I.
Messrs. George W impey & Company, Limited, The Grove, Hammersmith, W.6.
Messrs. Unaphalt (Roads ), Limited,
Messrs. John Randall & Sons, Tree and Shrub Planting. Nurserymen.
Newton-le- Willows.
The Progress Foundry Company. Direction and Warning Signs. 303-7. Kingston Road. New Maiden, Surrey.

The cutting of the first sod on the Liverpool-East Lancashire Road within the Administrative County was performed by County Alderman Sir John Aspell. J.P. (Chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee) on the 29th April. 1929 and was attended by representatives of the Lancashire County Council, the Lord Mayor of Liverpool, together with Aldermen and Councillors of the LiverpooI Corporation and the general public.

On this occasion the Chairman was presented with a miniature gold spade as a souvenir by the Contractors. Sir Lindsay Parkinson & Company Limited and at a later date, the actual spade used at the sod cutting ceremony was plated, suitably inscribed and presented to the Chairman by County Alderman Percy Macdonald. J.P., Vice-Chairman of the Highways and Bridges Committee.
This Ceremony coincided with the opening by the Lord Mayor (Alderman H. M. Miller) of the length of the road constructed by Liverpool within the City. when the City Engineer. Mr. T. Pierson Frank presented the Lord Mayor with a pair of gold scissors for the purpose of cutting the ribbon.

The line of the New Road passes through Rural, County Borough and Urban Districts avoiding built-up areas as far as possible. and does not materially shorten the distance between the two Cities of Liverpool and Manchester, but it was felt that as the old Liverpool and Manchester County Road (A. 57) passes through towns, and in some parts is very narrow and circuitous, it would be impracticable to widen it, owing to the cost of acquiring valuable business and house property abutting thereon.

It will be seen that although the new road is only three quarters of a mile shorter than the old road, the journey is considerably lessened by the saving of time.


Map of the new road - click for full size version

During the time the final survey was being made, the Engineer had in hand the design of the road, and the points to which special consideration was given are as follows:

1. Avoiding long straight lengths unless the lengths are broken by gradients; the object being to obviate danger to night traffic from flashing headlights.
2. Avoiding horizontal curves with less than one mile radius so as to do away with super-elevation.
3. Aiming at gradients with a maximum of 1 in 40.
4. The preservation of existing property.
5. Utilising as far as possible existing railway bridges, although all bridges would have to be re-constructed.
6. Avoiding marshy and swampy land.
7. Preserving the amenities of the district as far as possible by avoiding the cutting down of plantations and trees.
The importance and magnitude of the traffic which the road was likely to carry was considered, and also the fact that the tunnel to be constructed under the River Mersey would open up traffic with North Wales, Cheshire, South Staffordshire and Shropshire.

The Sub-Committee considered various designs submitted for their consideration, together with the method of construction, and was agreed that the road should be 120 feet between fences, narrowing down to 80 feet at bridges, and that for the present one central carriageway, 40 feet wide, should be constructed, flanked by a verge 4 feet wide and a footway 6 feet wide on each side. Provision is left for a subsidiary carriageway on each side, flanked by footways to be constructed as and when the exigencies of traffic require.

Provision has been made on the extreme flanks of the road for the laying of duplicate public service mains, and over bridges, chases have been left in the decking where there is insufficient cover.

In order to minimise disturbance of the road surface and foundation, all local and statutory Authorities were approached and asked to forecast their requirements for the next 20 years. and many pipes have been laid across the road prior to its construction in anticipation of future development.

Nineteen miles of the road are over the coalfields of Lancashire, many parts of which are active, causing movement and displacement 1e concrete raft, but it is now known where troubles are likely to occur and a record is being kept.

On the length of road between Kenyon Junction Railway and the Bridgewater Canal, it was found that the land was low lying and liable to floods, and though at that time the Engineer had no information concerning the coal seams, it was felt that subsidence might occur. It was therefore decided to neutralise the effect of any possible subsidence within this particular area by placing the road upon an embankment varying in height from 4 to 12 feet above the existing ground level.

