The Great North Road
August 9, 2011 2:49 AM   Subscribe

"A superb amateur home movie in colour from August 1939, recording a trip north from London along the A1."
posted by maxwelton (41 comments total) 34 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wow, amazing! Also, note how many people are on bicycles - this is really noticeable when the footage leaves London and reaches Stevenage.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:01 AM on August 9, 2011


Interesting to note that the roads don't seem to be clearly divided into separate lanes for each direction, I guess there wasn't enough traffic at the time for it to be a problem. On another note, doesn't London look just lovely without all that awful traffic congestion?
posted by _frog at 3:07 AM on August 9, 2011


What a great find! I like how the whole thing only gets him as far as Grantham - somewhere near where you might think about stopping for your first coffee on a modern trip north from London to the road's final end Edinburgh. The route has a pretty interesting history. Dick Turpin and Black bess made it from London to York in a (fictional) 15 hours back in the 1730s.
posted by rongorongo at 3:08 AM on August 9, 2011


This is very gentle, and the camera person seems to have a fascination of receding vehicles. I love pre monocoque English cars. Thanks for posting
posted by the noob at 3:24 AM on August 9, 2011


Noticed a lot of tailgaters.

Also, at about 3:20ish, it looks like there's a car that looks like it's cut in half...driving. What's that?
posted by snwod at 3:48 AM on August 9, 2011


Looks like a trike to me.
posted by pompomtom at 3:55 AM on August 9, 2011


snwod, that's a 3-wheeler BSA car. Morgan and a couple of manufacturers made similar machines. Typically, they were considered a step up from a motorbike/sidecar combo. I think they were taxed as a motorcycle, so were cheaper to run than a "real" car.
posted by maxwelton at 3:59 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


The towns look so much better without parked cars and garish shop-fronts. Beautiful find.
posted by estuardo at 4:15 AM on August 9, 2011


Also, at about 3:20ish, it looks like there's a car that looks like it's cut in half...driving. What's that?

Three wheelers were quite popular then
posted by the noob at 4:35 AM on August 9, 2011


Just pre-war; a barrage balloon over London. Nice find.
posted by scruss at 4:37 AM on August 9, 2011


Biggleswade is just asking to have a cat named after it.
posted by TooFewShoes at 4:59 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I love the Great North Road (which this is - the modern A1 is a few miles west for quite a lot of it) and I know it pretty well, but I only recognise two of those scenes - the hotel north of Eaton Socon (Buckden?) and what is now Stevenage Old Town.

It would be really interesting to find the exact locations and try to reproduce it today. Some of those roads with suicide lane are probably now under the A1M, but the rest should be doable.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 5:00 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is that a full face helmet on the motorcyclist at 3.23?
posted by Ahab at 5:05 AM on August 9, 2011


Biggleswade is just asking to have a cat named after it.
This cat from Biggleswade begs to differ.
posted by rongorongo at 5:24 AM on August 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


Really stunning. I will show this to my mum later this week.

The thing that stands out for me are the long lines of telegraph poles, with their myriad of wires and the porcelain insulators on each one. Did other countries have similar designs?
posted by Hogshead at 5:46 AM on August 9, 2011


Interesting to note that the roads don't seem to be clearly divided into separate lanes for each direction, I guess there wasn't enough traffic at the time for it to be a problem. On another note, doesn't London look just lovely without all that awful traffic congestion?

It looks like it might have been one lane in each direction, with the center lane for over-taking, which makes as much sense as anything.
posted by hoyland at 6:06 AM on August 9, 2011


There's an odd little bit at 1:40 where the bicyclist who passes appears in the later scene, like he caught up to him down the road and then started filming again.
posted by odinsdream at 6:11 AM on August 9, 2011


The thing that stands out for me are the long lines of telegraph poles, with their myriad of wires and the porcelain insulators on each one

These days you can still buy porcelain insulators from hifi speaker cable fraudsters

Back on track: people might also like Paul Graham's pictures from his trip along the same route - taken in the 1980s and compiled here (if you have £350 handy).
posted by rongorongo at 6:18 AM on August 9, 2011


This cat from Biggleswade begs to differ.

Treacle of Biggleswade!

This film is wonderful. I live one block from a similar road in the US, that used to be *the* north-south highway through most of my state until it was supplanted by the big speedy interstate a mile to the west. When I'm not in a hurry, I'll drive the old road instead through all the little towns along the way, with the remnants of the local diners, motels, gas stations, some of which have survived or were repurposed. Oh well, progress or whatever.
posted by FelliniBlank at 6:30 AM on August 9, 2011


Okay... I'm bored...
Youtube (then) - GoogleMaps (now - ish)

0:33 - Regents Park

1:34 - Stevenage Old Town (the only bit I think is wide enough, but I can't make the images match)

2:13 - Biggleswade

2:11 - A few yards down the road, but they've removed the war memorial?

3:16 - The Lion in Buckden

3:24 - The George in Buckden (opposite The Lion)
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:32 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


(I've also, apparently, just taken an hour and a half for lunch. Damn you Metafilter.)
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:33 AM on August 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


The three lane roads are indeed for overtaking.

In theory, you were only supposed to be in the middle lane when you were overtaking someone, but as roads got busier, the chances of people wanting to overtake in both direction at the same time increased and they turned into accident blackspots as the overtakers played chicken, both thinking they had the greater right to be there.

