We have seen how it has affected collieries, bridges, transport systems, streets and country houses, to mention a few. One well-known Yorkshire feature that has altered over centuries has been the Great North Road, designated the A1 in the early 1920s.
Before the Roman occupation, people travelled on unpaved tracks, some with prehistoric origins and which meandered over ridges and hills.
When the Romans arrived in AD43 they created a road network from scratch to key locations. Roads were designed to allow travel in all weathers and were mainly constructed from gravel or were paved. Bridges were stone or wood and there were manned waypoints. Between AD69 and 96 the road to Lincoln was extended to legionary bases at York and further north in a number of directions thereafter.
These road systems were largely abandoned following the withdrawal of the Legions around AD410. But quite remarkable small sections of their roads can still be identified today in remote parts.
Thereafter, the state of Britain’s roads did not advance for hundreds of years, perhaps until William of Normandy divided the country’s estates amongst his earls. Because there was dissatisfaction with the primitive communication network, they were charged with the upkeep of a road or bridge. It was an unpopular duty and not always carried out. Henry I in 1135 had decreed that a road should be ‘wide enough for two carts or six armed knights’.
The state of the roads was terrible in the 16th and 17th centuries. An Act of Parliament of 1555 imposed a duty on all parishes to maintain its roads, but the surveyor they appointed was unpaid and unpopular. Then came the Turnpike Act in 1663 and by the start of the 18th century private companies called Turnpike Trusts had charters to maintain stretches and collect tolls.
The Great North Road had evolved by the early Middle Ages as the single unified route between London and north Britain. For stretches it followed sections of the Roman Dere Street; in part it followed the natural topography and familiar routes between villages and market towns. By 1787, it was toll gated the whole way from London to Edinburgh.
When carts evolved into coaches with a basic suspension the golden era of coaching began. In the late 18th century, the journey between London and York took from four to six days. Around 1830 it took just a day, and popular coaching inns along the route included the Crown at Bawtry; the old Angel in Doncaster; the Swan and the Greyhound at Ferrybridge; the Angel at Wetherby; and the Crown at Boroughbridge .
Railways took control by the mid 19th century; the many coaching inns that provided changes of horses and refreshments for travellers becoming redundant. At the outset of the 20th century roads hit back following the introduction of motor vehicles. The Ministry of Transport, established in 1919, classified roads. Class 1 were those connecting major towns and cities, and thus the Great North Road became the A1.
Motor vehicle use was erupting even before the Second World War, causing the A1 route to be modified in 1927 when by-passes were built around Barnet and Hatfield. In the 1930s similar alterations were added around Chester-le-Street and Durham.
After the war, car use expanded enormously with towns on the Great North Road suffering unprecedented congestion. New stretches of roads were planned for fast, long-distance travel.
The A1 passed through Doncaster town centre. The idea for a Doncaster by-pass was first mooted before the war when a route on the eastern side of the town as well as on the west was considered. The western scheme formed part of the Ministry of Transport’s plan for a modernisation of the Great North Road. The new road would extend between Blyth in Nottinghamshire and Red House Adwick, South Yorkshire, avoiding Bawtry, Rossington and Doncaster town centre.
It was to have dual 24ft wide carriageways, a 15ft wide central reservation and 9ft wide hard shoulders. The curves were designed for a safe speed of 70 mph.
The River Don bridge was a distinguished feature of the work. It has seven slender steel spans. The longest of these over the Don is 179ft, supported on six hexagonal tapering concrete piers, whose average height is 55ft, each carriageway of the motorway being carried independently.
On 31 July 1961 crowds saw Minister of Transport Ernest Marples open the £6m Doncaster by-pass. He said it was the largest single project in turning the Great North Road into a great national highway.
Since then, further sections of the A1 in Yorkshire have been redeveloped, including spectacular bridges at Ferrybridge. A number of roads joining the A1 in the county have also been upgraded and towns by-passed. On June 16 1970, The Yorkshire Post reported a protest by Derrick Smith, a joiner, wanting the road to by-pass Tadcaster. Eight years later, the Post pictured two councillors walking along the new Tadcaster by-pass.
Further proposals are intended to upgrade the A1’s last non-motorway section from Red House to Darrington to motorway standard.
The intention is to provide a continuous motorway standard road between Blyth, Nottinghamshire and Washington, Tyne and Wear that will give the North East and Yorkshire full motorway access to London via the M1, M62 and M18.
This is something the Romans would doubtless have applauded.