The design of the road was such that when the earthworks were calculated it was found that 1,500,000 cubic yards could be excavated and consolidated in embankments, but a further 1,500,000 cubic yards were required to complete the embankments, and this material has ~en obtained by collecting ashes and burnt colliery refuse from the adjoining mills and collieries, and for two years the Contractors employed about 200 two-ton lorries for this operation, and the use of these lorries greatly assisted in consolidating the material.
The total length constructed in connection with the scheme for which the Lancashire County Council has been responsible is 25 miles ~ yards. Of this length 23 miles 1,474 yards is within the Administrative County, and I mile 300 yards in the County Borough of St. Helens. It is of interest to note that the distance between the Town Hall of Liverpool and Manchester, via the new road, is 34 miles.
Negotiations for the acquisition of land and property have been carried out by the Inland Revenue Land Valuation Department, under le Superintending Valuer for Manchester District, and about 600 acres have been purchased. In three cases only has it been necessary to sort to arbitration.
The special features in connection with the scheme are :
1. The road is carried on a high level over a colliery railway, a district road, a Class 1 road and a Cattle Creep at Old Boston in the Township of Haydock. This was done in order that the danger of crossing with other roads might be minimised, the gradients maintained, and to prevent the road over such a short length being a switchback.
2. The bridges.
3. Circuses.
4. The reinforced concrete raft, 15 inch thick.
5. The provision and construction of laybyes for steam wagons.
6. The provision and construction of roundabouts.

The Railway and Colliery Railway Bridges and the Bridge over the Bridgewater Canal ( 13 in all) have been designed by Messrs. Mott, Hay & Anderson, Consulting Engineers, Westminster, and built under their supervision.

The remainder of the bridges (23) which have been designed by the Engineer and built under his direction and supervision the exception of reinforced concrete culverts, built with stone abutments and parapets, and steel superstructures or reinforced decking.

The original scheme, as already stated, provided for circuses of 120 feet radius at the junction of all important roads, and it found necessary , owing to the speed of vehicles travelling along the road, to construct roundabouts at eight of the road junctions, at another important junction, with illuminated signs, in accordance with the latest regulations of the Ministry of Transport.

In the construction of the road it became necessary to demolish 135 houses; 69 houses have been erected to provide alternative accommodation for dispossessed tenants and the remainder have been dealt with by compensation to owners and tenants who have found their own alternative accommodation.

When the scheme was prepared, the Committee invited tenders for the main contract from eleven of the leading Contractors in the country, who were considered capable of carrying out the work. Ten responded to the invitation, and the tender of Messrs. Sir Lindsay Parkinson and Company, Limited, of Blackpool, was accepted in the sum of £2,147,179. This eminent firm of Contractors has most successfully carried through this important work of road construction within the time and sum mentioned in the Contract.

The Committee subsequently advertised for tenders for the erection of the permanent fencing, and this work has been satisfactorily completed by Messrs. A. and G. Paterson, Ltd., of Glasgow. All the timber that has been used for this purpose has been grown, sawn and seasoned, in Scotland, creosoted in Birkenhead, and the fencing, gates and stiles erected by a Lancashire firm.

In 1933 the Committee instructed the Engineer to prepare a Specification and Bills of Quantities for the permanent surfacing of the road, and tenders were invited. In response 20 firms tendered, and the following were accepted:

13 miles. Messrs. Neuchatel Asphalte Company, Limited.
6 miles. Messrs. Wirksworth Quarries, Limited.
4 miles. Messrs. George Wimpey & Company, Limited. 2 miles. Messrs. Unaphalt (Roads), Limited.

The Committee also arranged for the planting of trees and shrubs along the road, and this work has been undertaken by Messrs. John Randall & Son, of Newton-le-Willows, under contract.

The road has been classified by the Minister of Transport as A. 580.

Liverpool-East Lancashire Road
Original layout

Liverpool-East Lancashire Road
Intended future layout

Engineering Details

The amount of earth excavated is approximately 1,500,000 cubic yards, and this has all been consolidated in the embankments in 3 feet layers. A similar quantity has been imported to make up the deficiency required for embankments.

Having regard to the fact that the imported fill is of cinders or burnt colliery shale, the Engineer took into consideration the best method of using this material, and an arrangement was made with the Contractors to form the embankment for the carriageway, 42 feet wide, consolidated in 3 feet layers, and the clay and other excavated materials were placed on the verges.

The cuttings at various points vary from 35,000 cubic yards to 295,000 cubic yards. The largest cutting is that of Windle Hall, in Section 1, where 295,000 cubic yards of excavation was removed. In Sections 1 and 2 a considerable amount of rock had to be blasted.

