History of the UK Road Network


Every day millions of people jump in their cars or work vehicles and head off on British roads. Our journeys take us through breathtaking landscapes, along beautiful coastal roads and down high-speed motorways.

As well as people travelling for domestic reasons, there are thousands of delivery drivers and haulage companies who use our Transport Insurance packages, driving up and down the country each day.

Across the extensive 262,300 miles of road networks in the UK, can be found examples of ancient routes. Some of the earliest engineered roads were developed in the Iron Age, dating back as far as the 1st Century BCE. An example of these early roads was found near Shrewsbury at Bayston Hill quarry. There was also evidence of a timber road in Geldeston in Norfolk. When this timber was analysed it is noted that the tree rings could have dated back to 75 BCE.

Roman Britain

Many of the roads that were built as part of the first phase of the Roman occupation of the United Kingdom, were built to help connect London to the various ports that were used in the invasion. These were the ports at Chichester and Richborough. The Romans created legionary bases in Colchester, Lincoln, Wroxeter, Gloucester and Exeter. It became important for travel between these bases and the wider country. Trade and the movement of soldiers were among their key concerns.

Medieval Times

During the medieval era, further roads were developed as a way to transport items for trading. These roads were established to help supplement the transportation routes along the rivers. Some of the popular trade items included wool, sheep, cattle and salt. The market towns were linked by this network of roads which enabled trade to expand across the country.

Modern Times

As society grew, especially during the Industrial Revolution it became important to have road networks linking all major towns and cities and of course, connecting them to the ports. More roads were created and vehicles that could travel on these roads were also developed. The invention of carts and then later on the development of the motor vehicle saw travel across the country increase dramatically. Roads needed to be expanded and their surfaces needed to be made of robust materials that required little maintenance.

The Second War World saw plans created to develop a network of high-speed routes that would stretch across the whole of the UK, with the first motorway being opened in 1958. The Preston Bypass has now formed a part of the M6. Over the next 15 years, more than 1,000 miles of motorway were built and even more of these high-speed routes were opened during the 1980s.


With the pressure growing on governments to look at ways in which they can become carbon neutral, there have been many advancements in both road network construction and also in vehicle development. Roads are now created with materials that are more sustainable and their construction takes into account the impact that may be had on the local environment. Many roads are built with natural hedgerows alongside them to encourage wildlife to safely remain in the area.