The M40 runs from London to Birmingham via Oxford, but it's really two separate projects from two different eras. In the 1960s, work started building a motorway from London to Oxford, bypassing the congested A40, and this part was complete by 1974. It was mainly dual two-lane and it returned traffic to the A40 Wheatley Bypass at the Oxford end for the final approach to the dreaming spires.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the M1 and M6 route from London to Birmingham was suffering chronic congestion, and the solution came in the rebirth of the M40. A long new section was built, branching off the original motorway just short of its Oxford terminus and running to the M42 on the outskirts of Birmingham. This had been planned for many years - indeed, even in the early 1970s Oxford was described as a "temporary motorway terminus" - but by the time it came along, with the majority of this new route opening in a single jump in 1991, it was a quite different proposition to the M40 built in the sixties. The new motorway is dual three-lane throughout, with very few junctions and very generous curves and gradients.

The existing motorway was also refurbished to match it, with a substantial length widened to four lanes at the London end, to help provide capacity for Birmingham traffic on the existing road to Oxford.

The new section suffered a number of controversies. From Wheatley to Bicester, the line of the motorway was fiercely debated, and consideration was given to creating a substantial detour by upgrading the existing A40 and A34 between those points. The Department of Transport decided to ignore the outcome of its public inquiry and routed the motorway across Otmoor, an area of wetland that was of particular value to wildlife. In response, Friends of the Earth bought a plot of land on Otmoor, which they named Alice's Meadow, and sold it off piece by piece to 3,500 people. In order to build the M40 on its preferred line, the DTp would then have had to go through the whole Compulsory Purchase and appeals procedure 3,500 times. The protest was successful and the M40 now passes around the edge of Otmoor instead.

When it first opened, there were no services on the M40. Not only did this mean that the reasonably long drive from London to Birmingham could be done without passing a fuel station or toilet, the motorway's position in the national network - and the lack of services on either the south side of the M25 or the M20 in 1991 - also meant that it was actually possible to drive from Folkestone to Birmingham without passing any services. HGV traffic on the new motorway was minimal because lorry drivers had nowhere to stop to take their mandatory breaks. Initially relief was provided by a parking area and a temporary installation of portable toilets at the site that would later become Cherwell Valley services. The M40 now has full motorway services at Beaconsfield, Warwick and Oxford too.

Start
London
End
Solihull
Passes
Beaconsfield, High Wycombe, Oxford, Banbury, Royal Leamington Spa, Warwick
Length
89 miles
Open Junctions Section
Jun 1967 J4-5 Handy Cross → Stokenchurch
Mar 1969 J2*-4 Holtspur Temporary Terminal → Handycross
1971 J2-2* Beaconsfield Bypass
Aug 1973 J1-2 Gerrards Cross Bypass
Mar 1974 J5-8 Pitmore → Chilworth
Dec 1989 J15-M42 Longbridge → Umberslade
Jan 1991 J8-15 Waterstock → Longbridge

Exit list

Junction   Northbound               Southbound  
M42 J3A
170 km
The NORTH
Birmingham (E, N, C)
Solihull
NEC & Airport
M42 Link (M1 Link, M6 Link)
The SOUTH WEST
Birmingham (S & W)
Redditch
M42 Link (M5 Link)





M42
(M5)
NORTH





M42
(M1)
(M6)
N/A
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
12 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
16
167.5 km
A3400 A3400 Henley
A3400
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
  10 miles, 3 lanes
15
153 km
Warwick
A429
Stratford
Coventry
A46
A46

A429
A46

A429
Warwick
A429
Stratford
Coventry
A46
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 1 mile, 3 lanes
14
151.4 km
(A452) Leamington
A452
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
   
13
148.2 km
Leamington
Warwick
A452
B4100 A452
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
143.9 km Services Warwick Services Warwick
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 3 lanes 3 miles, 3 lanes
12
139.8 km
Gaydon
B4451
B4451 B4451 Gaydon
B4451
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
10 miles, 3 lanes 10 miles, 3 lanes
11
123 km
Banbury
A422
(A361)
A422
(A361)
A361

A422
Banbury
A422
(A361)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
10 miles, 3 lanes 10 miles, 3 lanes
10
106.4 km
Northampton
A43
Services Cherwell Valley
B430 A43 Northampton
A43
Services Cherwell Valley
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 3 lanes 5 miles, 3 lanes
9
97.5 km
Oxford
Newbury
A34 Link
Bicester
A41
A34 A41 Bicester
Aylesbury
A41
Oxford
Newbury
A34 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
12 miles, 3 lanes 12 miles, 3 lanes
8A
79 km
Aylesbury
A418
Oxford
A40
Services Oxford
A40 A418
(A40)
Thame
Aylesbury
A418
Oxford
A40
Services Oxford
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
0.5 miles, 3 lanes  
8
77.5 km
Oxford
Cheltenham
A40
(A40)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
1 mile, 3 lanes  
7
75.5 km
Thame
Wallingford
A329
A329 A329
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
6 miles, 3 lanes 7.5 miles, 3 lanes
6
66.5 km
Watlington
Princes Risborough
B4009
B4009 B4009 Watlington
Princes Risborough
B4009
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
5
63 km
Stokenchurch
A40
(A40) High Wycombe (W)
Stokenchurch
A40
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
8 miles, 3 lanes 8 miles, 3 lanes
4
50.5 km
High Wycombe
Marlow
A404
A404
(M4)
A4010

A404
High Wycombe
Marlow
Maidenhead
A404 (M4 Link)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
4 miles, 3 lanes 4 miles, 3 lanes
3
44.8 km
High Wycombe (E)
A40
(A40)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
3 miles, 4 lanes 3 miles, 4 lanes
2
40.3 km
Beaconsfield
Amersham
Slough
A355
Services Beaconsfield
A355 (A40) Beaconsfield
Amersham
Slough
A355
Services Beaconsfield
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
5 miles, 4 lanes 5 miles, 4 lanes
1A
32.5 km
Watford (M1 Link)
Rickmansworth
Heathrow Airport
Slough (M4 Link)
(M11 Link, M23 Link)
M25 Link
M25
(M4)
(M25)
M25
(M1)
(M11)
Watford (M1 Link)
Rickmansworth
Heathrow Airport
Slough (M4 Link)
(M11 Link, M23 Link)
M25 Link
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes LanesLanesLanesLanesLanesLanes
2 miles, 3 lanes 2 miles, 3 lanes
1
30 km
N/A A412

A4020





A40
SOUTH
A40




Central London
A40
Slough
(A412)
Uxbridge
(A4020)
LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs LanesLanesLanesLanesLanes Signs
Routes

Picture credits

With thanks to Oliver Newbury, Mick McCarthy, Gareth Allingham, Tom, Peter Harris and CJ for information on this page.