Saturday, 1 October 2011

M1 – improving your landscape?

When whizzing back yesterday on M1 I had a new viewpoint to consider. I found out that a famous conservationist had written in 1935 that some dull, rolling landscapes, not very attractive for a walker, could be improved by building motorways over them. The landscape could become alive with speed when especially younger drivers would develop a new kind of relationship with their rural countryside passing by.

From the beginning rural beauty was something to consider when motorways were planned. However, in the beginning there was little opposition to the plans until the first campaign against a route of a British motorway took place in Leicestershire in 1957 and 1958. The routing of the second phase of M1 through Charnwood Forest was opposed by ramblers and even by the Royal Fine Art Commission. The alternative route through the Soar Valley was opposed by the farmers who did not want to lose their valuable agricultural land. The current route was the compromise, which saved a chunk of National Forest.

It was fascinating to read Merriman's book that discussed geographically constructing, planning and designing M1 but did not really mention archaeology. The constructors must have ploughed through some archaeology. At least they seem to have recorded their building work meticulously. There were air photos, helicopter rides, even an artist painting motorway construction scenes. The locals sometimes recorded the landscape to be altered and to be vanished – in Northamptonshire the Camera Club did exactly this and in Luton local residents did the same. The locals also came to see diggers and to take photographs. There must be ditch sections visible in some of those photos.

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