|From:||King's Worthy (SU493325)|
|Distance:||5 miles (8 km)|
|Route outline (key)|
The A33 Winchester Bypass was a significant piece of road engineering in the pre motorway era. Opening on February 1st, 1940, it was one of the first fully dual carriageway bypasses in the country, although it was largely not grade separated, which proved to be its downfall. Today, most of the road has been obliterated, with only the very northern section still recognisable as its original form.
At its northern end, it started at the A33 / B3047 junction at King's Worthy, forming a crossroads by diverting the A33 eastwards and making the original route to the city the fourth arm. It passed over meadows on the Itchen flood plain to the east of the city and underneath the A31 at Spitfire Bridge before meeting the A272 at a grade separated junction. It then wound its way around the foot of St Catherine's Hill with several roads joining it at grade, before meeting the A333 at a traffic-light-controlled crossroads. It then climbed up the hill and ducked under the main Winchester - Southampton line to reconnect with the old road at Compton at another grade-separated junction.
The city of Winchester sits in a valley surrounded by steep hills on all sides. This made it an ideal settlement, and subsequently became a throughfare for several major routes. Although earlier London - Southampton traffic tended to go via Twyford (partly via the modern A325, A31 and A335), by the turn of the nineteenth century it had started to run via Winchester instead, and by the twentieth century the old Roman road from Basingstoke through Winchester (today's A33) had become the route of choice, and hence the candidate for the road to be bypassed. Traffic from the other main routes, the A31 and A34, would continue to go through the city centre, and indeed continued to do so for some years after bypass opened.
There was some debate in the 1920s about whether the bypass should lie to the west or east of the city. In the end, it was decided to take the eastern route along the foot of St Catherine's Hill, largely following the course of an existing railway line and using land purchased from Winchester Cathedral. It was originally planned as a single-carriageway bypass, but after a small amount of construction work in 1931, it was abandoned due to financial difficulties.
In 1934, the bypass was redesigned as a dual carriageway road, estimated at £360,000 (approx. £17M in 2009) with the government supplying 75% grant to finance it, and construction resumed in late 1935. The first section of road as part of these works to be completed was the link road between Alresford Road and Petersfield Road (the modern A31 between the B3404 and the A272) to the east of the city, which opened to traffic in 1938. Progress was delayed due to the onset of the Second World War; however, unlike many road schemes, the bypass was at an advanced stage at that time to be completed. In late 1939, it was reported that one carriageway was being used for military traffic.
Finally, the bypass opened fully to traffic on 1st February, 1940, at an actual overall cost of £450,000 (approx. £20M in 2009).
By the late 1950s, plans were in place to extend the end of the bypass at Compton onto a new dual-carriageway route as far as the Chilworth Roundabout (today's A33 / A27 junction) in order to cope with increased goods traffic to the docks at Southampton. Construction of the Chandler's Ford bypass started in 1964 and opened to traffic in 1968.
At the same time, plans were being made to move A34 traffic, which continued to go through the city centre, onto a new link road running from Down Farm Lane (the current A34 / B3420 junction) and plugging into the existing bypass about a mile south of its northern terminus. Initial work for this started in 1960, but was subsequently delayed for several years until the closure of the King's Worthy - Newbury railway line (where a section of the link road now runs) and did not open until mid 1969. Although this relieved traffic from the city centre, it meant the bypass now carried all the traffic headed towards Newbury, Andover and Oxford as well as London.
The mid 1970s saw the final revision of the road, a grade separated junction replacing crossroads at Bar End Road / Morestead Road. The Bar End Road overbridge survives to this day, the roundabout now serving for movements at M3 Junction 10.
In 1985, the M3 replaced the bypass between Easton Lane and Bar End Road. The A31 / A272 junction was removed, with a link road taking traffic down to the Bar End Road junction, while the Spitfire Bridge was demolished. The original line of the bypass remained north of J9, and south of Bar End. By this point, the last remaining at-grade junction with the A333 was carrying over 40,000 vehicles per day, regularly causing queues up to an hour each side of the lights. By 1991, the Chandler's Ford bypass section had also been upgraded to M3, so there was now a 1930s-style bypass in the middle of a modern motorway.
Finally, in 1994, the M3 was completed over Twyford Down and the remaining section of bypass past Bar End was ripped up and turned into fields. Some of it is now St Catherine's Park and Ride, and from here the mid-seventies Bar End Road bridge can be seen passing over what is now a field. Elsewhere, Garnier Road and St Cross Road cross the old path of the bypass, although nature is making this more difficult to spot, especially in the latter place. The former is slightly easier to see as it is immediately east of the old railway bridge.
The northernmost mile of the bypass remains the A33, although this is now a non primary route. Consequently, aside from hatching out the dual-carriageway markings, the road is largely unchanged from its pre-war design, complete with hawthorns in the central reservation, and is a good indication of what the entire bypass once looked like.
Many thanks to Keith Spencer for information on some of the construction dates.
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This page was Article of the Month for July 2009