Tag Archives: London’s roads

All roads lead to London . . . A4 & A5

This is our third rather pointless exploration of the starting points of five major trunk roads.

A4 London to Bath (103 miles, originally the Great West Road)

The A4 used to start in the same place as the A3, terrorist paranoia in the City of London has beheaded this first mile from the route, forcing the A4 to retreat to the edge of the City beyond a miserable security checkpoint cordon. And now the Great West Road starts somewhere rather less glamorous.

Six roads meet at Holborn Circus, which is now little more than complicated junction overlooked by the only equestrian statue of Prince Albert to be found in London. The new route chosen for the A4 follows the most insignificant of these roads, a tiny street squeezed in between a branch of Lloyds Bank and Sainsbury head office. This is New Fetter Lane, which leads before very long to the similarly quiet and narrow Fetter Lane. At the junction of the two stands London’s only cross-eyed statue, a memorial to 18th-century libertarian John Wilkes.

We turn right into Fleet Street passing Temple Bar, where traitors heads were once displayed in spikes and the westernmost extent of the Great Fire of London.

F Strand
Comply King Charles Statue
L/By Cockspur Street
B/L Pall Mall
R St. James’s Street
L Piccadilly
F Piccadilly Underpass
F Hyde Park Corner
F Knightsbridge
B/L Brompton Road
F Cromwell Gardens
F Cromwell Road
F West Cromwell Road
F Talgarth Road
F Hammersmith Flyover
F West Cromwell Road

5-mile ends at approximately Hogarth Roundabout. Should you be travelling down the A4 approaching the Hogarth Roundabout from the east you probably will be unaware that just yards from the racetrack that this stretch of road becomes during the evening rush hour, that you reluctantly find yourself driving along while following this post, is an oasis of calm.

This small backwater (I use the word advisedly) has been the enclave of choice for artists to reside for over 200 years. One property, Walpole House was once a school which William Thackeray was a boarder. It provided the setting for Miss Pinkerton’s Seminary for Young Ladies, where Becky Sharp fatefully made the acquaintance of Amelia Sedley in Vanity Fair.

But take care, the Thames floods the road, the houses have high front walls, surmounted with perspex panels.

A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)

The A5 begins at the site of the Tyburn Tree – London’s popular spot for public executions during more than six centuries. More than fifty thousand criminals were hung here, originally from the branches of a tree beside the Tyburn river but later from a purpose-built wooden tripod of death. A memorial to these notorious gallows is paved into a traffic island at the very bottom of the Edgware Road.

The most famous landmark in the vicinity today is Marble Arch, originally designed by John Nash as a triumphant entrance to Buckingham Palace but moved to its existing location when the palace was extended in 1851.

Like the A2, the A5 follows the Roman road of Watling Street, of which this is the start of the northern section. The road from Marble Arch to the edge of the suburbs is the longest straight line in London, never once deviating to left or right for a full twenty miles. The first mile is a cosmopolitan shopping street, although probably not one you’d go out of your way to visit. Unless you were Lebanese, that is. There’s a distinctly Arabian flavour to the very bottom of the A5 – perfect for stocking up on pomegranates, using your Bank of Kuwait cashpoint card or smoking aromatic tobacco out of some mysterious piped bottle.

F Maida Vale
F Kilburn High Road
F Shoot Up Hill
F Cricklewood Broadway
F Edgware Road
F Hendon Broadway
F The Hyde

5-mile ends approximately here, and look, I’m sorry to have dragged you out here, but there is nothing of interest in Colindale.

All road lead to . . . London: A2 and A3

This, our second foray into the commencement of London’s trunk roads.

A2 London to Dover (77 miles, originally Roman Watling Street)

This road is the only one of London’s five major trunk routes to begin south of the river. The modern road follows the alignment of Watling Street, along which Roman soldiers would have trooped on their way from London to Dover.

Unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims chatting on their way to Canterbury, because of a 20th-century one-way system the journey starts innocuously at a junction with the A3 outside Borough tube station, turning into Long Lane, right Tabard Street, right Nebraska Street before joining the A2 by turning left into Great Dover Street which has a real mix of housing along its half-mile length. There are plenty of council flats in long blocks, some old and some new but almost all with satellite dishes pointing southwards. Just visible to the south-west is Trinity Church Square one of the few unspoilt Georgian squares left in London and the only part of the area where you might aspire to live is 100 yards away to the right.

Comply Bricklayers Arms
L/By Old Kent Road
F New Cross Road
F Deptford Broadway
F Deptford Bridge
F Blackheath Road
F Blackheath Hill

5-mile ends at approximately here, but unlike other trunk roads, this area is picturesque. Nearby is Greenwich and Rangers House on the edge of Blackheath, a vast high open area.

A3 London to Portsmouth (74 miles)

This road starts where London nearly finished – at the Monument. The Great Fire of London was kindled just around the corner in Pudding Lane, killing only six people but destroying four-fifths of the City. The Monument was built by Sir Christoper Wren to commemorate the conflagration and is exactly as far away from the bakery where the fire began as it is tall. At 202ft it remains the world’s tallest free-standing stone column and became one of London’s first tourist attractions with its stunning panorama over the rebuilt city.

To be truly accurate, the A3 begins in front of the House of Fraser department store on King William Street, but somehow that doesn’t sound so interesting, although the road it stands is the more impressively named King William Street.

Ahead is the capital’s oldest permanent river crossing – London Bridge, which we cross and proceed to Borough High Street, an important bridgehead thoroughfare in medieval times when it was packed with all the bawdy revelry and lewdness that wasn’t permitted north of the river. Only one of the old coaching inns now survives – The George. It may be cunningly hidden up an alley just off the High Street but all the tourists and real ale drinkers still seem to find it, and rightly so. In neighbouring Talbot Yard, a blue plaque unveiled a decade ago by film director and former Monty Python team member Terry Jones marks the site of the Tabard Inn from whence Chaucer’s Canterbury pilgrims supposedly set off in 1386.

F Borough High Street
F Newington Causeway
Comply Elephant and Castle Gyratory
L/By Newington Butts
F Kennington Park Road
F Clapham Road
F Clapham High Street
R Long Road
F Clapham Common North Side
F Battersea Rise
F Wandsworth Common North Side
F Huguenot Place
F East Hill
F Wandsworth High Street
F & B/R West Hill

5-mile ends at approximately at the top of the incline known as Tibbet’s Corner. A sign depicts a skulking highwayman wearing a long-brimmed hat and brandishing a pistol has been erected in the centre of the roundabout, in memory of a famous highwayman who used to frequent the then lonely wastes of Putney Heath in the days before the highways were well policed.

All roads lead to . . . London: A1

One hundred years ago Britain’s main roads weren’t numbered because they didn’t need to be. Cars had yet to take over the world, so most important roads still had names from the era of the horse and cart. Most were named after the town at the other end London Road was a favourite or the direction in which they travelled such as Great North Road.

But then motor transport started to get popular and in 1921 the newly-formed Department of Transport decided that all of Britain’s major roads should be numbered.

As was said ‘all roads lead to Rome’, but at the Department of Transport, most roads lead to London.

Civil servants selected six particularly important roads leading out of London (most starting close to the Bank of England) and numbered them A1 to A6 starting clockwise from the north, these were as follows:

A1 London to Edinburgh (409 miles, originally the Great North Road)

A2 London to Dover (77 miles, originally Watling Street)

A3 London to Portsmouth (74 miles)

A4 London to Bath (103 miles, originally the Great West Road)

A5 London to Holyhead (270 miles, originally Watling Street)

You might have thought that the remainder of Britain’s roads were numbered fairly haphazardly, not so, it works like this:

To number the roads, Great Britain has been divided into nine sectors, six of which radiate in clockwise order from London, and the remaining three similarly from Edinburgh. Sector I includes all the roads situated between roads A1 and A2, and so on clockwise for the remaining sectors.

