Flashback to 1985: Iconic roundabouts are town landmarks

Coming to Telford? Well get lost. That was indeed the experience of strangers coming by road to the town who were often bemused by roundabouts which all looked the same, to say nothing of housing estates built like elaborate mazes.

Great guns... one of the artillery pieces is lifted into place at Donnington's roundabout on January 10, 1985.
Great guns... one of the artillery pieces is lifted into place at Donnington's roundabout on January 10, 1985.

Telford was a town conceived with roundabouts central to its traffic system.

When plans were developed for the new town they were seen as a way to keep traffic moving seamlessly, rather than old-fashioned and out-of-date traffic lights.

One writer has said that if half the world’s roundabouts were in France, then the other half must be in Telford.

And it is said that the profusion of traffic islands is responsible for increased tyre wear for motorists in the town.

We now know that traffic lights have had a modern resurgence – and how.

The upshot is that some of Telford’s roundabouts have now seen the addition of traffic lights, which if the junctions had been given in the first place presumably there would have been no need to build space-consuming traffic islands.

If only there was something different and individual about the roundabouts, then when being given directions motorists could be told “turn left at the roundabout with the distinctive such-and-such.”

So the striking Donnington Garrison traffic island, which is adorned by three artillery pieces, must over the years have helped many a motorist get his or her bearings.

This motorist was unscathed but no doubt shell-shocked after skidding into one of the guns in May 1988.

The three guns on the island were handed over by the Army at COD Donnington to the then Telford Development Corporation on January 10, 1985, after being decommissioned and refurbished.

They were lowered into place that day.

They were officially presented to the people of Donnington by Brigadier H R Higgins.

They are guns of 5.5 inch calibre, and with a maximum range of around 10 miles.

Although they were made safe, one motorist almost came a cropper when he found himself looking down the barrel of a gun after losing control on the wet road at the end of May 1988.

His car hit careered into one of the guns and ended up lodged under the barrel.

The driver, a 55-year-old sales rep from Uttoxeter, clambered out of his Vauxhall Belmont unscathed but no doubt somewhat shell-shocked.

Historically it is said that the first British roundabout was built in Letchworth Garden City in 1909, and they have been driving motorists around the bend, and back again, ever since.

Telford's roundabouts were put in the spotlight in a postcard.

There is though a UK Roundabout Appreciation Society – yes, seriously.

Telford’s roundabouts have their supporters too.

In 2004 a postcard featuring six of Telford’s most photogenic traffic islands was produced as a jokey tourism promotion.

The colourful card featured the pithead at Madeley, the guns and clock tower roundabouts at Donnington, the Thomas Telford sign at St Georges, the Naird spike, and the horse and cart outside the Asda store.

The roundabouts postcard was one of a series of eight postcards issued by the Telford & Shropshire Marketing Partnership which were sold at local tourist information centres.

It was the old Telford Development Corporation which launched a project in the 1980s to make the town’s roundabouts more distinctive, and the work was continued by Wrekin Council after the corporation’s demise in 1991.

The three guns roundabout does not appear to have been part of the scheme as it came somewhat earlier, but perhaps it planted the seeds of the idea.

The field guns on the Donnington roundabout have made it an enduring landmark.

First to get the treatment was one of the “gateway” entrances to Telford, where motorists are today greeted by a five metre high stonemason’s mark based on the one used by Thomas Telford.

Its position, at the Limekiln Bank traffic island at St Georges, has a special significance, as it is at this spot that the A5 – the road which was transformed by Telford’s improvements – diverts from its original alignment.

This concrete tribute to him was erected on June 17, 1987.

Next in line after the Telford sculpture was a mock pithead on the Castlefields roundabout at the start of the new Ironbridge bypass.

As for the future, the last big area of Telford to be developed is Lawley, and here there is a huge American-style traffic intersection controlled by the comeback kid of traffic management, the traffic light.

In fact anybody driving through the main road through the new Lawley development meets traffic light after traffic light – I’m guessing that there are more traffic lights per mile here than in any other part of Telford.

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