The A1 is the latest in a series of routes north from London to York and beyond. It was designated in 1921 by the Ministry of Transport under the Great Britain road numbering scheme. The earliest documented northern routes are the roads created by the Romans during the period from AD 43 to AD 410, which consisted of several itinera (plural of iter) recorded in the Antonine Itinerary. A combination of these were used by the Anglo-Saxons as the route from London to York, and together became known as Ermine Street. Ermine Street later became known as the Old North Road. Part of this route in London is followed by the current A10. By the 12th century, because of flooding and damage by traffic, an alternative route out of London was found through Muswell Hill, and became part of the Great North Road. A turnpike road, New North Road and Canonbury Road (A1200 road), was constructed in 1812 linking the start of the Old North Road around Shoreditch with the Great North Road at Highbury Corner. While the route of the A1 outside London mainly follows the Great North Road route used by mail coaches between London and Edinburgh, within London the coaching route is only followed through Islington.
The A1 route was modified in 1927 when bypasses were built around Barnet and Hatfield. In the 1930s bypasses were added around Chester-le-Street and Durham, and the Ferryhill Cut was dug. In 1960 Stamford, Biggleswade and Doncaster were bypassed, as were Retford in 1961 and St Neots in 1971. Baldock was bypassed in July 1967. During the early 1970s plans to widen the A1 along Archway Road in London were abandoned after considerable opposition and four public inquiries during which road protesters disrupted proceedings. The scheme was finally dropped in 1990. The Hatfield cut-and-cover was opened in 1986.
A proposal to upgrade the whole of the A1 to motorway status was investigated by the Government in 1989 but was dropped in 1995, along with many other schemes, in response to road protests against other road schemes (including the Newbury Bypass and the M3 extension through Twyford Down).Washington Northbound and Southbound
Scotch Corner Southbound (Also Connected to A66)
Ferrybridge Northbound (Also Connected to M62)
The inns on the road, many of which still survive, were staging posts on the coach routes, providing accommodation, stabling for the horses and replacement mounts. Few of the surviving coaching inns can be seen while driving on the A1, because the modern route now bypasses the towns with the inns.
The A1 runs from New Change in the City of London at St. Paul's Cathedral to the centre of Edinburgh. The road skirts the remains of Sherwood Forest, and passes Catterick Garrison. It shares its London terminus with the A40, in the City area of Central London. It runs out of London through Islington (where Upper Street forms part of its route), up Holloway Road, through Highgate, Barnet, Potters Bar, Hatfield, Welwyn, Stevenage, Baldock, Biggleswade, Sandy and St Neots.
Continuing north, the A1 runs on modern bypasses around Stamford, Grantham, Newark-on-Trent, Retford, Bawtry, Doncaster, Knottingley, Garforth, Wetherby, Knaresborough, Boroughbridge, Scotch Corner, Darlington, Newton Aycliffe, Durham and Chester-le-Street, past the Angel of the North sculpture and the Metrocentre in Gateshead, through the western suburbs of Newcastle upon Tyne, Morpeth, Alnwick, Berwick-upon-Tweed, into Scotland at Marshall Meadows, past Haddington and Musselburgh before arriving in Edinburgh at the East End of Princes Street near Waverley Station, at the junction of the A7, A8 and A900 roads.
Scotch Corner, in North Yorkshire, marks the point where before the M6 was built the traffic for Glasgow and the west of Scotland diverged from that for Edinburgh. As well as a hotel there have been a variety of sites for the transport café, now subsumed as a motorway services.
Most of the English section of the A1 is a series of alternating sections of dual carriageway and motorway. From Newcastle upon Tyne to Edinburgh it is a trunk road with alternating sections of dual and single carriageway. The table below summaries the road as motorways and non-motorways sections,
A 13-mile (21 km) section of the road in North Yorkshire, from Walshford to Dishforth, was upgraded to motorway standard in 1995. Neolithic remains and a Roman fort were discovered.
A 13-mile (21 km) section of the road from Alconbury to Peterborough was upgraded to motorway standard at a cost of £128 million (£203 million as of 2017),which opened in 1998 requiring moving the memorial to Napoleonic prisoners buried at Norman Cross.
A number of sections between Newcastle and Edinburgh were dualled between 1999 and 2004, including a 1.9-mile (3 km) section from Spott Wood to Oswald Dean in 1999, 1.2-mile (2 km) sections from Bowerhouse to Spott Road and from Howburn to Houndwood in 2002–2003 and the 8.5-mile (13.7 km) "A1 Expressway", from Haddington and Dunbar in 2004. The total cost of these works was some £50 million.
