|Distance:||35.8 miles (57.6 km)|
|Meets:||A4, B304, A3220, A304, A3217, A217, A219, A3, B351, A238, A2043, A307, A310, B358, A309, A311, A3008, M3, A316, A244, B378, B377, A30, A3044, B376, A320, B3376, M25, B388, A328, B3021, A332, B3022, B3024, B3173, B3025, B3383, B3028, A308(M), A330, A4, A404|
|Former Number(s):||A304, A3217, A3, A30|
|Route outline (key)|
The A308 has a number of unusual features – associations with royalty (including three Royal Boroughs), the country's shortest motorway, the distinction of passing through the middle of a department store, and two (or possibly three - or even five!) crossings of the Thames. On top of all that, there appear to be two roads with the same number!
Section 1: Knightsbridge – Putney Bridge
If you go down Brompton Road in Knightsbridge, passing Harrods on your left, you will shortly come to an unassuming turning on the left, at the point where the main road (the A4) becomes the Cromwell Road. This turning is the continuation of Brompton Road, and has the number A308. It is rather out of place here, as the numbers it is closest to, the A307 and A309, are much further out of town, as we shall see. Indeed, the original 1922 number of Brompton Road was the A304.
A little further on we encounter the gloriously art deco Michelin building – now a restaurant. The road layout was modified in this area in the 1860s when the District Line was built - the Old Brompton Road continues from South Kensington Station as the A3218 - so the first part of Brompton Road now feeds into the Fulham Road at this point. The Fulham Road marks the effective boundary between Chelsea and South Kensington, and it would seem plain sailing all the way to Fulham, but no: at the junction with the main West Cross route (A3220) we notice that the continuation of the Fulham Road beyond the junction is the A304. However, if we turn left along the A3220, we quickly reach the King's Road, which to the left is the A3217, but to the right is... the A308! We can now follow this, as it becomes the New King's Road, all the way to Fulham where it ends at a junction with the A219 Wimbledon – Hammersmith – Harlesden road on its northern approach to Putney Bridge.
Putney Bridge is well known as the starting line of the University Boat Race. Until it was built in 1729, there was no fixed crossing of the Thames between the medieval bridges at London itself (now the A3) and at Kingston (now the A308). (All three bridges have since been replaced by newer structures.)
Section 2: Putney Bridge – Kingston Bridge
...Hang on a minute, Kingston Bridge is the A308? Indeed it is, but it is not at all clear how the A308 gets from Fulham to Kingston. In 1922 it started at Kingston, and there is no obvious direct way between the two which is not adequately catered for by other numbers – A219 and A3, or possibly B306 and B351 (via Richmond Park) seem the most likely candidates, but these roads have never carried the number A308. As will be seen, no-one would seriously use the combined A308 end to end as a direct route – the A4 provides a much more direct alternative between Knightsbridge and Maidenhead. It seems the number has simply been used twice!
So let us now look at the original A308, but to do so we must go, not to its original start at Kingston, but to the Robin Hood junction in Roehampton. The junction, which also gives its name to the nearby entrance gate to Richmond Park (now closed to motor vehicles) in turn takes its name from an old coaching inn, recently demolished.
The section from Roehampton, over Kingston Hill, to Kingston itself was originally part of the A3, but that number was allocated to the Kingston bypass when it was completed in the late 1920s, so the A308 was extended back to meet it. This is a broad road, until recently with a 40mph limit as far as the steep descent into Norbiton. Like nearby Surbiton, setting for "The Good Life", Norbiton has its own place in sitcom – it was the station from which jaded middle manager Reginald Perrin did his commuting in "The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin" – "eleven minutes late: escaped puma at Chessington".
The original course of the A3, and later the A308, through Kingston was pedestrianised in the 1980s, and traffic is taken on a dumbbell shaped racetrack – eastbound traffic passing twice under the railway line. The A307, which passes through Kingston in a north-south direction, has to take a more circuitous course – traffic from the north heading for Kingston Bridge having to pass the railway station twice. On leaving the one way system, we find the John Lewis department store barring our way, but no matter, the road, here a dual carriageway, simply goes right through it – the shop and its underground car park extend over and under the road, with access between them on both sides of the road, so it is possible to complete an orbit of the road without leaving the shop premises.
Immediately after this excitement, the A308 curves to the right and joins Kingston Bridge and, at last, its original route.
Section 3: Kingston Bridge – Hampton Court
Kingston's history goes back a long way: seven kings of England were crowned there in Saxon times. Until the creation of the Greater London Council in 1963, it was the county town of Surrey, and indeed 50 years on Surrey County Council still has its offices there. There has been a bridge here since 1209, although the present structure only dates from 1828. It was widened in 1914, and again in 2002, now having five lanes, including a bus lane in the middle.
Crossing the bridge, the A308 enters Middlesex (now also part of Greater London), and the small roundabout in Hampton Wick. To the right is the A310 towards Teddington, but the A308 turns left to run between two of the royal parks, Bushy Park on the right and Hampton Court Park on the left. Sadly, little can be seen of either unless you are on the top deck of a bus, as they are both enclosed by high walls. The absence of buildings does allow a 40 mph speed limit to be set, although when the Hampton Court Flower Festival is on, or in the run up to Christmas when Kingston's shops are at their busiest, the queues are lucky if they can move at walking pace!
