Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England

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Metropolitan traffic policeman controls traffic in Fleet Street, London in 1960 before traffic lights and roundabouts came in to regular use. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Few people would associate the words "English heritage" with car showrooms, repair garages, filling stations, traffic lights, inner ring roads, multi-storey car parks, and drive-through restaurants. Yet, the exhibition Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England draws our attention to the country's motoring patrimony and shows that the car's impact on the physical environment needn't be reduced to ruthless out pours of concrete and "wayside eyesores".

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The Esso filling station on the A6 at Leicester is one of the few surviving buildings commissioned from industrial designer Eliot Noyes by Mobil. Steve Cole/English Heritage

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Laurel Garage, Ramsbury, Wiltshire. Peter Williams/English Heritage

The first motor cars entered the country in the late 19th Century. New buildings, signage, rules and systems had to be invented for dusty roads that so far had only been crisscrossed by horse traffic. It is only recently that we have started to value the infrastructures that have facilitated their construction, sale and maintenance of cars. "It took the best part of 100 years for the railway infrastructure to be appreciated," argue Kathryn Morrison and John Minnis in the book Carscapes: The Motor Car, Architecture, and Landscape in England, "now it is the turn of the car."

Many of these buildings, road signs and infrastructures have disappeared, others are under threat of being demolished or are decaying beyond repairs but English Heritage has started to list motoring heritage sites in England. The exhibition at Wellington Arch shows archives images, contemporary photos and a series of motoring memorabilia. It also explores the impact that motor car have had on the planning of cities, towns and on the countryside.

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Argyll's Car Showroom, Newman Street, London in 1905, which featured a lift to the rooftop where cars were taken for 'grooming'. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Below are some of the most spectacular buildings and road systems i discovered in the exhibition:

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Bibendum on the facade of the Michelin Building. Image Picky Glutton

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Michelin Building, Fulham Road, London. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

Bibendum aka the Michelin Man!! Michelin Building on London's Fulham Road is now a restaurant but it was built to house the first permanent UK headquarters and tyre depot for the Michelin Tyre Company Ltd. It also function as advertisement for the company with its corner domes that resemble sets of tyres and the large stained-glass windows starring the cheerful "Bibendum."

The building opened for business on 20 January 1911.

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Brewer Street car park, London. Photo Retrorides

When the Lex (now NCP) car park opened in Soho in 1928, its architects were catering for the rich men who could afford the luxury of a car. The Art Deco architecture thus also housed a cafe (for car-owners) and a separate canteen for chauffeurs.

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Anglo-American Oil Company (Pratts) Filling Station, Euston Road

The photo above shows one of the earliest filling stations to open in London. It was built by F.D. Huntington in 1922. Each pump was manned by a uniformed attendant.

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An early AA Filling Station, Stump Cross, Essex. Credit: English Heritage/The AA/Hampshire Record Office

This was one of the six filling stations built by the Automobile Association in 1919-20, the first to be opened in Great Britain, and originally selling only British-made benzole.

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The Markham Moor petrol station in Nottingham. Steve Cole/English Heritage

In 2012, English Heritage granted listed status on two 1960s petrol-station canopies - one on the A6 near Leicester (photo on top of the page but check out also this night view) and the other at Markham Moor, Nottingham.

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The first vehicles rolling off the production line at Dagenham in October 1931

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The Ford factory. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

When it opened in 1931, the Ford factory on the banks of the Thames at Dagenham was the largest car factory in Europe. The nearest building in this 1939 photograph is the power station. Behind it, fuel for the power station and furnaces is unloaded from ships via a double-decked jetty.

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Coventry Inner Ring Road. Image: English Heritage Archives

Coventry Inner Ring Road built between 1962 and 1974 is one of the most highly developed and tightly drawn inner ring roads of any city in England.

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In 1963, the M4 motorway was extended on a continuous viaduct, seen here under construction, running above the existing road. Credit: English Heritage/National Motor Museum

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Wellington Arch in 1930. Credit: English Heritage

The Wellington Arch was built in 1828 but Victorian traffic jams meant that in 1883, the Arch was dismantled and moved some 20 metres to its current location. Between 1958 and 1960, to further ease congestion - this time from motorised transport - Hyde Park Corner was altered and the Arch separated from Constitution Hill by a new roadway.

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An exterior view of the shop front of the Metallurgique Car Company's shop at 237 Regent Street. Photo English Heritage

Metallurgique was a Belgian company which opened the first car showroom on Regent Street in 1913

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M62 at night as traffic passes around the Stott Hall Farm. Photo Si Barber

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Romford in 1920 was still a country town with gardens and fields behind the market square. Today, engulfed within suburbia, it is completely urban and surrounded by car parks and relief roads

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This view of Reading in 1971 exemplifies what was going on all round England at that time as new inner ring roads made their mark on the urban environment

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Preston Bus Station and Car Park, built in the 60s, is now a Grade II listed building

More images on The Guardian, Heritage Calling and itv.

Carscapes: How the Motor Car Reshaped England is at the Wellington Arch until 6 July 2014.

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