Note: an exception occurs between road A2 and the estuary of the Thames which is part of sector II and not sector I. All roads take their initial number from the sector in which they start, eg A12 and A17 start in Sector I, note that a road does not necessarily terminate in the same sector in which it begins. The commencement of a road is determined by the end of it which would be reached first by the hands of a clock radiating from London.

In honour of the fact that the Ministry of Transport was formed in 1919 and exactly 100 years ago, they were completing their task of numbering the country’s roads, and that the first five arterial roads started in central London, I’m ‘calling over’ in the manner of The Knowledge. All Knowledge ‘Runs’ start or finish anywhere within a six-mile radius of Charing Cross, so I’m going to try to describe the first 6 miles of these roads as if I’m on an Appearance testing my knowledge of London to become a cabbie.

A1 London to Edinburgh

This 409-mile road begins at the unprepossessing Aldersgate outside the old Museum of London, but this wasn’t always the case. The A1 used to begin outside St Paul’s Cathedral, following an old coaching road north up the grandly named St Martin’s-le-Grand, that was before the IRA came along, causing City authorities to erect ‘the ring of steel’ in the mid-1990s.

The A1 now starts a few yards past an unstaffed security checkpoint at a shadowy characterless roundabout. A circular brick island rises in the centre of the roundabout. The A1 heads north from this lonely spot, unlabelled, unsigned, unnoticed.

F Aldersgate Street
F Goswell Road
R Islington High Street
F Upper Street
Comply Highbury Corner
L/By Holloway Road
R Tollhouse Way
L Archway Road
L & R Bakers Lane
B/L Aylmer Road
F Lyttelton Road
F Falloden Way
B/L North Circular Road
B/R Great Northern Way

5-mile ends at approximately Five Ways Corner with the opportunity to join the M1 for a faster journey north.

Twenty’s plenty

I’ve always thought of the 30 mph speed limit in London as having been imposed since the dawn of time.

The recent seemingly draconian measure by many local authorities to reduce this to a blanket 20 mph to many is a novel and unnecessary step.

Yet for many years 20 mph was the norm it being introduced 80 years ago.

[S]tatically for every 1 mph reduced in the average speed there are 6 per cent fewer accidents according to the Department for Transport who say that the limit imposed should be seen by drivers as the maximum speed rather than as a target to achieve irrespective of road conditions. The limit seems to have been successful with 1 death on the roads for every 20,000 cars.

There was a blanket 20 mph speed limit for decades at the start of the last century presumably once the requirement for vehicles to be preceded by a man carrying a red flag.

In 1903 the Motor Car Act made 20 mph mandatory. Presumably at that time a vehicle’s maximum speed was less than 50 mph, and had a stopping distance equivalent to a super tanker.

When in 1930 this Act was repealed carnage on Britain’s roads ensued. By 1034 with only one-tenth of the cars on the road compared with today’s traffic there was 4 times as many deaths.

A controversial Act was passed imposing a 30 mph speed limit, just how that figure was agreed has been lost in the mists of time and as with all British compromises chaos ensued.

Pieces of paper were plastered over existing signs, or tin discs used. Where authorities had managed to erect a regulatory sign these were often torn down, some ended up in lakes.

Now with greater traffic volumes and the huge increase in cyclists on London’s roads the debate has been re-ignited.

The Lib-Dems considered a 10 mph maximum in some areas, while many more pragmatic types of council have opted for 20 mph in residential streets supplementing this with as many road obstacles as it’s possible to imagine.

At 20 mph, if we adhere to Department of Transport guidelines, our average speed should be around 17–18 mph about the rate of travel for more sedate cyclists.


Unfortunately the modern car (or cab) hasn’t been designed to be driven at a continuous 17 mph. The gear ratios are incorrect, fuel consumption higher and engines emit more particulates. In a world of electric cars this wouldn’t be a problem.

Failing this utopian world the most effective way I’ve seen is the average speed camera. Only a fool and the thief would fail to comply with the speed limit under those watchful eyes.

Local authorities will just have to bite the bullet and invest if they want everyone traversing their land adhering to their diktats.

The Non-Mad Way to Run a Car in London

Driving in London is hard work – I should know.

