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Ipswich Icons: From Roman roads to the jams of today

PUBLISHED: 19:00 29 October 2017

The Cocksedge engineering catalogue illustrates road signs available in the 1930s (including A45 direction signs).

The Cocksedge engineering catalogue illustrates road signs available in the 1930s (including A45 direction signs).


John Norman’s look at the history of our major highways suggests it’s not long before they fill up

Most major “A” roads in England are based on Roman roads. The A2 from Dover to London and the A5 to Holyhead were both Watling Street.

The A1 or Great North Road was Ermine Street and the Fosse Way, Bath to Lincoln, is today the A46.

This is not the case with the A14 which, as roads go, is relatively new. Ipswich wasn’t a Roman town; thus it is not surprising that it doesn’t have Roman connections.

The local garrison was at Combretovium (Coddenham), close to the rare breeds farm at Baylham, and this was an important crossing of Roman roads.

The B1078 past Otley College follows the line of a Roman road, as does the A1120 to Peasenhall.

The A140 originally went to Caister St Edmund (very close to Norwich) and its Roman fort: Venta Icenorum. Note that the road to Cambridge didn’t go through Bury; instead, it headed due west via Long Melford, Clare and Haverhill.

The main access into Combretovium was from the south, from London and Colchester, probably with a ford across the Gipping (Pipps Ford).

The current route of Suffolk’s main artery was derived from a decision made in 1923 to designate a series of loosely-connected county roads as the A45.

When first designated A-road status, the A45 passed through the middle of market towns, across village greens and twisted and turned like a country lane. Between the wars it wasn’t much more than a country lane!

The main connection with Cambridge, the Midlands and the north passed through Claydon, Woolpit and Elmswell, as well as the shopping streets of Needham, Stowmarket and Newmarket.

For 10 years from 1923, Norwich Road, Crown Street and Fore Street (all in Ipswich) carried the main road traffic bound for Felixstowe.

It has long been argued that Suffolk is the forgotten county when it comes to Government funding and this is certainly the case with bypasses and decent roads between towns.

Ipswich was able to build the Valley Road/Colchester Road bypass in the 1930s but Bury St Edmunds was able to upgrade Cullum Road to become the bypass only in 1973.

The Cambridge northern bypass linked to Newmarket was opened in 1976/77 but the smaller market towns and villages were not bypassed until the late 1970s.

In the summer of 1979 a new continuous dual carriageway opened between Cambridge and the Whitehouse junction north of Ipswich (today junction 53). Ipswich’s western bypass followed 18 months later and in December, 1982, the Orwell Bridge, together with the dual carriageway to Felixstowe.

Forty years later, traffic has increased to such an extent that the delays we used to endure passing through the market towns are now being repeated at the junctions for those same towns.

Take for example Junction 57 (Nacton Road). Originally designed as a local access to the villages of Nacton and Levington, it is now the key connection with Ransomes Europark, Futura Park and Ravenswood, as well as the travelling residents of east Ipswich.

Despite the inefficiencies and inevitable delays, it is still quicker to use Junction 57 than to drive through the centre of Ipswich.

At the western end of the A14 (beyond Cambridge), the former A604, Bar Hill to Huntingdon, opened in 1979 (just before the M11 was completed), with the A1–M1 link (Brampton Hut to Catthorpe) opening in 1994.

At last a continuous 200km dual carriageway between Felixstowe and the rest of the country.

Catthorpe is at the junction of the M1 and M6 motorways for onward travel to Birmingham, Leeds and Scotland.

This gave the Highways Agency the opportunity to renumber the road the A14, part of the Trans-European road Network (TENs).

It wasn’t perfect, however. Haughley Bends was a notorious blackspot (realigned 2009), the Cambridge bypass and the stretch to Huntingdon are frequently at capacity and the Orwell Bridge is both Ipswich’s nemesis and saviour.

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