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📚 Mapping the Roads: Building modern Britain

I’ve finished reading Mapping The Roads: Building modern Britain by Mike Parker. A beautiful little book that had been on my shelf for years. It’s filled with gems, such as:

  • Driving on the left became law in 1722 in an effort to deal with congestion on London Bridge. (Driving on the left makes sense as tradition for horse riders in a world where most people are right-handed; that hand is free for greetings or drawing swords.)
  • In 1895, Britain had around 15 cars. This swelled to 700–800 by the turn of the century, 8,500 by 1904 and more than 85,000 ten years later.
  • Bridget Driscoll was the first pedestrian to be killed by a car in Britain, in 1896. The coroner said he hoped that “such a thing would never happen again”.
  • The AA had people on patrol who would salute members showing their badges. If the AA patrol person didn’t salute, you could stop and ask them why and they could then inform you of a speed trap ahead.
  • Fuel cost the equivalent of £2/litre (in 2016 prices) in 1920.
  • The road numbering system in England and Wales is focused on London, with the M1 going directly north and the numbers ascending in order in a clockwise direction. Scotland got roads beginning with 7, 8 and 9, centred around Edinburgh. In both cases the most important roads got the shortest numbers.
  • The first petrol station opened in 1919. Ten years later there were 54,000.
  • The first motorway in Britain was…the Preston bypass, not the M1.

The book has so many lovely maps and illustrations. Pitched at just the right level for a road-curious nerd without getting lost in the detail, it was a joy to read.

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