My connection (and proximity) to the A30 road has been there most of my life. The road begins near Hounslow in South West London, where I was born, and as the historic main coaching route all the way to Land’s End, it’s served me and family for numerous holiday trips.
My in-laws in Devon live off an old stretch now bypassed, and now I find myself in a village in Hampshire, along its traditonal route.
Despite these roads being used for centuries, what I’ve discovered is that nothing really stays the same for long. And this includes the stretch around Basingstoke. The ‘A30’ has been diverted more than once from its original course, and for good reason – the increase in traffic. Indeed these days the M3 and A303 are the more important routes for the motorist.
I was also surprised to find out the road numbering in The U.K. is a relatively recent affair. The Government began to look at solutions for numbering the road network around 1912, but the First World War severley disrupted the project, and it wasn’t till the ‘1936 Trunk Roads Act’ was passed there was a joined up system where the country roads were numbered.
By this stage this historic stretch of A30 as it would have been, was about to begin the process of being diverted away!
The Roads links to history
The older term ‘The Great West Road’ could be seen as a bit misleading as Bristol is in the West and I imagine the A4 could claim that title too. But as a major coaching route to the South West that is what the A30 was know as from London.
Even with better roads, conditions would vary how much time a journey would take.
So from 20 – 40 miles with a coach could be a realistic days travel. The need for inns (and stables), grew around these clusters into some of the communities we have today such as Overton, and Hartley Witney, but many old inns are evident in lone spots, (to me locally), such as Water End, Hartford Bridge and Deane, so it was well serviced route for the traveller. I lived in Mapledurwell for a couple of years just off the A30, and joining the road at Water End on a misty Autumn morning could feel as remote a place as probably it ever was!
The Deane Gate Inn in Deane, is still standing but sadly been closed for several years. Jane Austen and her family would have known it well as the village she grew up in Steventon is signposted from the inn and was a dropping off point for Coaches. It even gets a mention it in a letter to her sister. Read more here.
Lets hope the inn is purchased again and carries on a tradition of serving the traveller .
Laverstoke Mill owned by Henry Portal, produced the paper for the Bank of England’s Bank notes. Their current plant at Quidhampton is situated next to the railway, but originally based in Laverstoke, between Overton and Whitchurch, paper would have been transported by road before the railway arrived in 1854. (Read more about the history of the mill in my blog here…)
Laverstoke and neigbouring Freefolk are great villages to visit and easy to walk around. As well as the old mill buildings, (now Bombay Saphire), there are attractive mill workers cottages, Flint facaded cottages and in Freefolk, a conserved church of historic interest (St Nicholas), and one of the best examples of thatching in Hampshire you’ll see… All nestled by the River Test. I’ll no doubt be writing a blog about these gems at a future date…
The Trafalgar Way
Perhaps its single most important historical event connected with the road occured when ‘dispatches‘ from Nelson and the Battle of Trafalgar used the route in 1805 for speed to get the messages between The Admiralty in London, and scene of Battle. Royal Navy Schooners could dock at Falmouth and then with 22 changes of horses, along the 271 mile trip, and an approx 37 hour journey time. Soon after the good news of victory in battle was shared, it was followed swiftly by the tragic news of Nelson’s passing. To mark the Bi-centenury in 2005, events were held and plaques were unveiled at the staging towns. In our case, at nearby Overton. This route has become know as the ‘Trafalgar Way’.
As with so many aspects of life, The arrival of the motor car quickly undid centuries of travelling convention. Before, coaches would be catered for with regular stopping posts, (inns and hotels), as it was generally easy to estimate a days travel. The car soon slashed journey times and as their popularity grew the roads faced new demands. For a while it may have been a novelty, but the old roads weren’t always fit to accommodate the new mode of transport.
By the time my parents were driving, they were by-passing the town centres but the photos of traffic jams from the period still show the mayhem!
Changes west of Basingstoke
In 1932 the A30 was diverted out from Basingstoke with a by-pass, and to the west of the town in 1933, the old route become the B3400, which it is to this day… The traveller would no longer need to navigate an increasingly windy route to Andover, countless of how pretty the view was. (Read more about the first A30 bypass on my blog here).
The A303 arrives…
The A303 is a funny road. Today it offers the motorist a schizophrenic journey, taking over the role as the Primary route to The South West. Initially fast and helpful, it then just peters out in Devon, and gives way back to the A30 at Honiton. The traffic around Stonehenge is a problem that blights most journeys. However a couple of years back, the BBC made an affectionate documentary about it and worth seeing. I suppose the dream of a dual carraigeway the whole length through some wonderful countryside was never an option. The A303 starts as a shoot off the M3 junction 8. As the map beneath shows, it was built on older exsisting roads. Part of the ‘new’ A30 was used, but in effect with road numbering system caused a gap to appear between North Waltham and Sutton Scotney, (near the A34).
This nicely brings my journey along the lost stretches of the A30 full circle. The keen eye will see above, it is still possible to drive this old A30 route if you know where to exit near popham, and have quite a nostalgic (and very traffic free) journey!
The first two parts of the A30’s story are still very much intact and can be driven on and enjoyed. Maybe I’m wrong to think of the original road west of Basingstoke to Andover as the original A30, as its tenure with this title was so short lived. But its importance as The Great West Road has a much richer story.