|Wolverhampton – Birmingham New Road|
|Distance:||12 miles (19.3 km)|
|Meets:||A4150, A459, A4039, A4126, A463, B4483, A457, A4168, A4037, A461, A4033, A4034, M5, B4169, A456, A4040|
|Route outline (key)|
The A4123 Wolverhampton – Birmingham New Road was twentieth-century Britain's first new-build inter-city highway. Opened by the Prince of Wales on 2 November 1927, it pre-dated the oft-quoted A580 Liverpool – East Lancashire road by seven years.
Even today, nearly a century after it opened, it is almost universally known locally as simply The New Road.
Wolverhampton – Dudley
The A4123 starts on the A4150 Wolverhampton Inner Ring Road at Snow Hill Junction, where the northbound and southbound routes follow different roads, Dudley Road and Birmingham Road respectively, and form a pseudo-gyratory system with Grove Street.
For the first section of the journey south of here, the A4123 is a relatively unremarkable single-carriageway road fronted mostly by 1930s housing, before meeting the A4039 at Parkfield Junction, where the character of the road changes entirely. South of this point, the road has a 40 mph speed limit and is almost entirely dual carriageway. It is marked by many signal-controlled junctions regulating progress along the road.
There are now occasional frontage roads, and indeed frontage development is minimised in this section with the most notable landmark being the former GKN Research building to the east of the road, before it meets the A4126 at Lanesfield and the terminus of the A463 Black Country Route, constructed in the late 1980s.
As we pass into the Metropolitan Borough of Dudley at Coseley, the road continues along its way, still with frontage development restricted and many light-controlled junctions, passing near to Coseley railway station and the B4483 before the next major junction, where the A457 crosses on its way between Sedgley and Tipton. Suddenly, there is housing fronting the road, but oddly only on the eastern side; the western side is undeveloped. This situation continues until reaching the junction with A4168 Priory Road, which forms the main route into the northern section of Dudley proper. The junction itself is, not surprisingly, light-controlled and formerly featured a landmark pub which dominates the area, now replaced with housing.
The road, which up until this point has been relatively straight since Parkfield Junction, suddenly turns to the left, passing the remains of an old railway bridge that carried the Great Western Railway between Wolverhampton Low Level and Dudley stations, before avoiding the Black Country Museum and Dudley Canal Trust. The former is reached via the A4037 which crosses at this point, which also serves as access to the Dudley Guest Hospital and also the main route into Dudley Town Centre and beyond from the Wolverhampton direction. Before long, we pass under another disused rail line, the South Staffordshire line between Dudley and Walsall - though here much of the track remains and there is a desire to turn the route into a line of the Midland Metro.
Following on from here, we meet one of the most notorious junctions in the Black Country at Burnt Tree, which until 2012 was the first roundabout on the road south of Wolverhampton city centre (it's now a signalised crossroads). Burnt Tree is the meeting of the A4123, A461 and A4033 (which used to meet the roundabout but now joins the A4123 at a second set of lights just to the east) and can be thought of as the junction in the centre of the West Midlands conurbation, as most of the major Primary Destinations in the conurbation are signed here: Birmingham and Wolverhampton via the A4123; Dudley, Stourbridge and Walsall via the A461. Only West Bromwich, Solihull and Brownhills miss out.
Dudley – Harborne
South of Burnt Tree, the road name changes from Birmingham New Road to the altogether completely different New Birmingham Road before becoming Wolverhampton Road around a mile further on, although the basic character of the road remains - dual carriageway, lots of light-controlled minor junctions and minimal frontage development.
Perhaps surprisingly, the next junction with a classified road is some 2.5 miles south of Burnt Tree, but on that stretch there are six light-controlled junctions with minor roads, before reaching Birchley Island. Birchley is a large roundabout where the road not only meets the A4034, but also throws out a short spur to junction 2 of the M5. Crossing under the M5 itself sees a rare change: this is the first time since Parkfield Junction that the road has been single-carriageway, albeit with two lanes per direction.
The section to the east of the M5 somehow feels more urban than the route to the north, with much more frontage development of both residential and commercial properties, and another short S4 section, this time under the Birmingham - Stourbridge railway line. Before long, the frontages disappear once again and the road regains its previous character before once again gaining residential development just as it reaches the A456 from Birmingham city centre.
South of the A456, the road loses its primary status, and it feels like a completely different road, heading south through residential areas of south-west Birmingham, meeting the B4121 at a roundabout TOTSO, followed by a gyratory system at The Court Oak, where it becomes an ordinary single-carriageway route before terminating on the A4040, the former Birmingham Outer Ring Road, at Lordswood.
The New Road (as it is almost entirely known) was proposed to relieve the A41 between Wolverhampton and Birmingham, which passed through town centres such as West Bromwich, Wednesbury and Bilston, as well as the poorly aligned section through Handsworth. Even though the A41 had been improved by Thomas Telford as part of the Holyhead Road, it was still notorious for delays and traffic even in the early years of the twentieth century.
The New Road, therefore, bypasses all the town centres on its route, and indeed its route was deliberately chosen to avoid urban areas wherever possible. Its construction in the 1920s, in common with most new roads at the time, was also designed as unemployment relief for men in the area. The contract for the construction was awarded to Sir Robert McAlpine at a cost of £573,750. The road was originally planned to have foundations "100 feet wide". However, the road originally opened entirely as a narrow 40-foot-wide S4, or a four-lane wide single-carriageway road. Construction took three years to complete.
The New Road itself, however, did not access Birmingham directly, but used the relatively high-quality A456 Hagley Road to achieve that aim. Even with the coming of the motorway era, signposts within Birmingham city centre sent traffic bound for Wolverhampton south along A456 to use the New Road instead of using the motorway network. This situation was changed in the late 2000s, depending upon which side of the city centre you started from.
At its north end, the New Road connected to Thompson Avenue, a previously minor Wolverhampton radial route which terminated at Parkfield Junction, which explains the different character of the road north of that point. Indeed, the section named "Birmingham Road" just outside Wolverhampton city centre was originally named "Green Lane".
The New Road was opened on 2 November 1927 by the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII), who was greeted by the Lord Mayor of Birmingham, with the motorcade heading northwards along the road to a civic reception hosted by the Mayor of Wolverhampton. The road was very successful, and the initial upgrade to dual carriageway with each carriageway being 22 feet wide started in 1939, with the first section being a two and a half mile section northwards from the Birmingham boundary that cost £39,000 for the upgrade; with succeeding improvements heading northwards.
The section of the A4123 south of the A456 was not part of the New Road, but a later addition. This can be seen by the oxbow "Wolverhampton Road" at the Hagley Road intersection, with the old line of the road following Balden Road opposite.
There is also a defunct section of A4123. On the 1932 ten mile map, the road took over the former B4123, crossing the A38 at Selly Oak and ending on the A441 near King's Norton. This situation lasted until at least the 1960s, when the A4040 took over the section.
The majority of the road was formerly a Trunk road between the former Wolverhampton County Borough boundary at Parkfields Junction and the southern terminus of the New Road proper at the A456, where the Birmingham Council boundary lies. This was detrunked within the City of Wolverhampton district in the mid-1980s, then the remainder of the mainline followed in November 2008. It is therefore managed by the four top-tier authorities on its route, Wolverhampton Council, Dudley Council, Sandwell Council and Birmingham Council. There is, however, a tiny 0.1 km length of A4123 that is still a Trunk road. This is the short spur between M5 junction 2 and Birchley Island.