Those that survive have almost all got road markings that show which direction has priority on the middle lane, so the guy going the other way would be at fault if there is a crash.
posted by sodium lights the horizon at 6:48 AM on August 9, 2011


Is that a full face helmet on the motorcyclist at 3.23?

Bell wouldn't make the first full face helmet for almost 30 years after this, and not for bikes until a couple of years after that. Unless of course this is yet another time-traveller caught on film.

Most likely a "pudding basin".
posted by GeckoDundee at 6:57 AM on August 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Could have sworn I saw someone on a skateboard at 2:05. Martin McFlyagh perhaps?
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 7:19 AM on August 9, 2011


the guy who filmed this must have had new car, because its in almost every scene causing dangerous situations on the road :)
posted by Shrekman at 7:37 AM on August 9, 2011


The midwestern US is full of three- and five-lane surface roads where the center lane is specifically for left turns from both directions. My eastern-state friends hyperventilate every time we drive on one, but it can't be nearly as dangerous as your average New England rotary (roundabout).
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:23 AM on August 9, 2011


Danish Bacon! I want some.
posted by Shike at 8:57 AM on August 9, 2011


My eastern-state friends hyperventilate every time we drive on one, but it can't be nearly as dangerous as your average New England rotary (roundabout).

<insert jokes about americans and roundabouts here>

Roundabouts, dangerous, wat? Unless we're talking about poorly signalled roundabouts in the dark or place de l'etoile...

Or americans that are befuddled when they see one, hurr durr.
posted by palbo at 9:06 AM on August 9, 2011


Signals? No, these are more . . . freeform.
posted by FelliniBlank at 9:15 AM on August 9, 2011


Apparently as you headed north from London the telephone lines began to procreate. It was interesting watching the telephone poles grow ever larger and I was wondering how far it would go.
posted by Max Udargo at 9:38 AM on August 9, 2011


The US also has the "middle lane partially for overtaking" pattern, but not in many places. Some rural roads out here in WA, ID, OR will show it on heavily-traffic'ed roads with steep climbs. Like this:


___________________
<-       <-      <-
---------------------------
->       ->      ->
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
->       ->      ->
___________________


Traffic from the topmost lane has a dotted yellow line (hard to convey in ascii), so they can pass by switching into what is already the opposite passing lane.
posted by zvs at 10:04 AM on August 9, 2011


Took me a second to figure out why the camera-person kept filming parked cars (and then I realised it was his car, heh).
posted by EndsOfInvention at 12:03 PM on August 9, 2011


What I find amazing is that the videographer didn't pull off the side of the road to get out of his car. Nope, just stopped right in the middle of the lane, threw it in park, got out and shot some film. He didn't even pull over a little bit.

Roundabouts, dangerous, wat?

In Massachusetts, cars inside the roundabout have to yield to cars entering the roundabout.*

* I am completely serious.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 12:12 PM on August 9, 2011


In Massachusetts, cars inside the roundabout have to yield to cars entering the roundabout.*

Oh, i heard about those, sounds backwards indeed.
posted by palbo at 2:25 PM on August 9, 2011


In Massachusetts, cars inside the roundabout have to yield to cars entering the roundabout.

I have seen this in New Jersey as well.

Because giving absolute scheduling priority to new tasks works so well in every other setting.
posted by tigrrrlily at 5:22 PM on August 9, 2011


The thing that stands out for me are the long lines of telegraph poles, with their myriad of wires and the porcelain insulators on each one. Did other countries have similar designs?
Indeed they do.
Also, I'd forgotten all about Belisha beacons until I spotted a couple in this.
posted by unliteral at 6:35 PM on August 9, 2011


Interesting to compare this with Dorothy L. Sayers's description (in Lord Peter Views The Body, 1928) of a motorbike chase along the Great North Road:

And all the time the Great North Road winds away like a long, flat, steel-grey ribbon -- a surface like a race-track, without traps, without hedges, without side-roads, and without traffic. True, it leads to nowhere in particular; but, after all, one pub is very much like another.

The tarmac reeled away, mile after mile. The sharp turn to the right at Baldock, the involute intricacies of Biggleswade, with its multiplication of sign-posts, gave temporary check, but brought the pursuer no nearer. Through Tempsford at full speed, with bellowing horn and exhaust, then, screaming like a hurricane past the R.A.C. post where the road forks in from Bedford. The Norton rider again glanced back; the Scott rider again sounded his horn ferociously. Flat as a chessboard, dyke and field revolved about the horizon.


The chase ends at Eaton Socon (2:46 on the video), where the two riders are booked by the local constable for doing 70 mph.
posted by verstegan at 12:29 AM on August 10, 2011


Just pre-war; a barrage balloon over London. Nice find.
That wasn't a barrage ballon, that was a zeppelin, call Dunham.
posted by unliteral at 6:35 AM on August 10, 2011


Oh! for an edit window.
posted by unliteral at 6:37 AM on August 10, 2011


Biggleswade

what are all the crooked lines on the road for?

and my part of michigan seems to be building more roundabouts every year - (and yes, that's what we call them)
posted by pyramid termite at 4:15 PM on August 10, 2011


what are all the crooked lines on the road for?

No overtaking or parking on the approach to a pedestrian crossing.

I'm pretty sure that came in some time during the seventies, so I was a bit puzzled by the implication that Biggleswade was running a trial of them back in the thirties. (Then of course I realised it was a reference to sodium lights the horizon's "then and now" link.)
posted by GeckoDundee at 7:58 PM on August 10, 2011


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