Roads and Road Construction

Building Roads in Britain

The first real roads in Britain were built by the army of the Imperial Roman Empire. The tracks and paths of the ancient Britons would certainly never do for the legions of Rome, and build extensively they did.

In fact, not just in Britain, but across all of the lands that the romans conquered and occupied, their armies and engineers built thousands of miles of roads of such quality and durability, that stretches of them can still be seen in places, some two thousand years later.

Their engineers and planners were not phased by much, and their roads were preferred to be in straight lines and very few natural obstacles proved insurmountable, as a surviving number of bridges, viaducts, and aqueducts still stand witness.

After the romans left Britain, the Dark ages settled over it, and little permanent construction of anything took place until after 1066, after which impressive cathedrals, castles and monasteries were built, but very little attention was given to roads until the eighteenth century.

In the 1700’s, invention and discovery were beginning to change the country. Wealth from overseas possessions enabled the government to help subsidise investment in canal building.

The canals were to link up the new towns and centres of manufacturing with producers of raw materials, coal, wool, food etc. and the population grew quickly, but still the roads remained little more than tracks.

These could be impassable at certain times of the year, through deep rutting in dry weather or winter flooding. As the industrial revolution gathered pace, the Turnpike toll road system was encouraged.

This meant that anyone using the road would pay a fee, or toll and the money raised was spent on maintaining the road. What was needed was new technology in road construction, and two engineers independently began to build their own types of road structure.

Thomas Telford was a brilliant engineer building many bridges and infrastructure pioneering. He was responsible for building over 1,000 miles of road.

His road building technique was for a well drained, cambered road built on substantial footings, which was highly durable, but rather expensive.

At a similar time, another engineer, John McAdam looked at a durable build, but reasoned that if the drainage off the surface was good enough, then the road could be built without the need of stone foundation.

The upper layer was of smaller stones which with the passing of traffic, compressed to bind together and form a very hard wearing surface. This proved so efficient and economical it was taken up in many countries and used until the arrival of the motor car.

In the early days these roads were built using picks and spades, but with the passing of time, large construction achines have replaced man power & companies such as Hanlon CASE supply heavy plant for road building worldwide.

The surface layer was then mixed with tar when laying it, and the tarmacadam road has been with us ever since, although todays construction techniques have to cope with huge potential tonnages of vehicles.