When Britain hedged its bets and considered a bet on hedges

| 22 Jul 2011

1966: Graham Hill wins the Indy 500, Star Trek hits American TV, The Beach Boys release Pet Sounds, England wins the football World Cup and John Lennon proclaims that The Beatles are more popular then Jesus. Meanwhile, in Langley, Buckinghamshire, a curious scientific test was coming to an interesting conclusion.

According to a not-very-top-secret Ministry of Transport file, in 1957 a simple hedge was planted in the grounds of the Road Research Laboratory. In fact, a series of hedges were planted and after six years the most successful was singled out for attention: a Rosa Multiflora Japonica to be precise.

When this chosen hedge reached maturity some years after that, timing equipment was set up, specific instructions issued and no doubt scientists donned white lab coats and clasped clipboards to their chests. Then, to put it simply, someone drove a car straight into the hedge. Several times.

Sounds crazy, but in true British spirit, there was method behind the madness. Someone had worked out that the average width of the central reservation on Britain’s then relatively new motorways, could potentially accommodate a thick hedge – providing not just something pretty to look at while reaching heady speeds in your Ford Anglia (well it looks like a 100E in the blurry pictures, but I'm open to suggestions), but also something that could potentially save your life.

Using timing equipment, overhead cameras and a variety of approach speeds and angles, the research facility concluded that while a Japonica hedge of 20ft thick would be adequate to slow and eventually stop a cars progress, the maximum space available was just half that: not enough.

In my opinion, that is a shame. Okay, there is the obvious downside: ‘barrier’ repair following an accident may well have been a little slow – especially with a nine-year growth time.

On the flip side however, there would have been an obvious aesthetic improvement over modern Armco – particularly when the Rosa Multiflora Japonica was in full flower, and one has to wonder if the installation of a 6ft hedge between north and south-bound lanes of the M1 would go some way to stopping the ridiculous delays caused by ‘rubber-necking’ when two absent-minded motorists meet unexpectedly in the fast lane.

Perhaps we may have even seen a stretch of the M4 win a Britain in Bloom award from the RHS, although I’m not sure there would be many applicants for the job of head gardener…


If you want to read the full report, you can download it from the internet. Search for Vehicle Impact Tests on a Hedge of Rosa Multiflora Japonica, Harmondsworth Road Research Laboratory 1966