|Length:||79 miles (127.1 km)|
|Meets:||A5, A34, A41, A49, A53, A54, A55, A453, A460, A461, A500, A513, A515, A518, A519, A525, A530, A534, A4097, A5115, A5127, A5192, A5208, A5268|
|Former Number(s):||A423, A500|
|Old route now:||A34, A41, A460, B4098|
|Route outline (key)|
The A51 is an important cross-country route linking the cathedral cities of Chester and Lichfield and providing access to the M6, A38 and M42 (which it does not have junctions with) and the A55 and A5 (which it does).
Section 1: Chester - Tarvin
In 1922, the A51 began in Birkenhead but it was cut back to Chester when the A41 was extended north in 1935. For a few years it started at Boughton, where it joined the A41 at a fork, but since the A41 was bypassed around the city (before World War II) - the Christleton Road becoming the A5115 - the A51 has continued further into the city. For about 40 years the start point was the Eastgate Street spoke of the city's route hub, but since its completion in the 1980s no A roads go beyond the A5268 inner ring road. The A51 hits the A5268 (and ends) at a gyratory at The Bars.
Chester is of course a Roman city, and the initial course of the A51 is a Roman road (one of the many "Watling Streets" of Cheshire and Lancashire) which goes slightly north of east towards Northwich. After the Boughton junction (which is also a junction with the B5130 Dee Valley road) we cross the Shropshire Union Canal and the Crewe railway and meet the A41 Ring Road at traffic lights. There used to be a roundabout here but that was replaced when the Ring Road was duplicated by the A55 300 yards to the east. The A51 (here dualled for a short section) meets this at a grade-separated junction. Now primary and free of the city, the A51 passes straight (literally) through the church-less village of Littleton before a mile later crossing the River Gowy at Stamford Bridge (not the famous one). The old bridge and road through the hamlet are still visible. There is a junction here with the B5132. The road now curves away from its Roman course along Holme Street towards Tarvin, where the Roman road becomes the A54 and the A51 turns south-eastwards. The junction has moved twice: first when the A54 bypass was built in 1932, and again in the mid 1980s when the A51 bypass was built. The two roads now meet at a roundabout at a milepost (Chester 5 miles), about half a mile west of the village centre.
Section 2: Tarvin - Nantwich
The A51 is an important route between Chester and Crewe which also takes a lot of longer-distance traffic cutting between the A55/M56 and the A500/M6, so this country lane wending its way through the milch-cow-filled fields of the Cheshire Plain is taking a bit of a pounding. We pass through Duddon and Clotton and reach Tarporley, where there is a two-mile duplex along the A49. This is the most important settlement in the area, and the blight of its trunk-road duplex was finally relieved in September 1986 with the building of a bypass west of the village (the road is no longer trunk). The northern A49/A51 junction is a roundabout, the southern junction is a signalled crossroads. More hamlets: Tilstone Fearnall, Alpraham, Calveley (where we re-meet the canal and railway), Wardle, Barbridge, before the road passes Park Farm, home of Snugburys ice cream, where a straw sculpture (a new one every year) is clearly visible from the road. Shortly afterwards the A51 reaches the crossroads at Burford. Here the A534 comes in from the west.
The A51 has had three routes through Nantwich. In 1922 it used to carry straight on here, through Acton(the former junction with the A534) into Nantwich, then along Welsh Row, Hospital Street and London Road. In the 1970s the road was rerouted onto a bypass of sorts to enter Nantwich from the north along Barony Road, with the old road becoming A534. This section of bypass is not new - it was allocated the number B5073 in 1922 which it retained until the A51 was rerouted this way.
After a mile or so along the ex-B5073 we reach Reaseheath, home to Cheshire Agricultural College, and a roundabout where the B5074 goes north to Winsford and south into the town centre. In 2009 all A-roads were removed from the centre of Nantwich so the A51 was diverted ahead onto a proper bypass which was built in the 1990s as part of the A500. This section includes a duplex with the A530 Middlewich road, although the A51 is dominant. After zigzagging back into town for a short distance, the A51 joins London Road and meets its original route once more.
Section 3: Nantwich - StoneM6. We pass through more hamlets: Butt Green, Stapeley, Walgherton (B5071 crossroads), then about five miles of almost nothing (except Bridgemere Garden World) till Woore. Now, Woore is an odd place. It's kind of an isthmus or exclave of Shropshire - you can't get to the rest of the county without driving through Cheshire or Staffordshire, unless you're on foot. It's also the junction of two main routes: the A51 and the A525, so it's not the most peaceful village. After the B5026 and Pipe Gate we've already finished our brief trip to Shropshire and we enter Staffordshire, which the road crosses from NW to SE.
Popular with (and dangerous to) bikers, Staffordshire County Council have (confusingly) designated this road a "Red Route" and produced a leaflet which has been distributed to the pubs along the way. At Blackbrook, in the shadow of the Maer Hills, we meet the A53 for a 300-yard east-west duplex. I wonder whether the "Swan with Two Necks" pub is named after the form of the junction? Although we seem to be in the middle of nowhere, this is an ancient meeting point: another mile along the road we pass the ancient fort of Berth Hill. The road now zigzags east, reaching a high point of 472 feet (142 m) at Hill Chorlton. A couple of bad bends were taken out many moons ago but plenty are left, like the wicked right-hander after Stableford Bridge. Two miles further on there's a roundabout at the Swynnerton Heath junction with the A519. There's another hilltop (587'/179 m) before we enter the Trent Valley. Passing under the M6, the road flattens out for a while before the killer drop down Bury Bank to the Meaford island (with the Darlaston Inn in the middle). Here we meet the A34 and duplex with it for about three miles. In 1922, the other road was numbered A449 and the A51 had priority. (Have you noticed that we've met the A41, A55, A54, A49, A53 and A34? Not bad, eh. On the other half of the journey we don't meet any 2-digit A roads at all!)
