1935 Road numbering revision
There has only been one full revision of the British road numbering system. This took place on 1st April 1935 in England and Wales.
The numbering system was first published in 1922. It was always realised that there would be changes to the scheme, and some blocks of numbers were reserved for future use. However, nobody had anticipated the scale of the changes, particularly in the early days. Almost all changes before 1935 were upgrades - minor roads to B status, or B roads to A status. In England, most 2- and 3-digit numbers had been allocated in 1922, so most new A roads had 4 digits. Road schemes in the pipeline in 1922 had been anticipated in the numbering scheme, but later schemes had to adopt unused numbers. This created a problem with the building of the Watford and Barnet by-passes in the late 1920s; no suitable 2-digit or 3-digit numbers were available, so they were given the numbers A5088 and A5092. These numbers did not truly reflect the importance of these new roads.
When road numbers first appeared, numbering only appeared on fingerposts, and sporadically at that, but in the early 1930s, with road transport becoming increasingly popular, the Ministry of Transport looked at providing larger and more prominent direction signs for motorists, giving us the well known Pre-Worboys layout. However, there were numerous complaints from regional division engineers about the suitability of using the numbering scheme for more prominent signage, with particular attention drawn towards 4 digit roads, such as those mentioned above, and many of the tiny "Link in x" roads that were unnecessarily distracting for the typical motorist.
Things came to a head after construction of the Basingstoke bypass, which did not connect to the old A30 west of Basingstoke, and opened in early December 1932. This would have been, at least partially, a reason for evaulation of the route of the A30, which was formally implemented on 1st April 1933. The MOT decided to reroute the road via Stockbridge instead of Andover, and in the process also created the A303 as an alternative London - Exeter route running via Andover (previously served by the old A30) and bypassing Salisbury and Yeovil. This resulted in numerous complaints that maps were continually becoming out of date, particularly in this case as it was the first instance of a major A road being downgraded to a B road (the A30 between Basingstoke and Andover becoming the B3400).
As a response, to prevent the expense of continually changing large panel road signs, the MOT decided to implement a full revision of the numbering scheme to take place in 1935, with all changes implemented on one of two days - 1st April for England and Wales; 16th May for Scotland. It solicited feedback from all regional division engineers, and reworked the system to cater more for straightforward navigation purposes rather than strict classification and identification, with the intention that subsequent renumbering would be avoided unless strictly necessary (such as the opening of a new bypass).
Many of the changes made were renumbering routes but not changing their status (typically, this involved extending one road over the route of another). This had only occasionally happened before 1935.
Other significant changes were the widespread introduction of lengthy multiplexes and spur roads. Multiplexes existed in the 1922 system, but were rarely longer than a couple of miles (the multiplex of the A74 and the A702 between Abington and Crawford being one exception to the rule). There was only one example of a spur road in the 1922 system; the A708 where it meets the A707 near Selkirk. The spur road system in Shetland also predates 1935 (it is shown on the 1932 ten-mile), but this seems to be the only other example prior to the 1935 revision.
The system was a success, and annual renumbering by the MOT ceased. Most 1935 routes were still being marked as such on the New Popular Edition maps ten years later, and on the Seventh Series maps twenty years later.
It was previously assumed that Scotland also carried out a major review of classified routes in 1935. However, documents from the time suggest that more changes took place in the annual revision of 1934 than in 1935, with 49 routes being changed on the 16th May 1934, and only eight a year later. Indeed, eleven changes are recorded for 1936. Unfortunately, we only currently have copies of the documents for these three years, so it is impossible to build up a fuller picture.
Significant changes included:
- Renumbering of the A2022 north of Horsham as a spur of the A29 - a rare example of a spur road in the First 99.
- Extension of the A33 to Reading along A32, and the consequent renumbering of the A32 from Reading to Loudwater as A4155
- Extension of the A34 from Oxford to Manchester, which also provided a single number between Birmingham and Manchester for the first time, along A42, A455, A449 and A526
- Cutting short the A37 at Dorchester, with the section from Dorchester to Weymouth becoming an extension of the A354, due to the majority of Weymouth traffic coming from London via the A354 at the time.
- Re-routing of the A40 via Monmouth
- Re-routing of the A48 from Newport to Gloucester taking over the A437 (it previously ran to Worcester). Old road becoming an extension of A449
- Swapping of the A417 and A419 west of Cirencester and extending of the A417 to the A49 south of Leominster.
- Renumbering A5088 Watford Bypass as extension of A500 (Marble Arch - Finchley), still keeping the rule-breaking 5 number, as it enters the 4-zone.
- Extension of the A73 from Lanark to Abington, along a long multiplex with the A72, the A720 and a false multiplex with the A702 (1934)
- Extension of the A9 from Inverness to John o'Groats, taking over the A88 and the A882. The A882 was re-used as the road from Wick to Thurso. (1934)
- It is believed that the above list includes all changes that were made to roads in the F99.
- Early research suggested that contemporary alterations made to the route of the A82 (to the west of Glasgow and around Loch Leven) were part of the 1935 revision. It is now known that these changes were made in a separate order in May 1934.
The documentation of this revision was quite comprehensively covered by the MOT, which compiled a complete list of every renumbering change that was to be implemented, grouped into various regions (North, South, East, South West, Wales and Scotland). This is reflected in contemporary Ordnance Survey maps that show a significant number of changes in 1935; maps dated 1936 all show the changes, and maps dated 1934 do not. Additionally, surviving half-inch maps that used to belong to the Mininstry of Transport document the relevant changes; a number of such maps in private hands have been neatly annotated with the revisions, and have the words "revised up to 1/4/35" (or similar) written on them.
The half-inch Ministry of Transport road maps were phased out in 1932, at the instigation of the Ordnance Survey (which was fed up with the losses the series was making). Agreement was reached in 1932 to replace the half-inch maps with two ten-mile maps. However, in 1936 the half-inch maps had a brief resurgence - several sheets were republished (for what proved to be the last time). It is a reasonable assumption that the maps were republished as a result of the major revision of the previous year.
Full List of Changes
note - The County column lists the administrative counties as of 1935. Present descriptions are as of time of writing.