“Chobham Common is the largest National Nature Reserve in the south-east of England and one of the finest remaining examples of lowland heath in the world.”* It stretches over 1,400 acres, a rare and threatened habitat.
In the early 1970s the Ministry of Transport put a motorway, the M3, straight through it. It sliced the Common in two, divided Brick Hill from Chobham, and destroyed the peace of the common land forever.
Why and how was this done?
During World War II plans were optimistically made for post war Britain, including new roads. Sir Patrick Abercrombie produced a plan of new routes radiating out from London. One of these, the Southampton Radial, became the M3. In 1964 the Hampshire and Surrey County Councils were asked to act on behalf of the Ministry of Transport and prepare to build the road.
A map of the inner ring road for London proposed in Sir Patrick Abercrombie’s 1943 County of London Plan. (Image courtesy Wikimedia.)
So in 1965, 40 engineers and technicians were recruited, and began to plan the new motorway under the management of Fred Johnson.
The route was planned. In 1966 computers were in their infancy, and not always helpful. A program to align the section at Lightwater added an unexpected complete loop in the road. “Which would have been somewhat novel.”
The motorway would take about 30 acres of Common land. In 1968 the South East Road Construction Unit needed to find 30 acres to replace it. They were faced by recalcitrant landowners, who either refused to sell, or attempted to milk the Ministry by pushing prices too high.
The Unit was finally frustrated by an ant. “Fifteen acres of land are available for purchase, and if it were not for the presence of a very rare species of ant…a further fifteen acres could be obtained, but the owner refuses to sell on these grounds.”**
When the plans were published there was a wave of protest.
Dudley Glanfield was one of the appalled protestors. He had been furious in his objections to a relatively unobtrusive, and certainly quiet, sewer, and was now confronted with a six lane motorway. “He had sprung to attention as the farmer who kept out the Central Electricity Generating Board with a shot gun. He was completely obsessive about the (motorway) scheme and had fences that would have been appropriate for a prison all round his farm.”
Christmas card from Dudley Glanfield, 1966. (With thanks to Joan Weymouth.)
The project was encountering problems that were even more difficult than Dudley Glanfield. Between Lightwater and Sunbury the motorway crossed Chobham Common. South of Sunbury the route crossed flooded gravel pits, and ran for 5 miles over water.
The solution chosen was to build causeways. These were banks of chalk, with a fill area between them, filled with sand taken from the road cuttings.
That is why the cutting side slopes leading to the motorway on Chobham Common are at a gradual angle of about 1 in 10. This allowed them to be pleasantly landscaped, but it also let the engineers take as much sand as possible for the causeways.
The banks would be under water. Two adventurous engineers were trained in scuba diving, so that they could inspect the new construction.
Back on land, it was obvious that the road would need a service area. A Compulsory Purchase Order was put on Trumps Farm in Englefield Green.
The resulting storm of objections lead to a Public Inquiry. Fred Johnson, the manager of the Surrey team, was witness and advocate for the Ministry of Transport. At this time he was himself living in Oak Tree Close, next to Trumps Green, and found himself facing his irate neighbours. One of them confronted him at the Inquiry; “There was unanimous objection to the proposal except from one household – yours!”
The service area at Trumps Green was never built, although part was used as a temporary works depot while the road was being constructed. Other places for services were suggested, including Windlesham, Chobham Common, and Valley End.
Feelings were running high. Fred overheard his 5 year old daughter quarreling with her friend. “I’ll tell my Daddy about you, and he’ll build a Motorway through your garden!”
People wanted the motorway, but not near them. Fred Johnson had to defend the project in the face of virulent opposition. At a meeting in Camberley after he faced an angry crowd of 200 objectors he overheard a man remark, “I wouldn’t have his job.”
His reaction demonstrated the strength of his character, and his motivation. “A remark, which, together with the knowledge that the existing parallel A30 road was then subject to about one fatality per week only spurred the determination to press on to a solution.”
The scheme pressed on. Work began on the M3 in January 1971. The motorway had come to Valley End.
M25 junction 12 intersection with M3. Aerial view looking towards Thorpe Park in the distance. (Image courtesy Wikimedia.)
*Surrey Wildlife Trust.
** Notes of Meeting, South East Road Construction Unit, 24 July 1968. Surrey History Centre CC971/2/5/15
All other quotes by F. D. J. Johnson.
Surrey History Centre. CC971/2/5/15
Memoirs of F. D. J. Johnson OBE Bse (Eng)FICE FIHT. “M3 Motorway Surrey 1965 – 1968.”
Motorway services online.