The A34 has always bypassed Stone (one of my favourite Staffordshire towns), but it was much more recently that a new bridge was built over the Trent at Aston to connect the A51 to the A34 south of the town. Traditionally the A51 went through the centre of the town (since renumbered as part of the B5027), the A34 having swung away at a fork (now a roundabout) just a mile south of Meaford. (The milepost here read(s) "Preston Brook 43; Shardlow 49", the termini of the Trent & Mersey Canal.) The A51 now follows the A34 dual carriageway through Walton, meeting the A520/B5026 at a roundabout before splitting at another roundabout at the aforementioned Aston.
Section 4: Stone - Lichfield
The Trent Valley road: very busy and very irritating. It's been relieved a little bit by the building of the A50, but it's still an important alternative to the M6 and the A34. What we get instead are lots of 40 mph zones. We're never very far away from the river, or from the railway or the canal, and just after Sandon (junctions with B5066) all four are squeezed into a narrow channel. At this point the road is dual carriageway for two miles, as far as, and through, the village of Weston. There's a staggered junction here where the A518 crosses on its way from Stafford to the A50. Two miles further south there's a postwar bypass round the villages of Great Haywood, Little Haywood and Colwich, the scene of a fatal train crash in 1986.
The road crosses the Trent at Wolseley Bridge and briefly enters Cannock Chase, joining the A513. For some reason this requires two roundabouts. After a mile we reach the town of Rugeley. The duplex used to pass through the centre and later along mile-long bypass, Western Springs Road, now renumbered the A460. Western Springs Road ends at a roundabout junction with the A460 and B5013; judging by the lorry I once saw toppled over there, this roundabout might be a tad too tight. Under the railway bridge the old A513 leaves us to the left at a fork in the road and we get a mile of D1 dual carriageway through Brereton; this is now also the A460.B5013, the bypass seems to run along upgraded power station access roads for some distance. The end of the bypass, after the A513, was opened a few years previously, as a spur of the A51, corresponding with improvement works of the A51-A513 junction in the centre of Rugeley.
Up the hill to Longdon and out of the Trent valley. The section from Longdon to Lichfield was considerably improved in the postwar years: bends removed, hilltops shaved off, roundabout at the junction with the A515... and Lichfield western bypass, which cuts straight across Leamonsley Fields (after the junction with the A5192 northern bypass, called "Eastern Avenue") to a big island junction with the A461. Here the A51 went left into the centre of Lichfield, back onto its old course along St John Street. The latest OS map shows it carrying straight on at the island and then duplexing with the A5127 to the station. Neither route is ideal - but through traffic is diverted onto the A5192 anyway. The road goes up past the King Edward VI School and curves to the left where the A5206 arrives with traffic from the A38.
Section 5: Lichfield - Kingsbury
The road leaves Lichfield on a bridge over the A38 - if you want to get from one of these primary routes to the other you've got quite a circuitous journey - before passing Whittington Barracks and the Staffordshire Regimental museum, the Lichfield TV mast and crossing the River Tame at Hopwas. At a roundabout the road goes right, alongside the new estate at Coton, and would go into the centre of Tamworth were it not for two new bridges which have been built to take the road south, back over the river, to meet the A453 and A5. The road ends here but it reappears at the Ankerdrive island half a mile to the north-east. From there (now non-primary) it goes south (this is the Kettlebrook bypass), under the A5 to meet the old A5 (the B5404) at Two Gates.
This is where the A51 used to end and the A423 began, but since that has been downgraded between Coventry and here in 1971, the A51 now continues ahead as far as Kingsbury; the southern end feels like just that: the end. In Warwickshire. On a maudlin roundabout at a junction with the A4097, B4098 and an unclassified road to the oil storage depot. It's a strange junction, as all four arms of the roundabout have different road numbers.
The A51 originally started on the A5 just south of Tamworth (SK215016), with the A423 continuing south on the other side of the crossroads. This was the position until about 1971 - with changes probably triggered by the opening of the M6 motorway.
Following downgrading of the A423, the A51 was extended south of the A5 and down the former's route, but only as far as the A47 (SP248913). The A4097 had been extended east to meet the A51 at Kingsbury (SP217956), and the A423 between the A47 and the outskirts of Coventry was reclassified as the B4098. The A423 on the NW side of Coventry was retained as the A4170.
The A47 was itself reclassified not long afterwards and is now the B4114. The A51 was therefore shortened back to the junction with the A4097 at Kingsbury, with the B4098 extended along the section vacated. The A51 never did reach Coventry.
The "(A51)" signs around the west side of Coventry probably were originally "(A423)" - the brackets can be seen sticking out underneath some of the change plates.
Original Author(s): Adrian Bailey