Southend Arterial Road, 20+ Miles Romford to Southend

OS 1937-61
Modern Map
Date opened/built:

In stages, from 1937 to 1940.


20.5 miles (33kms).


9ft and 6ft (2.74m and 1.83m).

Adjoining footway:


Road type:

Urban/rural dual carriageway.


Concrete, and period and modern asphalt.

Both sides of road:

Yes and no.

Adjacent to social housing:


Period mapping:

Gallows corner: OS 1:2,500 surveyed 1960, published 1962 Start of Prince Avenue: OS 1:2,500 surveyed 1951, published 1952 Shows cycle tracks. For full length of road and location of truncations see the OS 1:2,500 Side by side mapping at

OpenCycleMap status: Long sections of cycleway are marked both sides of road, but often truncated.


Period maps, period newspapers, MoT archives, period film, Britain from Above aerial photography.

Mash-up of large-scale OS map of Southend Arterial Road and Google Maps.

“Here is the Southend Arterial Road on a wet day,” intones the snarky narrator of a police road safety film released in 1947.

“Cycle tracks are provided for the safety of cyclists,” he continued. “Do they use them? No, they prefer to pedal along serenely risking a serious accident from a chance skid on a greasy road.”

In fact, most of the cyclists in the shot – it looks like a CTC-style club run – are quite clearly using the cycle track.

The Southend Arterial Road – from Gallows Corner in Romford to the start of Princes Avenue on the outskirts of Southend – was retrofitted with a 20-mile cycle track, sometimes on both sides of the road, in about 1938.

Workmen using an Allam Vibro Finisher to level concrete on cycle track on the Southend Arterial Road, 1937.

Retrofitted because the Southend Arterial Road had been built 13 years previously.

The road, and the Eastern Avenue from which it starts, were built as a single project, starting in 1921. Both roads were officially opened by Prince Henry (later the Duke of Gloucester) on 25 March 1925.

(Like his more famous brother, the prince suffered from a speech impediment — he was unable to pronounce the letter “r,” causing the intended letter to sound like “w.” Therefore, in his opening speech, Prince Henry praised the “new woad,” although obviously and tactfully that’s not how the press reported it at the time.)

Six years after it was opened as a single carriageway road the MoT started to plan to introduce both a second carriageway and footways on each side of the road.

Within another four years the idea to provide footways had been supplemented with the additional provision of cycle tracks.

“I have discussed the question of cycle tracks in Essex with the County Surveyor, and have urged him to put these in hand on the Southend Road, Eastern Avenue and on the East Ham and Barking By-pass,” wrote London’s divisional road engineer H. E. Dedington to the MoT’s chief engineer Colonel Bressey in August 1935.

“Provision for the second carriageway on the whole length of the London-Southend Road between Harold Wood Station and the Southend boundary is included in the Five Years Programme of Essex County Council,” added Dedington, saying that the council intended to “commence this work during the financial year 1936/1937.”

“Cycle tracks will be constructed throughout,” confirmed Minister of Transport Leslie Hore-Belisha to parliament in February 1937, stating that the council “expect to complete the first four miles from Gallows Corner by the end of next month.”

OS map showing cycle tracks on the Southend Arterial Road.

A correspondent for The Bicycle weekly paper noted that the “first part of the scheme is concerned with the section, about 6,300 yards long, between Squirrels Heath-road and Great Warley-road.” In a reply to a period information request about cycle track building from the American Embassy, the Ministry of Transport said that the first four miles of the Southend Arterial Road’s cycle tracks would be 9ft wide and surfaced with concrete and “consolidated hoggin.”

(“Hoggin” is a Thames Valley term for fine binding flint gravel, said the MoT letter.)

The first few miles of the cycle tracks on the Southend Arterial Road were, indeed, surfaced with concrete, confirmed a construction trade magazine in 1937:

“We have recently had an opportunity of inspecting the cycle track which has now been completed on the south side of the road for distance of approximately six miles,” reported Roads and Road Construction.

“The track is of concrete construction and the concrete has been placed by a vibro finisher supplied by E. P. Allam & Co. Ltd. 6, Great James Street, London.”

The magazine also revealed a difference between the tracks on each side of the road. There were “two cycle tracks, one 6ft. in width on the south side, and one 9 ft. in width on the north side of the road.”

An article in the Birmingham Post added that a “new footpath six feet wide will also be provided.”

The article estimated that the full length of the road, “a distance of about eighteen and a half miles,” would be completed by the end of summer in 1940 for “work is proceeding on the final section, more than ten miles long.”

