The A6 in the early days atChipping BarnetA6 Trunk Road

The A6 today runs from Luton to Carlisle at just short of 300 miles it is still one of the longest A roads in Britain. At one time though it was even longer running from London to Carlisle. The A6 original southern end was a junction with the A1 at Chipping Barnet near to our photograph on the northern outskirts of London. Road changes and Motorways have shortened it slightly at its southern end In the 1920's it was moved from Chipping Barnet to South Mimms by the 1980s it was moved back to Luton.

Back in the 1960's all of the A6 was classed as a trunk road that is a road that was maintained by the Ministry of Transport from Government funding, however with motorways and de trunking orders it has now reached the point where none of the A6 is now classed as a Trunk Road.

The A6 Passes (or has passed through) the following counties:-

Greater London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire, Leicestershire, Derbyshire, Cheshire, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Cumbria.

Through Nine cities:-

London, St Albans, Leicester, Derby, Manchester, Salford, Preston, Lancaster & Carlisle.

And through 18 towns:-

Harpenden, Luton, Bedford, Kettering, Market Harborough, Loughborough, Belper, Matlock, Bakewell, Buxton, Stockport, Swindon, Walkden, Westhoughton, Chorley, Carnforth, Kendal & Penrith

 

 

Old A6 signsThe British Road Numbering System

How did this road become to be given the number A6? Motor traffic in Britain increased slowly in the years preceding world war 1, that war however further mechanized the workings of Britain, it was becoming increasingly obvious that mechanization was the way ahead for transport and to cope with this the roads network was in urgent need of reorganizing.

In 1919, William Rees-Jeffries, the head of the Roads Board, set about classifying and numbering the roads, so that state funding could be assigned according to traffic counts, and also as an aid to navigation. By 1926 the classification was complete.

The numbering system was made up of 9 cardinal routes 6 radiating out from London and 3 radiating out from Edinburgh. The chart below shows the roads as originally numbered in 1926 and the changes made by 2005

 

The 9 cardinal routes (2005):
 
The 9 cardinal routes (1926):
  • A1 London to Edinburgh
  • A2 London to Dover
  • A3 London to Portsmouth
  • A4 London to Bath
  • A5 London to Holyhead
  • A6 London to Carlisle
  • A7 Edinburgh to Carlisle
  • A8 Edinburgh to Greenock
  • A9 Edinburgh to Inverness
  • A1 London to Edinburgh
  • A2 London to Dover
  • A3 London to Portsmouth
  • A4 London to Avonmouth
  • A5 London to Holyhead
  • A6 Luton to Carlisle
  • A7 Edinburgh to Carlisle
  • A8 Edinburgh to Greenock
  • A9 Polmont to Scrabster
 

 

Each road divided a number zone in that in England all roads starting between the A1 and A2 would start with the number 1 thus A10, A100, A1000 etc and roads starting between the A2 and A3 would start with a 2, round to roads between the A6 and the A1 starting with A6. In Scotland roads between the A7 and A8 would start with a 7, between the A8 and A9 an 8.

However things where not that simple for on thing the A1 went into Scotland, whilst the Thames estuary cut through zone 1. In the event zone 1 was from the A1 to the north sea coast. Zone 2 went from the Thames estuary to the A3 with the A2 going through the zone rather than being the zone boundary. Zone 6 was bounded on its west side by both the A6 and A7 which both met at Carlisle and on its east side by the A1, whilst zone 9 went from the A9 to the North Sea coast.

The 'A' roads in Britain are now divided into 3 types, the most important is a Trunk Road, the number of these have been reduced considerably being replaced by motorways, the next is primary routes, both of these types of road have the same type of direction sign, green background and white text. The least important is the non primary route which has signs with a white background and black text.

primary route sign
non primary route sign
primary route sign
non primary route sign

. The road we are most concerned about in this site is the A6 that ran from London to Carlisle. Originally a Trunk Road, however with the coming of the motorways the section north of Manchester was de trunked in the late 1960's to mid 1970's most of this section is now a non primary route. The section south of Manchester was detrunked in the 1980's and 90's however most of this section is still a primary route.