A5 road (Great Britain)
Roman Britain, with the route of Watling Street in red
A5 approaching Shrewsbury, Shropshire
|Southeast end:||City of London
The A5 is a major road in England and Wales. It runs for about 260 miles (420 km) (including sections concurrent with other designations) from London, England to Holyhead, Wales, following in part a section of the Roman Iter II route which later took the Anglo-Saxon name Watling Street.
The history of the A5 begins with the Act of Union 1800, which unified Great Britain and Ireland. The government of the new United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland saw a need to improve communication links between London and Dublin. A Parliamentary committee led to an Act of Parliament of 1815 that authorised the purchase of existing turnpike road interests and, where necessary, the construction of new road, to complete the route between the two capitals. This made it the first major civilian state-funded road building project in Britain since Roman times. Responsibility for establishing the new route was awarded to the famous engineer, Thomas Telford.
Through England, the road largely took over existing turnpike roads, which mainly followed the route of the Anglo-Saxon Wæcelinga Stræt (Watling Street), much of which had been historically the Roman road Iter II.
From Shrewsbury and through Wales, Telford's work was more extensive. In places he followed existing roads, but he also built new links, including the Menai Suspension Bridge to connect the mainland with Anglesey and the Stanley Embankment to Holy Island.
Telford's road was complete with the opening of the Menai Suspension Bridge in 1826.
Notable features for the original design
The road was designed to allow stagecoaches and the Mail coach to carry post between London and Holyhead, and thence by mailboat to Ireland. Therefore throughout its length the gradient never exceeds 1:20 (5%).
The route through Wales retains many of the original features of Telford's road and has, since 1995, been recognised as a historic route worthy of preservation. These features include the following:
- many surviving and distinctive toll houses
- 'depots' along the route, being roadside alcoves to store grit and materials
- distinctive milestones at each mile - many originals having survived and been restored, others now replaced by replicas
- distinctive gates in a 'sunburst' design, a few of which have survived
- a weighbridge at Lon Isaf, between Bangor and Bethesda
London - Milton Keynes
Starting at Marble Arch in London, the A5 runs northwest up the Edgware Road through Kilburn and Cricklewood. The A5 number disappears near Edgware, but the Roman Road continues as the A5183 through Elstree, Radlett, St Albans and Redbourn, to junction 9 of the M1, where it becomes the A5 again. From there, it passes through Dunstable, where it crosses and briefly multiplexes with the A505. North of Dunstable, the A5 passes through the village of Hockliffe before becoming a dual carriageway and bypassing Little Brickhill.
Milton Keynes - Hinckley
On entering the Milton Keynes urban area, the road becomes a fully grade-separated dual carriageway and passes through Milton Keynes. This stretch was opened in 1980, and enabled the older route to be incorporated into the Milton Keynes grid road system. From just north of Milton Keynes, the road resumes as a single carriageway that continues through Towcester where it crosses the A43 dual carriageway just north of the town. The road accompanies the Grand Union Canal and the M1 motorway through the Watford Gap. As it passes close to Rugby, the road is diverted slightly around the DIRFT complex. After this it passes the remains of the Rugby radio station and bridges the M45 motorway.
The next phase to the Wales-England border takes it through Kilsby before going under the M6 motorway and passing close to Lutterworth. Along this stretch, the road frequently alternates between being a single and a dual carriageway. After meeting the M69 motorway at a roundabout, with the motorway passing above, the A5 runs through Hinckley.
Hinckley - Shrewsbury
After Hinckley, the road runs through the northern fringes of Nuneaton and then Tamworth. At Tamworth, the road follows a more recent dual carriageway bypass, permitting the original alignment to become a local road in the town. From this point the road is a grade separated dual carriageway up until its junction with the A38 and M6 toll. After this junction it passes just to the south of Cannock and then enters Telford, where it loses its identity and route-shares with the M54 motorway from junction 5. At junction 7 the motorway ends and the A5 continues to Shrewsbury as dual carriageway, on its new alignment. (The original route through Telford, and then via Atcham to Shrewsbury, is unclassified through Oakengates and as the B5061 through Wellington and the B4380 through Atcham). Continuing from the end of the M54, the route runs around Shrewsbury as the town's southern bypass (still as dual carriageway), combining for a stretch with the A49. (The route once ran through the town, but was first bypassed in the 1930s, then by-passed again in the early 1990s).
Shrewsbury - Bangor
After Shrewsbury the A5 continues as single-carriageway except for the Nesscliffe bypass. It then forms part of the Oswestry bypass, running to the east of that town. Shortly after, it crosses the River Dee and enters Wales. From the Wales-England border, it continues from Chirk through Snowdonia via Llangollen, Corwen, Capel Curig, and through the centre of Bangor.
Bangor - Holyhead
From Bangor the road crosses the Menai Suspension Bridge between mainland Wales and Anglesey, through Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch then runs roughly parallel to the A55 expressway until the two roads merge in the centre of Holyhead.
Tŷ Nant cutting
In 1997, a section of bends on Telford's road between Tŷ Nant and Dinmael was by-passed by a modern cutting. However, investigation in 2006 revealed that the rock face in the cutting had become unstable, and the A5 was closed from the end of May 2006. Traffic was diverted onto the old A5 route, on a stretch known as the Glyn Bends, while the rock face was made safe. This involved the removal of 230,000 tonnes of rock and alluvial deposits. In July 2007, the A5 through the reconstructed cutting was reopened.
Parts of the A5 have been replaced by sections of the M1 north of London, the M54 through Telford, the M6, and the M6 Toll. The A55 route in North Wales is now the usual way to get from Chirk to Holyhead, avoiding the mountainous A5 route through Snowdonia and instead going via the much gentler Cheshire Plain and along the coast.
In June 2008, a 9.9-mile (16 km) stretch of the A5 between Daventry and Rugby was named as the most dangerous road in the East Midlands. This single carriageway stretch had 15 fatal and serious injury collisions between 2004 and 2006, and was rated as Red—the second highest risk band—in the EuroRAP report publish by the Road Safety Foundation.
- Quartermaine et al. (2003) Thomas Telford's Holyhead Road: The A5 in North Wales, Council for British Archaeology ISBN 1-902771-34-6
- Closure Of A5 Trunk Road Between Ty Nant And Dinmael
- A5 at Ty Nant reopens ahead of schedule
- Highest risk road sections in each UK Government Office Region (2004-2006)
Media related to A5 road (Great Britain) at Wikimedia Commons
- Society for All British Road Enthusiasts entry for the A5
- Road to Nowhere: A5
- Nesscliffe bypass opened 21 March 2003.
- Milestonesweb entry
- EuroRAP GB Tracking Survey Results 2008
- Road Safety Foundation