Road Building & Construction In The UK

Road Building in Britain

Roads in Britain did not, in effect, exist, until the Romans established themselves here, a little after the birth of Christ.

The country was not without “ways”, the great Icknield way and Pedars way to name just a couple, which followed ridges and generally higher ground, which made them useable for most of the year, but for the most part, basic tracks ran between communities.

The use of these tracks would be determined by the weather or the time of the year. Rain could render route impassable as a quagmire, prolonged rain could simply wash the track away.

The Romans arrived, it must have seemed to the Britons, from another planet, with their surveyors, engineers, mathematical and construction equipment, and cohorts and legions of soldiers.

The Romans built communities where they wanted them to be, and built roads to them, and roads to connect forts with towns, and towns with ports.

The roads were built by raising them above the level of the surrounding land by building up an earthen bank or bund, using the spoil from digging a drainage ditch on either side of the road. The road base would be a layer of big stones or rocks, compacted, and kerb stones set along the sides to keep the construction contained.

The subsequent layer would be of broken stone and tiles, pebbles and sand. Roads perceived to be major arteries, and carry heavier traffic were topped with flat, cut stone slabs for durability.

As a testament to durability, some of these roads can be walked on today, as they have been for almost 2,000 years.

When the Romans left Britain, the knowledge of road building went too, and it took over 1,200 years before a couple of engineers, independent of each other, appreciated what changing times required in the eighteenth century, and began to build engineered roads in Britain again.

Thomas Telford and John MacAdam both understood the need to build raised cambered roads which would effectively drain water off quickly. Not dissimilar to Roman methods, a heavy base was covered with a thick layer of small broken stones, then gravel and sand, utilising the weight of traffic to compress and harden the surface.

With the addition of tar mixed with road-stone as a surface, tarmacadam became widely recognised as the most effective road building material.

Road building in Britain today does not differ greatly in its principles of construction, but can apply scientifically proven materials to any form of road required. Modern machinery – – is at the forefront of today’s road construction, with evermore powerful tools enabling road construction with greater speed and accuracy than ever.