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Motorway Memories: George Horn

Tuesday 19 October, 2021, by Karen Griffiths

Thanks to Hilary Wilson for passing these notes made by George Horn of Tebay of his days working on construction of the M6 motorway:

“A caravan was trying to park on the top school play area at Tebay. I stopped to see [if] I could help and in conversation found this was the first to arrive for the construction of the M6 motorway. The school had been bought by John Laing to use as offices and later a hostel for workers. I had made up my mind that I intended to work on the motorway. When the office opened I went to apply for work and started October 6th 1967.

Alan and Noel Watson, Bill Fleming and I started in the school removing rotten wooden floorboards in preparation for the new floors. We then moved onto a green field site at Lowgill which was to be the headquarters for the contract. We erected the first site hut then started to fence the site. We did not know this was to be the western boundary of the new road from the A65 to Lowgill and Beckfoot. Moving on, we erected a temporary fence as the permanent one came later. When we were fencing from Lowgill to Cowperthwaite, we were on railway property but were unaware as, at some time previously, the track had been re-aligned. But because we were working on the line side, we already had railway safety training and look out men in order to continue. We had almost completed the other side and we were stopped dead The instructions were ‘Pick up your equipment , clear the site and come with me’. It was said by a Laing’s agent, with no explanation. Once we were back in the office which was still being erected it was explained that Foot and Mouth Disease had broken out and work was at a standstill. We arrived back next morning and still had a job.
The North Batching concrete plant at Lunes bridge was a green field site and that was where we went next. Again we were erecting site huts and everything else that was needed to produce concrete. Materials and concrete that were en-route to the M6 sites needed to be unloaded where instructed whilst erecting the huts.

We started fencing again before Christmas starting at Knott Hall working northwards towards Dillicar which was steep sidelong ground. We had fenced all day Saturday when we were approached by the farmer who told us it was in the wrong place. I told him that we follow the white pegs which were set out by the engineers so go and look for yourself. Going back that Monday morning we were told to start south from Knott Hall but never knew the outcome of Saturday. We fenced back to Lowgill and then fenced the culvert outlets and access, to the east of the motorway and the railway level crossings required ‘lookouts’ into Low Park. We moved onto Lowgill, Fleetholme, Beckfoot and to Lakethwaite. The south batcher plant was at Lakethwaite. We proceeded south on both sides of the motorway. Many new sections of side roads- Lambrigg Foot to Lambrigg Head; Old Scotch road to Grayrigg by Cross Houses; Old Station Road to Green Dykes and Moorcock Hall. The new A684 Owshaw Hill to Roan Edge Quarry on both sides. Laings’ section finished at Killington which was actually Cappelthwaite over Bridge where we stopped fencing. In Lambrigg we fenced a tarn off on Lambrigg Fell to provide a water supply for Lambrigg Head.

We moved from fencing to stone pitching, culverts, entrances and exits for concrete pipes underneath the motorway catch pits commencing at Fleetholme and exit at terrace 3 culvert, which included an inverted siphon under the railway at Lowgill. The next one was at Cowperthwaite which runs parallel with the motorway and the railway north of Cowperthwaite over the bridge and the next one was south of that bridge. North again the Knott Hall to Low Park and Dillicar. Here at break time outside on a sunny day where we had two wooden huts, one contained bags of cement and tools, the other was used by us, when suddenly a whirlwind came up the valley and filled our coffee cups with dust and carried the hut up the hill and landed next to Grayrigg Hause road so that was the end of it.

We started to go south from Green Dykes to Moorcock Hall stone pitching. Flodder beck near its source, situated between the motorway and the Old Scotch Road connecting with a culvert under the Old Scotch Road near to Moorcock Hall culvert under the motorway at Green Dykes underpass. Extensive earthworks and rock blasting had to be carried out as work progressed.

Christmas arrived and Jock who was our tractor driver, who travelled with Laings, had two weeks holiday at Christmas and was away for a long weekend every third one. Part of his job was collecting milk churns for the collection lorry. The reason for this was the road was in such a bad condition that the dairy refused to use it. Whilst he was away from work it was my job to do the collection. Working outside in winter is not pleasant so after Jock returned I decided to change jobs. Talking to the plant manager he suggested I take a test on a dump truck which I did and passed in January 1969. Driving machinery during winter is not easy due to bad weather and ground conditions. Because of the difficulties which were to be encountered in the Lune valley, consulting engineers carried out a construction of a trial embankment to see how the boulder clay could be managed and it suitability as fill material. This large amount of material was found to be suitable provided it was managed correctly having to take into account 70 inches of rainfall, difficulty of access and cost to import suitable fill.

The contract stipulated the construction method required. Because of the high rainfall there was a need to keep a large amount of the boulder clay to be moved, so an extra year’s construction time was added onto the contract. The aim was to dig the boulder clay to be moved to a vertical face in the cut area and to spread and compact to allow for a 3% slope to the sides of the fill area, to provide the ingress of rain water. The fill area of the embankment started off with a rock drainage layer. Then boulder clay type B fill which had then to be left to dry out for four months hence the extra construction time. Depending on the height of the embankment, layers of rock drainage and type B fill was added. For the final layer of the embankment, dry type A fill was placed on top of type B fill to formation level for the start of the carriageway.

I left Laings and went to work for Shands on the Hardendale section to work in Bousfield quarry on a night shift. There was twenty four hour working which I did for fourteen months, working six nights per week. I joined some drivers from Leeds who had just completed their part in constructing the Leeds ring road. We took rock to one end of the crusher and took away 9 inch crushed rock from the other end. We all had to work hard. Nights can be cold and dawn can be beautiful and most welcome. The crusher was moved to Blasterfield quarry on the Orton Scar site [next to the] Crosby Ravensworth road. We moved the crushed stone to the motorway just north of where Tebay East services are now on the south bound carriageway, where another crusher made it into sub base. The pressure of work began to ease so we went back onto the day shift, leading sub base out of Shap Beck quarry. We were then asked to move with the trucks to the next contract which was the Snake Pass in Derbyshire. I did not want to move away. When I finished I left with grandfather rights for a heavy goods licence which had just been introduced by the licence authority. HGV drivers in future had to pass a test unless they had these rights. I went back to Laings to drive a Landrover but started on a dump truck. I knew the top soil was being moved to Tebay, promising not to park overnight on the carriageway as leaks and tarmac do not mix.

The motorway opened on 23rd October 1970 three years after commencement, on time and on budget.”

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Picture of Karen Griffiths

Karen Griffiths

Interpretation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority


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