One from the backlist here and one of the last remaining books on the TBR acquired in 2019 – this time from the lovely Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings, a great enabler of my reading habit, who thought, rightly, of course, that I would enjoy it. You can read her review here.

Joe Moran – “On Roads: A Secret History”

(19 December 2019)

A history of Britain’s roads from the first motorway onwards, and concentrating really on motorways and A-roads, this is far from the dry tome you might imagine and packs an awful lot into its 259 pages of fairly small print. It’s mainly sociology and anthropology, with a bit of political history thrown in, and very authoritative, with a good chunk of notes at the back and an extensive bibliography.

Big chapters cover aspects like road manners through the ages (it does delve back into the dawn of the age of cars at times), speed, travelodges and service stations and anti-road protests. I found familiar points of interest even as a non-driver and light road-user: Spaghetti Junction, the Westway (I have read a really good book on the Westway several times!), the Welsh Language Society’s lobbying for bilingual road signs, road sign font battles, Matthew’s employer (who turned out to develop the first sat nav) and the Rebecca Riots, all things which pop up from time to time in what I’m reading and thinking about.

There’s a lot to learn, too: why gulls end up in the Midlands (mistaking roads for rivers and flying up them), how exactly Mills & Boon books and others are recycled into road-beds (I somehow imagined them just being laid down as they are!) and the fact that the first primary non-motorway signs were piloted in the nearby suburb of Hall Green!

Moran delves deep into his subject, sharing enthusiasm and knowledge. Some of the chapters were more enticing than others; I loved the one on protests, where he cleverly draws together the idea that the protests themselves were made up of a real mix of aristos, middle-class conservatives and societal outcasts. He makes the point in the conclusion that not everyone hates roads, and brings us back to the microcosm of road history found in his local area of Derbyshire.


I seem to have been reading quite varied fare this month. I am on Hyphens and Hashtags at the moment, a history of the symbols on the typewriter keyboard, which I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books, and just starting Mike Parker’s “On the Red Hill”, the story of a house, the two male couples who live in it over the years and a Welsh village, which I’m reading for Reading Wales Month. What are you reading at the moment?