A Trunk Road to the Land of Dreams

Cars People

In the 1970s there was no fast route north of Barking. No M11 to take you up to Cambridge for the day, no A406 cutting a swathe through Wanstead Flats. To the south there was only marshes and the river. All the excitement was east and west: London and Southend. And the quickest way to get there was the A13.

Following the Thames from Aldgate through the old East End, the road opened up at the Blackwall Tunnel and after that it was 40 miles of dual carriageway to the outskirts of Southend. It was never a pretty drive. Ford’s massive Dagenham plant cast a long shadow over the road.

Employing 40,000 workers when I left school in 1974, Fords dominated the area. Every family contained someone who made cars, or worked for one of the many ancillary firms supplying parts and equipment to the line.

Car culture was strong. When the boy racers needed somewhere to take their jacked-up, souped-up cars the A13 provided the tarmac. Sure, the Southend Arterial Road may have been straighter and faster, but you had to drive through Romford and all those pesky pedestrian crossing lights to get to Gallows Corner where it started.

The A13 was right there at the end of your street, two lanes of fast road and flyovers all the way. Very handy for taking the girlfriend down to the Circus Tavern at Purfleet to see the Four Tops or maybe treating her to a fish supper on the front at Southend.

Whether it was taking you into the bright lights of London or to the kiss-me-quick delights of the seaside, the A13 was the fastest way out of suburbia, to the Land of Dreams beyond.