Plans to dual the single carriageway section of road north of Newcastle upon Tyne were shelved in 2006 as they were not considered a regional priority by central government. The intention was to dual the road between Morpeth and Felton and between Adderstone and Belford.
In 1999 a section of A1(M) between Bramham and Hook Moor opened to traffic along with the extension of the M1 from Leeds. Under a DBFO contract, sections from Wetherby to Walshford and Darrington to Hook Moor were opened in 2005 and 2006, taking the section to a junction.
Between August 2006 and September 2009 six roundabouts on the A1 and the A1(M) to Alconbury were replaced with grade-separated junctions. These provide a fully grade-separated route between the Buckden roundabout (just north of St Neots and approximately 8 miles (13 km) north of the Black Cat Roundabout) and just north of Morpeth. This project cost £96 million.
Upgrading the 6.2 miles (10 km) of road to dual three-lane motorway standard between the Bramham/A64 junction to north of Wetherby to meet the section of motorway at a cost of £70 million began in 2006, including a road alongside for non-motorway traffic. The scheme's public inquiry began on 18 October 2006 and the project was designed by James Poyner. Work began in May 2007, the motorway section opened in July 2009 and remaining work on side roads was still ongoing in late August and was expected to be completed by the end of 2009.
Upgrading of the existing dual carriageway to dual three-lane motorway standard, with a local road alongside for non-motorway traffic, between Dishforth (A1(M)/A168 junction) and Leeming Bar, began in March 2009 and opened to traffic on or about the scheduled date of 31 March 2012.
It had originally been proposed that the road would be upgraded to motorway from Dishforth to Barton (between Scotch Corner and Darlington), which was the start of current northernmost section of A1(M). In 2010 the section between Leeming and Barton was cancelled as part of government spending cuts but it was reinstated in December 2012. Work began on 3 April 2014 and is expected to be completed by Spring 2017. It will then provide a continuous motorway-standard road between Darrington (south of M62 junction) and Washington, and will provide the North East and North Yorkshire with full motorway access to London (via the M1). Councils in the north east have called for the section from Hook Moor in Yorkshire (where the M1 link road joins the A1(M)) to Washington to be renumbered as the M1. They maintain that this would raise the profile of the north-east and be good for business.
In the "Road investment strategy" announced to Parliament by the Department for Transport and Secretary of State for Transport on 1 December 2014, planning will begin to upgrade the road in South Yorkshire to raise the last non-motorway section from Red House to Darrington to motorway standard. Once completed, it will provide a continuous motorway-standard road between Blyth, Nottinghamshire and Washington, Tyne and Wear and will provide the North East and Yorkshire with full motorway access to London via the M1, M62 and M18. It will also improve safety along this route, as well as creating a new corridor to the North East, and reducing congestion on the M1 around Sheffield and Leeds.
In his Autumn Statement on 5 December 2012, the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced that the Government would upgrade a section of road from two to three lanes in each direction within the highway boundary at Lobley Hill (between Coal House and the Metro Centre), Gateshead at a cost of £64 m and create parallel link roads between the Lobley Hill and Gateshead Quay junctions. In the "Road investment strategy" announced to Parliament by the Department for Transport and Secretary of State for Transport on 1 December 2014, the remaining section of road between Birtley and Coal House will also be widened to three lanes each way, alongside the replacement of the Allerdene Bridge.
The same Road investment strategy announcement said that the road from Scotswood to North Brunton would be widened to three lanes each way, with four lanes each way between some junctions.
The same announcement said that the road from Morpeth to Ellingham would be upgraded to dual carriageway. The selection of the preferred route is scheduled for the year 2017.
Measures were then also announced to enhance the performance and safety of the A1 north of Ellingham to include three sections of climbing lanes, five junctions with improved right turn refuges, and better crossing facilities for pedestrians and cyclists. Start of construction is scheduled for 2018.
The planned A14 Ellington to Fen Ditton scheme would require a new junction at Brampton, north of which the A1 will be widened to a three-lane dual carriageway from Brampton to the Brampton Hut interchange. The new two-lane dual carriageway section of the A14 would run parallel with the A1 on this section.
The same announcement in December 2014 said that the remaining single-carriageway section of the A428 between Caxton Gibbet west of Cambridge and the A1 would be upgraded to dual carriageway, including a grade-separated junction at the A1 Black Cat Roundabout.
It was then also announced that planning would begin to upgrade the Newark northern bypass to dual carriageway, and the A46 junction with the A1 will be replaced to support nearby housing growth and improve links from the A1 to Newark and Lincoln.
