John Laing – builder of M1 and Severn Bridge – opens archive

Construction firm John Laing has built some of the nation’s power stations and housing estates, motorways and cathedrals. As Historic England and the John Laing Charitable Trust open the company’s picture vault to the public, here are some of the firm’s photographs documenting their bigger builds.

The Severn bridge

Aerial views of bridge being built

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The second Severn Bridge took four years to build

The second Severn bridge, now known as the Prince of Wales Bridge, opened to traffic on 5 June 1996.

Built to ease pressure on the first Severn bridge, which opened 30 years previously, it carries the six lanes of the M4 between England and Wales with more than 30,000 vehicles using it each day.

Bridge being built

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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It is three miles (4.8km) long and crosses the River Severn

Women do measurements at bridge site

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Here Jacqueline Bowker and Anita Manning make measurements with the Jay Robertson, a large jack-up barge, in the background

It took four years to build the three mile (4.8km) span.

A toll that had been in place since the first bridge opened in 1966 was abolished in December 2018.

M1 and M6

Aerial views of M6 in Cumbria

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The M6 cuts along the edge of Cumbria

The 1950s and 60s saw the creation and expansion of Britain’s motorway network.

John Laing helped build stretches of both the M1 and M6.

M6

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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It also passes through the West Midlands

A lorry dumps soil for the central reservation

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Here workers build the central reservation of the M1

Construction of the M6 also saw John Laing employ its first female civil engineer, 21-year-old London University student Kik Hong Ong.

A woman makes measurements making the M6

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Kik Hong Ong worked on sections C and D of the M6

Crowd at opening of M1

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The M1 opened with much fanfare on 2 November 1959

The M6 incorporates the country’s first stretch of motorway, the Preston by-pass, which opened in 1958, on its journey from Rugby to Gretna.

Meanwhile, the 193-mile long M1 connects London to Leeds and was built mainly between 1959 and 1968.

Coventry Cathedral

Aerial view of construction site

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Coventry’s new cathedral was built close to the remains of its old one

On 14 November 1940, St Michael’s Cathedral in Coventry was practically obliterated by bombs dropped by the Luftwaffe.

As the smoke and dust cleared, all that remained was the tower and spire, outer wall and tomb of its first bishop.

Scaffolding around new cathedral walls

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The cathedral was designed by Basil Spence

Group of builders outside cathedral

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Historic Enlgand/John Laing Collection

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It took six years to build

Two views of helicopter lowering spire on to cathedral

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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A helicopter was used to place the cathedral’s tower

The new, modernist cathedral was built between 1956 and 1962 a stone’s throw away from where the shell of the bombed building still stands.

It was designed by Basil Spence and built by John Laing, with construction including the use of a helicopter to place the cathedral’s tower.

Barbican estate

Wide view of Barbican

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The Barbican estate was built in the 1960s

Aerial view of Barbican construction site

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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It was built in the Cripplegate area

The 40-acre Barbican estate was built in the 1960s close to London’s old city wall on a site flattened by World War Two bombing.

Hailed as a fine example of brutalist concrete architecture, it is comprised of flats, an arts centre, school and the Museum of London.

Barbican show flat

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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It was designed to house city professionals and their families

Queen attends Barbican opening

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The Queen visited the Barbican in 1972

Interior of arts centre

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The arts centre contains several theatres, cinema screens and a library

It is home to about 4,000 people and was built to tackle a shortfall in housing in that part of London after the war.

The Queen visited the Barbican on 20 November 1972, the day she celebrated her silver wedding anniversary.

Berkeley Nuclear Power Station

Cone shaped tower topper being moved

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Berkeley was a Magnox power station which ran on uranium

Berkeley, one of the world’s first commercial nuclear power stations, was in operation between 1962 and 1989 with its reactors producing enough electricity to power an area the size of Bristol each day.

Large tube sections being moved in a factory

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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It was commissioned in 1962 and operated for 27 years

Men fit metalwork in tunnel

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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Here workers fit lining panels inside a cooling water tunnel

It stood beside the River Severn in Gloucestershire and while many of its buildings have been removed, work is only now starting on removing the nuclear waste.

It will not be safe for humans to go inside its two reactor cores until 2074.

London Central Mosque

Long views of the mosque

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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More than 100 designs were submitted for the mosque

The mosque near Regent’s Park opened in 1977 and can accommodate more than 5,000 worshippers.

It is also known as the Islamic Cultural Centre.

Construction crew outside mosque

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The minaret was constructed using a slipforming technique, in which concrete is poured into a continuously moving form which is raised at a rate that allows the concrete to harden and maintain its shape

Dome being built

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The dome’s exterior was covered in gold-coloured copper alloy

More than 100 designs were submitted for the mosque before Frederick Gibberd’s plan was chosen, with construction taking three years.

While the dome’s exterior was covered in gold-coloured copper alloy, the interior was lined with an intricate geometric tile mosaic.

Man tiles interior

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The interior was lined with an intricate geometric tile mosaic

Completed mosque

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Historic England/John Laing Collection

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The completed mosque opened in 1977

The pictures are among 10,000 from the John Laing Photographic Collection being digitised, which will be open for public access on the Historic England website as part of the Breaking New Ground project.

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