Friday, 28 November 2014

Britain's First Roundabout

Roundabouts – love ‘em or hate them, they are an integral part of most road systems and essential in getting around in this day and age (although it is somewhat debatable when encountering either of the Magic specimens located in Swindon or Hemel Hempstead, but I digress).

But from where do roundabouts originate and what was (or in fact still is) the location of the first ever roundabout created in the United Kingdom?

For that illustrious honour you have to travel to Hertfordshire or more to the point, to the new town of Letchworth Garden City.

Hidden in the depths of tree lined highways, with charming residential abodes all around, the first gyratory traffic flow system or roundabout in the UK is still located in a sleepy area of the Garden City at Sollershott Circus.

Britain's First Roundabout

Dating from circa 1909, the town’s architects Barry Parker and Raymond Unwin introduced this now common road junction into this country as part of their highway master plan for the UK's first Garden City. The rest, as they say is history!

The centre was originally designed as a traffic island for pedestrians to ease the problem of crossing the road, especially with the increased traffic expected around the junction. It was reported in a newspaper article of the opening being attended by "a number of vehicles including buses from the neighbouring town of Hitchin."
Columbus Circle circa 1907

The first recognisable roundabout in the world was New York's Columbus Circle. It was opened 4 years before its counterpart in Letchworth, although similar style junctions were used in France in the latter part of the 19th Century.

So Letchworth can be remembered not only as the homes of legendary cricketer Sir Jack Hobbs, ex-BBC Royal correspondent Jennie Bond and enthusiastic scientist and media personality Dr Magnus Pike, but also as the birthplace of a British institution that has colonised the country (and especially Milton Keynes!).

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