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13 November 2014

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You are in: Wiltshire > History > Local History > The man behind the Magic Roundabout

The man behind the Magic Roundabout

It was supposed to be a flyover, was christened by the press and has put Swindon on the map...

Swindon's Magic Roundabout

According to the New Statesman "it's a monster", on the BBC's H2G2 website it's a 'gene-pool cleanser' which only the fittest can survive and for the Swindon bashers it's the last warning to reconsider before heading into Swindon.

But whatever your view is on this 'adventurous piece of engineering'… the Magic Roundabout has well and truly put Swindon on the map.

The magic roundabout, for anyone who hasn't got their Hondas around it, is a 'moonscape of mini-roundabouts' (five to be exact) clustered around a central roundabout. 

In the outside minis, all is well, with traffic flowing in the conventional clockwise direction.  In the central roundabout, however, everything goes against convention (literally) as traffic heads anti-clockwise along routes not recommended to the non-Swindonian or the feint of heart.

The Drove Road Flyover

But back in the 1970s Swindon's infamous landmark nearly didn't happen... So how did Swindon bag the mother of all mini-roundabouts?

Swindon's Magic Roundabout

Well according to Ray Harper, the man responsible for bringing the magic to Swindon, it's all down to a transport ministry boffin, a two week crash course on design and a council willing to experiment.

"It was back in 1963 that I was appointed Swindon Borough Council's Principal Traffic Engineer," says Ray "and given the job of solving the congestion at the Drove Road Roundabout.

"At that time I was designing flyovers and I'd designed a flyover that would start in Queens Drive, fly over into Fleming Way with an arm going over into County Road.

"It was a plan that would mean all the houses, on one side of County Road, would have to be knocked down.  That was actually on my drawing board, being designed, when I took this junction to Frank Blackmore."

For those who not in the know on the history of the roundabout… Frank Blackmore was not only the man behind the invention of the mini-roundabout but the boffin that came up with the idea of  the 'multi-ringed junction' in answer to Swindon's Drove Road Roundabout problem.

Swindon's Magic Roundabout

But just coming up with the idea, wouldn't prove to be enough, it would also take a local council willing to experiment on an unwitting local populace to make it a reality.  A local council like Swindon Borough Council:

"We tarmaced over the whole area," says Ray "And when we'd got it all tarmaced, leaving the old roundabout in place with tyres, we were ready to start the experiment… this was in September 1971."

So with a bus parked in the middle of the new roundabout, and a bevy of pioneer roundabout designers busily counting cars, Swindon's guinea pig drivers were put through their paces, through an ever changing array of roundabout systems marked out with white painted tyres:

"On the old roundabout the saturation or the maximum amount of traffic you could get through the roundabout was 5,100 vehicles per hour.

"Using the five ring junction principle, with the five mini roundabouts that's there now, gave a capacity of 6,200.  So that's the one we adopted.”

Swindon’s other Magic Roundabout

And thirty years on it's still the one that's being used.  In fact it's proved so successful that Swindon has even gone and got itself another one:

Swindon's Magic Roundabout

"Of course we've got another one in Swindon," says Ray. "It isn't called a Magic Roundabout but the one at Bruce Street Bridges uses exactly the same principal of four roads coming in to four roundabouts with roads underneath the Railway bridges connecting the two."

The BBC christens it The Magic Roundabout?

With two Magics and, it's claimed, more mini-roundabouts then residents… Swindon has become the undisputed roundabout capital of Britain.  But its famous Magic Roundabout wasn't meant to be magic and in fact had been christened something completely different:

"I gave it the name of County Islands Ring Junction," says Ray.

"But at the launch when the press were looking down at it one of the press men, I don't know whether it was ITV or BBC, said 'This is just like Zebedee in the Magic Roundabout' and from then on the press referred to it as the 'Magic Roundabout'…”

It was the BBC… surely?

last updated: 04/12/2008 at 14:18
created: 29/03/2008

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