In this Guest Post Daniel Solomou promotes the use of the Toyota Aygo and has some sage advice for London motorists, you could, of course, jump in a cab.

When you approach the subject of running a car in London (particularly central London) the overwhelming response is usually “You’re mad”. This usually being due to . . .

The Cost
You’ll be told how expensive your insurance will be (£985 on average in inner London) and how much it costs to park (£38.20 for 4-24 hours at an NCP). Not to mention the £9 due every day you go inside the Congestion Charge Zone; the amount of parking attendants waiting to slap a fine on you if you park too long; the cost of fuel (currently just less than 130p per litre) and indeed the amount you will need to spend on your road tax, MOT and servicing etc. Some people will also point out…

The Alternatives
You’ll be told about the virtues of the various Car Clubs available in London, such as Zip Car, Car Club and Streetcar Club, who all offer hourly rates of car hire once you’re a member (e.g. £6/hr and £54/day.

There will also be many ready to wax lyrically about the benefits of public transport on financial, environmental and convenience grounds and as a way of avoiding London’s gruesome traffic jams.

They’re all fair points and well made, but what if you HAVE to run a car in London?

Reasons could include the arrival of a new baby, the needs of an elderly or disabled relative, or perhaps due to you having a small business, whatever. So what’s the best way to run a car when all signs still point to “DON’T”?

1. Subscribe to ‘Bangernomics’
‘Bangernomics’ is essentially the practice of minimising your expenditure on everything related to your car, particularly the car itself.

For example with this approach you would purchase perhaps a 15 year old diesel Ford Mondeo estate for a couple of hundred pounds. Your insurance costs would be minimal (even in central London it could be roughly £400 per year) due to the undesirable nature of the vehicle and fuel costs would be low, as even old diesels tend to get great mileage.

You can’t do much about the Congestion Charge or the parking costs etc. but with ‘Bangernomics’ you take such a big chunk out of the cost of running the car your bank balance will still look pretty sane.

You do have to drive a banger around all the time though. And it is likely to break down a bit, but then parts are cheaper too for such a common car.

2. Choose a Hybrid Car
If you wouldn’t be seen dead driving a banger around all day then you should consider opting for a hybrid car. You do get to enjoy the warm fuzzy feeling knowing you are doing your bit to help the environment, but more importantly they offer drivers numerous financial benefits.

Many hybrids boast the ability to cut fuel expenditure by using 15-20 per cent less fuel per mile.

For Londoners bitterly opposed to the Congestion Charge, those with certain hybrids enjoy the ‘Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles Discount’ which is currently a discount of 100 per cent.

As Road Tax (Vehicle Excise Duty) is based on emissions, owners of a typical hybrid sit in a bracket effectively 4 notches lower than non-hybrid vehicles.

Hybrids tend to have much higher re-sale values when compared with non-hybrids of the same age. While some cars lose 20 per cent of their value the second they’re driven out of the showroom, hybrids may only lose 10 per cent over 3 years. This is due to hybrids ability to maintain the same level of fuel efficiency over many years and the fact they are easier to maintain and more durable.

If your choice of hybrid qualifies as an ‘ultra-low emissions’ car, the government may be able to offer you their Plug-in Car Grant to cover 25 per cent of the cost of the vehicle, up to a maximum of £5,000.

Also, as hybrids have been around since 1997, you can now buy one second hand. Saving you a bit on the upfront cost too. Or if you just have to have the latest model, there are an increasing number of hybrid car offers available thanks to the number of new brands offering hybrid models leading to increase competition.

3. Be Generally Smarter
Once you have selected your new/old non-mad car for driving in London, all you have to do is to make smart choices when out and about.

· Don’t go in the Congestion Charge Zone if you can help it
· Don’t park in a multi-story car park for 24 hours
· Don’t park illegally
· Do consider sharing journeys with friends/colleagues
· Do shop around for the cheapest petrol station in your area (usually a supermarket)
· Do compare your car insurance to ensure you have the best deal

With the right car and by making sure you use common sense when out and about, you can easily run a car in London without being considered mad.