A 1949 aerial photograph of the Laindon section of the road shows the two carriageways and the cycle tracks snaking off into the distance.

That the cycle track was in use at this point soon after it was constructed is shown by press mentions such as a 1938 report about a cyclist fined for being drunk in charge of a bicycle and who “went off the cycle track on to the road” near Laindon. And in the following year an RAC Scout on a motorcycle was fined for not paying attention at a garage turn-in and nearly running into East Ham butcher Mr. B. Bull and his wife, who were “tandem cycling along the cycle track at the side of the arterial road.”

Many long stretches of the period cycle track still exist although some key sections have been extinguished by later remodellings, especially at junctions.


The tracks on the Southend Arterial Road once meshed with the rudimentary “cycleway” network of the New Town of Basildon built, controversially, after 1949. Basildon had 4.5 miles of “partially separated” cycleways by the 1960s, said a contemporary study. The cycleways were not as extensive as the dense network of grade-separated cycleways built in the New Town of Stevenage in the same period.

“Basildon will become a city which people from all over the world will want to visit,” predicted Lewis Silkin, Clement Atlee’s Minister of Town and Country Planning in front of a large, rowdy gathering at High Road School, Laindon, on 30 September 1948.


“Here is the Southend Arterial Road ...

Therefore, in his opening speech ... Royal weather favoured a great ceremony on Wednesday, the opening by H.R.H. Prince Henry of the new London to Southend Road ... Where the new road enters the Southend boundary at Eastwood, a handsome arch had been erected, bearing a message of welcome ... The Prince was led to the bandstand, where the Mayor read the address of the county borough, which stated “It is believed that the new road is the longest arterial road constructed at any one time since the Roman occupation of this country, it is therefore of great historic importance, and will provide ready means of access both from the Metropolis and from the Midland Counties to our Borough ... To all concerned, let me offer humble and sincere congratulations. May the new road promote the development of Essex, foster the prosperity of the motor trade, and bring hosts of visitors to Southend, whose hospitality we all have such excellent reason to appreciate.” Chelmsford Chronicle, 27 March 1925.

Six years after it was opened ... “The scheme for a second carriageway along a portion of the Southend arterial road makes provision for a footway,” said Minister of Transport Herbert Morrison. HC Deb 02 July 1931 vol 254 cc1477-8W

“Provision for the second ... Letter to chief engineer from H. E. Dedington, Divisional Road Engineer, London, August 13, 1935

“Cycle tracks will be constructed ... HC Deb 18 February 1937 vol 320 c1384W 1384W.

A correspondent for The Bicycle ... The Bicycle, 3 November, 1936.

In a reply to a period information request ... Stats from letter to Mr. Stebbins, Assistant Trade Commissioner, American Embassy, Bush House, W. C2, 18 March 1937.

“The track is of concrete ... “The Allam Vibro Finisher,” Roads and Road Construction, 1 June, 1937.

BASILDON The tracks ... “Planning for the Cyclist in Urban Areas,” Jean K. Perraton, The Town Planning Review, Vol. 39, No. 2 July 1968.

The article estimated that ... Birmingham Daily Post, 10 January 1939.

An aerial photograph of ... The Southend Arterial Road roundabout at the junction with High Road, Laindon, 1949:

That the cycle track was ... “John S. Young, Colvin Gardens, Barkingside, was summoned for being drunk in charge of a bicycle Laindon on June 30 — P.C. Stanley said he : saw accused being assisted on his bicycle on the Arterial Road. He attempted to ride, but could not keep a straight track, and went off the cycle track on to the road, where he was narrowly missed by a motor car. He continued to be a danger to traffic, and was arrested lor his own safety. He was drunk.—Defendant, who said he was more tired than drunk, having cycled 55 miles, was fined 10/-.” Chelmsford Chronicle, 17 June 1938.

And in the following year ... “Edward G. Short, R.A.C. Scout, Basildon Road, Laindon, was summoned for driving carelessly at Laindon on June 4.—Supt Whiting said Mr. B. Bull, a butcher, of East Ham, and his wife, were tandem cycling along the cycle track at the side of the arterial road, when suddenly a motor cycle driven by defendant turned off the road and crossed over the path to a garage. The cyclists braked, but a collision occurred. Mr. Bull and his wife were thrown off, and Mrs. Bull was badly injured.” Essex Newsman, 22 July 1939.

Explore the tracks