Arriving at Hampton Court itself, the road through Bushy Park joins us from the right – although not numbered as such through the park, this forms part of the A309, and we multiplex with this for a few hundred yards, as far as the main entrance to Hampton Court Palace, taking a sharp deviation to the left on the way.
Section 4: Hampton Court – Staines
At the palace, the A309 goes straight ahead over Hampton Court Bridge, whilst the A308 turns right towards Hampton itself. This stretch closely follows the river, and is also heavily congested at times – through Hampton village it is very narrow and winding, with a busy junction with the A311, and a 20 mph limit for a short distance.
Somewhere near here, the original plans for the "Motorway Box" required Ringway D to cross the Thames. Although much of Ringway D was completed, along the A312 corridor and three quarters of the M25, Hampton has been spared.
After Hampton we pass several ornate buildings, which are part of the Metropolitan waterworks which did so much to transform London in the 19th Century. Although superficially resembling the works in Beckton and Crossness, these deal with the clean end of the process: this is one of the reasons why London's western suburbs have always been seen as more desirable than the east.
We now come to one of the biggest causes of congestion on this stretch – Kempton Park racecourse. The area is certainly worth avoiding on race days, although if there is a Rugby International at nearby Twickenham on the same afternoon, the whole area between Hounslow and Kingston comes to a standstill. But eventually we will get to Sunbury Cross, which is the start of the M3.
We lose the "Blue Line" brigade here, who will try to get to Runnymede and points west using the M3 and M25. However, we are purists, so we remain on the A308. Given the extra distance on the motorway, and the likelihood of congestion, we will probably get there first anyway.
With luck, we may be on the Staines Road at a time of day when the traffic signals are phased to give the "green wave" in the direction we are travelling. Shortly the embankments containing the Queen Mary Reservoir loom above us, and we arrive at the Crooked Billet. This looks like a roundabout, except that the A30 passes through the middle on the flat, the whole controlled by traffic lights. This type of junction is known as a "hamburger", although it seems someone has stepped on this one, because the A30 describes a marked curve through it, as it deviates from its original course onto the Staines bypass.
Through A308 traffic for Windsor is directed to use the bypass, and across the Runnymede bridges (shared with the M25, one bridge for each direction). (These two are included in the five Thames crossings referred to at the beginning). However, the A308 itself cannons off the A30 at the Crooked Billet to follow the original A30 route through Staines and over its own bridge across the Thames.
Section 5: Staines – Bisham
After crossing the Staines Bridge, we rejoin the bypass traffic (and any that has used the M25) which executes a spectacular 270-degree spiral down from the Runnymede Bridge. This brings us onto the Runnymede roundabout, where we part from the A30 on its way to Lands End, for our own rather more historic route across Runnymede Common to Windsor.
The road that has been making a beeline for Windsor itself abruptly divides – the B3021 skirting round the north of Windsor Home Park (crossing the river twice to preserve the park's river frontage) whilst the A308 itself deviates round the park to the south to pass through the outskirts of Windsor itself.
At the Goslar Way roundabout, the A308 becomes an impressive grade-separated route, but only for the very briefest of stays – almost immediately it turns off at the first junction, the main line continuing as the A332 towards Slough. This is, of course, a bypass: the original A308 ran along St Leonard's Road and Oxford Road (part of which is lost under flats) to get to Maidenhead Road. The A308 continues through relatively uninteresting territory, set back from the river, until it reaches the M4 at Bray. Originally there was a direct connection with the M4 here, traces of which are still visible, although subsequent building development makes it difficult to spot. This junction (Junction 8) was removed when the route of the western extension of the M4 was built, because it was too close to the divergence from the existing route (now the A404(M)). Instead, a new spur, known as the A308(M), was built from the divergence (Junction 8/9) to connect with the A308. This, at less than 1 mile long, is one of Britain's shortest motorways – rivalling the A64(M) in Leeds, whose overall length is slightly longer (although one carriageway is very much shorter than the other).
Bray itself is a very attractive place – inspiring the ballad of the Vicar of Bray, whose flexible religious convictions allowed him to remain there throughout the ecclesiastical upheavals of thirty years during the late Stuart and Hanoverian period – there were four changes of monarch between 1685 and 1714:
And this is law I will maintain
Until my dying day, sir,
That whatsoever King shall reign,
I'll be the Vicar of Bray, sir.
Bray itself is much as it was then – partly because the A308 does not enter the village itself so we do not see it.
Instead we head for the centre of Maidenhead – this is a dual carriageway as it is the principal access to Maidenhead from the M4. In the centre of Maidenhead, we meet the A4, which affords a much quicker route back to Knightsbridge than the A308 does!
Beyond Maidenhead, the role of the A308 has been largely usurped by the A404(M), but it still exists, winding its way into the high ground around Cookham Dean, and then down a series of twists and turns to Bisham, just short of Marlow Bridge. Bisham Abbey is the home of a National Sports Centre, used as the training centre for the England football team and many other sports.
The A308 ends at Bisham, at a junction with the A404. The A404 of course has its own circuitous route back to London, going as far north as Amersham before passing through Harrow and Wembley to end at Paddington, just across Hyde Park from Knightsbridge, where we started.