Faringdon was situated on an important and ancient five-way road junction receiving traffic from all over the country. Hence the naming for London Street, Gloucester Street, Marlborough Street and Southampton Street. The latter leads towards what is now the new Health Centre, then Wicklesham Farm and beyond but has mostly remained no more than a simple track or footpath. The Radcot Road provided an important trade route to the north into Oxfordshire and beyond. Faringdon was connected by Turnpike roads to London and Gloucester by 1733 and to Wantage and Wallingford in 1752. Turnpike roads were major highways during the 18th and 19th centuries usually involving a barrier for collection of tolls to pay for their maintenance. By 1813 horse-drawn coaches were passing through Faringdon from the West Country on their way to London every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
With the arrival of the railway in the mid 1800’s the importance of Faringdon as a major cross-roads in the south of England just disappeared and the town went into a decline from which it never really recovered. Faringdon did however remain an important market town for local farm produce, so it was still a busy place. There was a horse-drawn shuttle service provided for passengers and freight to and from Challow Station, 5.5 miles away towards Wantage, until a branch line was added to Faringdon in 1864. There were other services to nearby towns and villages at this time – photo above.
The Arrival of the Motor Car
By 1926 the internal combustion engine had arrived in Faringdon, but motor cars were still very expensive so the horse and the increasingly popular and affordable bicycle remained the main form of transport for most people around town and between the villages. Road conditions started to improve with the addition of tarmac but horses got their own back by frequently dropping nails from their shoes; punctured tyres became a common problem for many years to come.
By 1950 only 1 in 10 households in the UK owned a car but parking space was starting to be a problem in the Market Place. The horse and cart was still a common sight delivery groceries, barrels of beer and other goods for just a few more years, but they were gone by the end of the decade. Motor bus and coach services were starting up, particularly after the war, to local villages and towns, and beyond.
The A420 Bypass
The A420, the major trunk road between Oxford and Swindon used to pass directly through the Market Place in Faringdon. During the 1950s and 60s more and more traffic was passing through Faringdon; lorries from Pressed Steel were passing every two minutes, in addition to other traffic. Commercial juggernauts and holiday caravans passing each other in the narrow section between the Market Place and Cornmarket often got stuck, blocking both road and pavement. The situation was exasperated when a firm who had been laying a telephone cable damaged the old brick culvert taking the brook under the road in ‘The Narrows’. There was absolutely no other possible route for all the traffic, so a Bailey Bridge had to be placed over the road while repairs took place underneath. (more…).
During the 1960s, a link road called Hart Avenue (see map) was built to ‘flyover’ the swampy valley of the old Faringdon Brook (now an underpass) and join up Ferndale Street to Bromsgrove.This effectively created a diversion route from the start of Stanford Road right through to Station Road. It was hoped that this would help alleviate traffic flow through the town centre and provide a much needed alternative route, but it was only a temporary solution.
Congestion was not the only problem as car and lorry engines were not as efficient as they are today with their catalytic converters, computer control, and better fuel; their exhaust was far more full of smoke and poisonous gases. Further more, the old town of Faringdon is nestled in a deep depression amongst hills on the greenstone ridge. A letter to the local newspaper (Venture, Issue 20, 18th November 1972) prophesied that “… the poisoned air will stagnate in the bowl of the Market Place, rather like a miniature Los Angeles …”. The same letter, referring to a report on lead pollution stated that “Every time a mother takes her children into town with her to go shopping, she is endangering their future a little more.”. A big problem, now perhaps unknown to the young drivers of today, was that tetraethyllead had been added to petrol since the early 1920s to smooth out combustion and help lubricate the engine. Lead is an extremely nasty pollutant – it can cause brain damage, particularly in children and traffic in the UK was pumping 3000 tonnes of the stuff into the atmosphere annually. Japan was the first country to introduce ‘unleaded’ petrol in 1972, and to ban ‘leaded’ petrol in 1986. So back in 1972 the public were becoming conscious of this and in Faringdon it was the final straw, so they took to the streets in protest. (Not until 1986, did ‘unleaded’ petrol first go on sale in the UK and it took until 2000 for ‘leaded’ petrol to be finally banned.)
The Town’s People Have Had Enough! (Extract from Faringdon & The Vale Venture, Issue 22, December 16th 1972)
Saturday, 2nd December 1972, despite the weather, saw the largest crowd of people assembled in the Market Square for a long time. It was the day of the demonstration in protest at the traffic situation which we have suffered too long. 10.45 a. m. saw the demonstrators patiently lining the pavements awaiting the signal to begin their action. There were also present large numbers of people who had obviously come to see what happened. At 11 o’clock precisely the first volunteers took up their positions in the roadway. The first vehicle to be stopped was a car coming down London Street, and immediately behind it, a large lorry, whose driver took exception to the occasion and attempted to bulldoze his way through. The protesters were not to be baulked, however, and several people lay down immediately before the lorry bringing it to a swift halt. Another lorry which attempted to drive the wrong way around the traffic island was also swiftly stopped. Traffic approaching from Swindon was also halted, including one car which tried to go the wrong way past the Town Hall. A passenger in this car was most annoyed at this, got out from the car, and seemed inclined to use force to make his point. The demonstrators refused to respond in kind, and what could have developed into violence was peacefully settled. Indeed, the most remarkable thing about the whole affair was the quiet, self-control of the demonstrators in contrast to the heated and arrogant attitude of some of the motorists . The police who were present seemed more concerned to protect the demonstrators from assault by angry motorists than as one might have expected, the reverse.
Work started on a new bypass in 1977/78 to make a wide sweep completely around the outskirts of Faringdon and it was opened in July 1979. It was 3 miles long and cost £1,600,000. As a result, Stanford Road, Wicklesham Farm, Sandhill Lane and Fernham Road were completely cut off by the bypass. Park Road was extended along the route of the old railway line to make a new junction with the bypass, plus a little link was made back for access to Wicklesham Farm and Wicklesham Quarry. The roundabouts shown on the map were added later.
Modern Bus Service
Faringdon’s importance as a market town declined during the 20th Century and the population remained as it had been for 150 years in the 2-3 thousands until the late 1970’s, whereas the nearest towns of Oxford, Swindon and Wantage were growing rapidly. Together with cuts in government funding this saw a decline in the provision of public transport for Faringdon, both road and rail. By the end of the 20th Century the only effective bus service remaining for the former five-way road junction that was Faringdon of old was on the Oxford-Swindon route. Although an excellent and regular service it was and still is very difficult to get anywhere else, of any distance, other than by car.