Special maps logoThe M1 on maps

The M1 was opened over 50 years ago on 3rd November 1959. Initially it ran from North London to Crick; it was later extended North to Leeds and more recently the Northern end was diverted to meet the Great North Road near Micklefield. The M1 was not Britain's first official motorway; that distinction belongs to the Preston bypass opened a year earlier as the first part of the M6. But the M1 was the first intercity route, and although it was Britain's first motorway, it was opened more than 20 years after the first autobahns in Germany and autostrade in Italy.

The Shell and BP maps

1959 Shell Strip map of the M1 1959 Shell or BP Strip map of the M1

Such a momentous event for British motorists could not pass unmarked by the petrol companies. Shell and BP each issued a strip map of the motorway, identical except for the covers. Both companies were represented at the first service areas, although they typically carried four or five brands, almost always including Shell and Esso. The map was prepared in co-operation with the two main civil contactors, John Laing & Son and Tarmac.

Recognising that motorways were a new experience for British drivers, the reverse of the map carried a helpful list of "DOs and DON'Ts" on the rear adapted from advice in the "The Motor". These included:

  • DO know where you are going and at what point you should leave the motorway for your destination.
  • DON'T let your gaze wander to the attractive countryside through which the motorway passes. This is the first road designed for the efficient use of motor traffic in Britain and is not for sightseers.
  • DO bear in mind that a safe cruising speed for the engine of most road cars is 20% below the top speed recorded in "The Motor" Road Tests.
  • DON'T pass on the left of another vehicle.
  • DO keep a sharp look-out for vehicles directly ahead of you slowing down.
  • DON'T forget that one's senses become attuned to high speed driving very quickly and you may tend to travel faster than normally when you get back onto an ordinary road.
  • DO ensure that your car has sufficient fuel, oil and water and that the tyres are in good condition... As a general rule prolonged cruising at speeds over 75m.p.h. calls for tyre pressures 20% above normal.
  • DON'T stop to picnic, or for other pleasurable reasons, on the hard shoulder. It is there for emergencies.

1959 BP Strip map of the M1
Advice on rear of 1959 BP Strip map of the M1

For an error on this map, see the errors page.

topOther maps

Extract from c1957 Esso map showing M1 Extract from 1959 Esso map showing M1
The two map extracts above come from Esso Section 4, Wales and Midlands. The map on the left dates from ca1957, and shows the proposed motorway as a single red dashed line, the same as that used for "A" roads under construction. The 1959 map is on the right, showing the completed Northern end of the M1; a new cartographic convention has been introduced for motorways and access points. The road is still coloured red, however, as at this time the British convention of colouring motorways blue had yet to be established. Cartography was by Edward Stanford Ltd at 5 inches to the mile, using General Drafting Co conventions. Note how in 1957 the link to the A428 at Crick was not shown.

1975 Shell strip map of M1 1975 BP strip map of M1

In 1975 Shell and BP both sold (for 36p) a book of British Motorways. The Shell example (far left) was slightly wider and taller, and had motorways marked twice - once for Northbound and once for Southbound travel, keeping them to a straight line. The booklet needed to be inverted to change directions.
BP's version (near left) allows its motorways to wiggle a little and marks primary routes in the official green rather than red. George Philip & Son drew both versions, with the section from London to junction 14 shown here. BP calls the route London-Yorkshire; Shell names the pages London-Leicester.


Text and layout © Ian Byrne, 2009

All original copyrights in logos and map extracts and images are acknowledged and images are included on this site for identification purposes only.