The NORTH. That's what's on the sign.

Apart from being the astronomical designation of the Crab Nebula and the name of BMW's first supercar and several types of guns and the other things above and many more, the M1 is also a motorway. In fact it is several motorways in several different countries, but only one of them connects London to Leeds via Milton Keynes, Sheffield and various other towns and cities, only one of them has transcended its physical status as a strip of concrete into a spiritual metaphor for Britain's decline. The M1 dates from the late 1950s and was built with high hopes. It is now one of the most depressing things in the world, only slightly less so than Slough or the M25 orbital road which rings London. The M1 has service stops at Newport Pagnell and Watford Gap, two two-word invocations that cut deep into the English soul. That the M4 which links London to the West remains anonymous is testament to the creativity and bitterness of people who live north of London.

The M1 was designed in the mid-1950s by Owen Williams and John Laing, two venerable architectural firms specialising in civic structures, both of which remain in business today. The M1 was originally supposed to be three lanes wide and remains so at most places, although it will eventually be a four-lane motorway along its entire length. The first section of the M1, running from St Albans to the vicinity of Birmingham was built in just eighteen months, a massive project involving the relocation of several villages and a great deal of compensation to those farmers and landowners whose land was infringed by the construction; the motorway was opened on November 22nd, 1959, its first fatal crash occuring twenty days later. It was opened by contemporary transport minister Ernest Marples, part of Harold MacMillian's government, although the M1 had been devised in the days of Winston Churchill's post-war term, modelled on America's contemporary interstates.

The motorway was designed to pass around 14,000 vehicles per day, a figure now exceeded ten times over, a bitter-sweet figure; it is good that so many people can afford cars, that so many people like to move around, but it is bad that so many people spend so much time driving along the M1. In terms of traffic volume the M1 is third to the M25 and M6, the former a nightmarish vision of hell, the latter a surprisingly mellow road, given that it contains the infamous Spaghetti Junction, also designed by Owen Williams. The M1 was extended throughout the 1960s, the most recent additions being at the southern end in 1977 and at the northern end in 1999. It now serves to link Brent Cross and Heathrow airport (via the A406) to Leeds and beyond, for there are indeed bits of Britain beyond Leeds.

Fascinatingly, and heartbreakingly, the M1 was not originally speed-restricted. In the early 1960s very few cars could top the ton, fewer still could do so repeatedly, without having to be rebuilt in the interim. It was therefore common for celebrities and race-car manufacturers to test their new cars on the M1, most famously AC, who tested a one-off Le Mans-bound AC Cobra Coupe on the motorway in 1964. In the early hours of June 10th the car reached 185mph, attracting a great deal of publicity in the process. Britain's current speed limit of 70mph was introduced three years later, in 1967, by an MP called Barbara Castle. She denied that there was a connection between the two events, but she was an MP and thus a liar. The government lies. And twists, and lies. It takes a mighty effort to expose a single government lie, and when it is exposed the government lies again. The government is a lying snake, a worm. When it is cut in half, the two halves remain alive. The only way to kill a worm for good is to burn it. We must burn the government. Burn the government's institutions. Burn its buildings. Burn its staff. Burn it.

The M1 features in one other anecdote. The mid-70s Gerry Anderson series 'Space: 1999' included an episode called 'The Rules of Luton', an amusing title given that Luton is an unremarkable town in the middle section of England. So the story goes, the producer of the show's inferior second series and writer of that episode, Fred Freiberger, spotted the name 'Luton' on the signpost linking the A406 to the M1, and thought it sufficiently alien to use as an actual alien world.

Obviously, it's funnier if you're from Luton. It is pronounced 'Loo-ton', and not 'lutton' as some people seem to think.

Mysteriously, and deviously, the M1 does not have a third junction. It skips from junction two to junction four, a condition explained in great detail in the very first source below.

Selected sources - fascinating, if you're into Britain's highways. As a non-driver I am not at all interested in the roads except as a mine of useless information. - people, like you and I - it is beautiful - it is regular to be mellow