On January 3rd, 1994, over a hundred people trespassed into the Twyford Cutting to ‘First Foot’ it in traditional Hogmany style. A circle of coal was laid down to draw attention to the potential for the road to be an accident black spot, with its hazardous combination of 3 junctions in less than 2 miles, plus a bend and a steep gradient. Three years later, the warnings would be sadly realised and the Twyford Cutting was named, by a number of newspapers, as the most dangerous stretch of motorway in Britain.
A local Creation Spirituality group led a short ceremony and the following is part of the litany they read on the day:
Let our cry against this devastation, our revulsion at the destruction of Twyford Down,
bind us to heal and protect the Earth.
Twyford Down – open hearts, change minds…
may the hideous image of the scar inspire the fight for the environment.
The fight against other roads.
These were to prove auspicious words, for 1994 was a year in which protests against road-building swept England, from the M11 in east London to Solsbury Hill near Bath, Wymondham in Norfolk and Stanworth Valley in the north west England.
The media images, the stories we tell of the time are full of heroism, but there was another side to the story that rarely gets told, one that starts in that cold. January of 1994, when Road Alert! was formerly launched to support the new and growing direct action movement against roads.
The Twyford Rising book tells this story as well as the stories of the actions and camp on the Down itself, for all these threads make up the rich tapestry of those times.
Helen B, Road Alert!:
Whenever I see films or pictures of the road protests now, I know that there is an untold story of how so many of those involved at Twyford Down and others who came afterwards, worked to breaking point to make all those campaigns happen. At the Newbury bypass, it was 2 years of Road Alert! working with the local campaigners before a tree house went up in the branches, or a tunnel was dug. It is easy to miss this bit – it is not glamorous or photogenic, it doesn’t have the pleasurable, outdoor elements of building the tree houses and walkways or the derring-do of jumping on bulldozers – although we did all those things too. It involved endless nights of faxing press releases, endless phone calls to journalists and solicitors, answering enquiries from students, press and people wanting to know how to help, where to go; it involved staying up all night to meet a deadline for a newsletter or leaflet, printing them on a shoestring budget, writing them on ropey old computers in scruffy, badly lit offices and getting them to every event and meeting you could think of. It was often fun, sometimes inspiring, always hard work.
Tim, Road Alert!:
We would spend ages just faxing one press release; we had a long list of numbers for media and campaigning groups and would be faxing into the night most nights – phone all day and fax all night. Today it would all be over in minutes. It easy to forget how much technology has changed things.