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Route of the M1

The M1 is Britain's first full-length motorway and possibly its most iconic. (The Preston Bypass was the first, but was not very long. It was part of the M6.) It is also one of the most important, forming the main road north from London and connecting up the East Midlands and the most populous areas of Yorkshire before handing the north-south baton to the A1(M) near Leeds. It does everything, in other words, short of making the tea.

Its first section ran from St Albans to Rugby and opened in December 1959. At the time it was stunning — the idea of a road on which you could maintain breakneck speeds (and with no speed limit), that gave you three full traffic lanes for fifty miles or more, that had flyovers and bridges to get all cross-traffic and other obstructions out of the way — well, it was unbelievable.

Today, it holds together remarkably well for something designed for 1950s traffic. Its specification called for a capacity of 13,000 to 14,000 vehicles per day, and today it carries 130,000 to 140,000. Relief is coming bit by bit in the shape of widening works, adding a fourth lane and giving slightly more generous proportions to some of the junctions. Sadly this change means destroying the highly unusual architecture of the original motorway.

It was mostly completed in the sixties, with plans to extend it west of Leeds to meet the A1 at Dishforth shelved in the 1970s. The problem of getting traffic north beyond Leeds remained, however, and in 1999 about eight miles of new motorway were tacked on to the top of the M1 to make it swing east of Leeds and connect to the A1(M) at Hook Moor.


Start London (A406)
Finish Hook Moor (A1(M))
Passes Northampton, Leicester, Nottingham, Derby, Sheffield, Wakefield, Leeds
Length 200 miles
Terminates M6, M18, A14, A42, A50
Spurs M45, M621 (and formerly M10)
Meets M25, M62, A38

With thanks to Clive Jones, John Morgan, Robert Sprigge, Moogal, Duncan Childs, Ian Hooper, Lewis, Phil Reynolds, Paul Berry and Nick for information in this section.