Today is the 50th anniversary of one of Kingston's most enduring features - the dreaded one way system.

Jon Sharman reports on why it was brought in, the first day chaos, and the battle to stop it ruining the riverside forever.


Police had to step in to control traffic on the first day of Kingston’s new one-way system, almost 50 years ago today.

The change of route through the town was introduced on Sunday, July 14, 1963, and was developed to alleviate town centre congestion.

The Surrey Comet’s midweek edition of that year reported on Wednesday, July 17, that, despite a few hitches, things seemed to be going well.

Borough surveyor Mr KM Beer told the Comet: “It is a little too early to give any considered opinion, but we are still quite happy about the whole scheme.”

A police spokesman said: “In the first two days no accidents involving personal injury, and only three of slight damage to vehicles, have been reported to us.”

A London Transport spokesman said bus drivers had adapted to the changes.

He said: “In the first two days of the scheme things seem to have gone very smoothly.”

Workmen went out the night before the scheme began, to paint signs and put up temporary barriers to help drivers.

But despite their efforts many motorists took wrong turns. Others got their lanes mixed up and found themselves heading in the opposite direction to the one they wanted.

Sutton and Cheam MP Richard Sharples, parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works, said, before the system was introduced, that towns built around horses and carts, with large areas of dereliction, had to adapt.

He said: “We want our towns to be geared towards the needs of the second half of the 20th century.

“The responsibility which faces us all – Government, local authorities, developers, citizens – is to make sure that the answer which we get at the end is right.

“It is no use complaining afterwards that we have got something which we do not want.”

New bus stops were created with the now-familiar red discs to guide commuters to the right stand.

Surrey Comet:

‘It was a whole lot better than what was originally in place’ Plan view: Kingston’s new one-way system

Back then Old London Road was London Road, a busy road into the heart of Kingston, and formed part of the system feeding into Clarence Street.

Traffic flowed clockwise around Clarence Street, Wood Street, Cromwell Road, and Queen Elizabeth Road. But that was not always the plan.

Councillors and planners originally intended a ring road to encircle the town centre and run along the riverfront.

The Kingston Society began in opposition to the plans.

Former chairman Michael Davison said: “It would have severed the town centre from the river and put a stranglehold around the entire town centre.

“It was thought that there should be some society to help people have a voice.”

Members were delighted to have thwarted that scheme, but the riverfront road plans were not finally abandoned until the 1970s, he said.

Surrey Comet features editor June Sampson said: “It was good news that we were having the road system, but I have always thought it was pretty awful.

“It can be hard for a stranger to manipulate – and even a long-time resident has to think twice.

“At the same time, of course, it was a whole lot better than what was originally in place.

“For a pedestrian, Clarence Street was awful as well. It would just be blocked and you would thread your way through the traffic.”

Everything changed again after Clarence Street was pedestrianised in 1989, when 5,000 people turned out to watch a parade of buses travel down the road for the last time.

But obstructions can still play havoc with traffic.

In April a gas leak in Queen Elizabeth Road forced the closure of two lanes in Cromwell Road, causing tailbacks throughout the system.