The previous year Britain’s first section of motorway had opened to alleviate traffic jams in Preston , diverting through traffic to the east of the then town. But that was just an eight mile stretch: on November 2 1959 a proper run was made available to Britain’s drivers, some 60 miles from Watford up to Crick near Rugby , plus two short spurs, officially the M10 (forming a bypass around St Albans ) and the M45 (heading to Coventry ) that it was hoped would prevent bottlenecks where the M1 then started and finished.
Transport Minister Ernest Marples attended the opening ceremony, then was scared to death by drivers passing his official car on the road at high speeds – perhaps unsurprisingly there was no motorway speed limit in effect at that time, nor would there be until a temporary limit was brought in six years later (as ephemeral as income tax has proved).
Within the first hour some 3000 cars are supposed to have used the road, their numbers including many motoring journalists and speedsters keen to give sports cars a burn-up.
Tarmac carried out the construction, for which much of the labour was provided by recent immigrants, many from the West Indies and the Indian subcontinent, helping create a new backbone for our road network.
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