In 1943, with a World War still to be won and victory far from certain the Government commissioned a group of civil engineers, architects and town planners to draw up plans for the London that would be built once peace came. There was a lot to do. A third of the London housing stock was damaged and nearly 1 ½ million people were in need of homes. The group, working under Sir Patrick Abercrombie, produced two reports – the County of London Plan 1943 and the Greater London Plan 1944. These are staggering documents – for their detail, the breadth of their vision and above all their sheer optimism. At a time when Europe was firmly under the heel of the Nazi jackboot and peace and security seemed a forlorn hope Abercrombie and his team were envisaging an urban utopia – with new homes on smart estates, large areas of open space for everyone to enjoy (4 acres of per 1000 people was the recommended standard), a ‘green belt’ to control urban sprawl and a network of urban roads and fast expressways connecting cities. Look at any modern road atlas and you will see Abercrombie’s 1943 proposed scheme in actuality – the North and South Circular roads, the M25 orbital road and radiating out from the centre the now familiar motorways.
The Abercrombie team planned 10 new major motorway routes. The first, Route 1, connected London with Exeter and Plymouth via Chertsey and followed the old Great Chertsey Road, the A316 as we know it today. The original idea was for the new motorway to come through St Margarets right into London where it would connect with a new inner London ring road at Chiswick.
In the late 1960’s Richmond Council approved plans for this new ‘motorway feeder road’ to pass north of the centre of St Margarets with no junctions between Twickenham and Manor Circus, the small roundabout on the Lower Mortlake Road by Sainsburys. A new primary road would also have been constructed from Richmond Circus, cutting across the Barons in St Margarets and joining up with Crown Road, effectively turning downtown TW1 into Spaghetti Junction.
However, when the plans were passed to the newly formed London Borough of Richmond upon Thames, they were immediately rejected as “deplorable”. Happily this seems to have been the end of any real proposals to upgrade the A316 near Richmond for motorway traffic, though the GLC appear to have remained optimistic about the M3 reaching Chiswick until about 1973!
Abercrombie and his team have passed into history – but their two reports are still held in very high regard. Their optimism, dedication and determination to build a new city laid low by war at a time when that war was still being fought are to be applauded… even though they tried to drop an 8 lane Motorway around our ears!