It was also announced that the Doncaster By-pass, which is the oldest stretch of two-lane motorway still in service, would be upgraded to dual three lanes. This will relieve local congestion and provide the capacity needed to make the A1 an alternative (and better) strategic route to the north east.
In 2003 a proposal for a bypass of Sandy and Beeston, Bedfordshire, was put forward as a green-lighted scheme as part of a government multi-modal study, with a cost of £67 million. However, the Highways Agency was unwilling to confirm the information as the study was preliminary and intended for future publication. In 2008 the proposal was submitted for consideration in the pre-2013/14 Regional Funding Advice 2 Programme of the East of England Development Agency.
It was also announced in 2014 that new technology would be implemented to bring the road to motorway standards, including detection loops, CCTV cameras and variable message signs to provide better information for drivers and active traffic management across Tyne and Wear, while Junction 6 (Welwyn North) to Junction 8 (Hitchin) would be upgraded to smart motorway, including widening of a two-lane section to dual three lanes and hard shoulder running.
A strategic study will examine how to improve the safety and performance of the A1 between Peterborough and the M25, including whether to upgrade the old dual carriageway section to motorway standard.
The Highways Agency has been investigating an upgrade of the A1 Newcastle/Gateshead Western Bypass to dual three-lane motorway standard to alleviate heavy congestion which in recent years has become a recurrent problem.
Improvements to junctions near the village of Elkesley, Nottinghamshire are planned: the village's only access to the rest of the road network is via the A1.
Consideration is being given to widening the Brampton Hut interchange to Alconbury sections to a three-lane dual carriageway.
Some sections of the A1 have been upgraded to motorway standard. These are known as the A1(M) and are part of European route E15. These include:M25 to Stotfold
The M25 to Stotfold section is 23 miles (37 km), and was constructed between 1962 and 1986. The main destinations are Hatfield, Welwyn Garden City, Stevenage, and Letchworth. It opened in five stages: junctions 1 to 2 in 1979; 2 to 4 in 1986; 4 to 6 in 1973; 6 to 8 in 1962; and 8 to 10 in 1967.Alconbury to Peterborough
The Alconbury to Peterborough section is 14 miles (23 km), and opened in 1998.Doncaster By-pass
The Doncaster By-pass opened in 1961 and is one of the oldest sections of motorway in Britain. It is 15 miles (24 km) long, and runs from Blyth to Carcroft.Darrington to Leeming
The Darrington to Leeming section was constructed between 1995 and 2012. It is 34 miles (55 km), and opened in sections:Walshford to 49 in 1995
Junctions 43 to 44 in 1999
When this section opened it ended at a temporary terminus south of the M1. There was a final exit into Micklefield Village for non-motorway traffic onto what is now the access road. During the first week of June 2009, Junctions 44 and 45 were renumbered 43 and 44. At the same time the A1/A659 Grange Moor junction became A1(M) Junction 45. As a result many atlases show incorrect junction numbering for this stretch of motorway.
Junction 46 to temporary junction at Walshford opened in 2005
Junction 40 to south of 43 opened in 2005 & 2006
The northern section of the upgrade, bypassing Fairburn village opened in April 2005 with a temporary connection with the A1 between Fairburn and Brotherton. The southern section, with a free-flow interchange with the M62 motorway opened on 13 January 2006.
Junctions 44 to 46 opened in 2009
Junctions 49 to 51 opened as of 31 March 2012. Work began in March 2009 to upgrade the Dishforth to Leeming section to dual three-lane motorway standard with existing connections being replaced by two new junctions. This work was completed on 31 March 2012.
Scotch Corner to Gateshead
The Scotch Corner to Gateshead section is 30 miles (48 km), and opened in stages:Junctions 56 to 59 in 1965
Junctions 59 to 63 in 1969
Junctions 63 to 65 in 1970
The A1 is celebrated in song. It is mentioned by Jethro Tull on the title track of the album Too Old to Rock 'n' Roll: Too Young to Die! "Up on the A1 by Scotch Corner". "Scotch Corner," by the Welsh band Man, on the album Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics is about an encounter there. Near the southern end, signs saying "Hatfield and the North" inspired the eponymous 1970s rock band Hatfield and the North. The A1 is mentioned in The Long Blondes' song, "Separated By Motorways", along with the A14. The A1(M) is mentioned in the song "Gabadon" by Sheffield band, Haze. Andrew Blackman's 2009 novel "On the Holloway Road", inspired by Jack Kerouac's On the Road, centres on a road trip along the A1.