Windle Cutting
Windle Cutting

Particular attention has been given to the drainage of surface and subsoil water. A system of surface water drains has been laid on each side of the carriageway at a distance of 7 feet from the kerb line, and the side entrance gullies have been placed at intervals at 4° yards, each gully communicating with the surface water drain. In addition to this, about 5° miles of agricultural drain pipes have been laid for the purpose of carrying off the water from the adjoining lands, and as in most cases the watershed is from north to south, the land drains have been cut off immediately outside the boundary fences and a master drain laid which communicates with the nearest stream. On the surface water drains, manholes have been placed at intervals of 100 yards as well as at every bend and change of gradient, so that if they become blocked they can be easily cleared.

The carriageway has been formed by laying on the subsoil, which has been trimmed to correspond with the contour of the finished surface, 6 inches of consolidated clinker surmounted by 15 inches of double reinforced concrete. The mix is 1:1.5:3; the coarse aggregate is 3/4-inch to 3/8-inch graded granite chippings, and the fine aggregate is from the screenings of the granite and is 3/16-inch to dust.
The area of the carriageway is approximately 614,700 square yards, which roughly is 250,000 cubic yards of concrete. In addition, there are two miles of road on high embankment; in this case the foundation has been formed with two 9 inch layers of hand pitching and finally surfaced with a 4 inch consolidated layer of tarmacadam.

Particular attention has been paid to the testing of the cement and the concrete mix, and for this purpose a laboratory was established at Headquarters.

Every consignment of cement was tested, and the British Standard Specification has been exceeded. With regard to the compression tests, the standard aimed at was 3,200 lbs. per square inch at 28 days, whilst the records show that the average was 4,010 lbs. per square inch at 28 days. The success is attributed to the good quality of the cement, the clean aggregate and the 3/16-inch to dust grit, and more particularly to the close inspection by the Engineer's staff.

A " Holman" Core Drilling Machine was purchased for taking out cores in the concrete raft, and has been useful in establishing the :; thickness of the concrete, the placing of the reinforcement and the density of the mix. This has revealed (a) that where the concrete was laid J in dry weather, the cinder underbed drained the moisture from the bottom two inches of the concrete, (b) indifferent tamping for the bottom six inches. These faults were overcome (1) by the use of waterproof paper or canvas laid directly on the clinker underbed, and (2) a special tamper being made for dealing with this thickness.

Special attention has been given to gradients, the maximum being 1in 40, and to curves, both horizontal and vertical. The least radius on plan is 1-mile, and therefore it has not been necessary to super-elevate any portion of the carriageway. The vertical curves are all worked out to a proper radius; in the valleys the minimum is 15,000 feet, and on the summits the minimum is 8,000 feet, the result being that providing two vehicles are climbing the gradient simultaneously, in the opposite directions, and the driver's eye is 5 feet above the road surface, they can see each other at a distance of at least 500 feet.

In connection with the bridges and culverts, there are 99 culverts up to 4 feet diameter, all of which are of circular reinforced concrete pipes surrounded by 6 inches of 1:3:6 cement concrete. There are nine box culverts in reinforced concrete (monolithic) under 15 feet span. There are five bridges of approximately 25 feet square span; two of approximately 35 feet square span; one 45 feet square span and one 60 feet square span. In addition to these, there are 13 bridges over railways and canal, all of which have been constructed in mass concrete faced with pressed bricks with steel girders and reinforced concrete decking.

The bridges have a width between parapets of 80 feet.

In the construction of the bridges, difficulties were encountered in the foundations, and many of the bridges are not only standing on concrete piles, but it was found necessary to enclose the subsoil in steel sheet piling in order to prevent lateral spread, and thus to obtain the proper set on the reinforced concrete piles.

Windle Hall Bridge
Windle Hall Bridge

The material used for the surfacing of the New Road comprises two coats of steam rolled asphalt to the British standard specification, and it is interesting to record that one of our oldest Colonies, Trinidad, has supplied a percentage of the bitumen used in the preparation of this material.

The estimated cost of the road for the whole length within the Administrative County and the City of Liverpool was in the sum of £ 3,000,000, made up as follows :
Administrative County and County Borough of St. Helens £2,750,000
City of Liverpool £ 250,000
Total £3,000,000

The accounts have not yet been completed, but sufficient information has been laid before the Sub-Committee to enable them to estimate that the total expenditure, including the length in the City of Liverpool, will not exceed two million seven hundred and fifty thousand pounds.

Great Horn House Junction
Great Horn House Junction looking east

| Environment Directorate
What's New | Site Map |