Tuesday 15th January 1991
The final phase of the 89 mile long M40 motorway through Oxfordshire was opened by UK Transport Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, giving the West Midlands conurbation its first direct motorway link with London. Although the idea for a London-Birmingham motorway through Oxfordshire had been officially proposed in 1969, it had taken more than 20 years to become a reality.
The motorway between London and Oxford was constructed in stages between 1967 and 1974. The first section from the High Wycombe Bypass from Handycross to Stokenchurch (J4–5) opened in June 1967 with a temporary junction (J2*) opening in 1969, extending in a southerly direction to Holtspur just outside Beaconsfield. The ‘Beaconsfield bypass’ to J2 was built in 1971 and the ‘Gerrards Cross Bypass’ to J1 was completed in 1973. The section northbound from J5 to J8 (Pitmore to Chilworth Farm at Great Milton just outside Oxford) was completed in 1974. At the design stage a service area was planned for Abbey Barns between Beaconsfield and High Wycombe, between J3 and J4, and the road has the beginnings of slip roads on both carriageways at this point. The plans never reached fruition.
Late in the 1960s, not long after the first stretch opened, the Ministry of Transport announced the possibility of building a motorway to link London with Birmingham as an alternative to the M1-M6 route – as well as improving road links to the South Coast ports for The Midlands – but it was not until 1983 that the decision to extend the M40 from Oxford to the south of Birmingham was made. The preferred route was altered to avoid Otmoor after a vigorous road protest, which included selling over 3,000 small squares of a field to people all over the world. The field had been renamed ‘Alice’s field’ as a reference to Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll who lived in the area at the time he wrote the book. Construction began at Warwick in October 1987, with work on the section around Banbury starting in February 1988, and finally the section north of Oxford in July 1989. The section between the M42 and Warwick opened in December 1989, and the remainder in January 1991.
It was originally planned that the section of the M42 between the M5 and the M40 (Junction 3A) would be renumbered as part of the M40, but this change did not take place.By the time of the full opening, the original M40 had been widened, creating a dual three-lane motorway from start to finish.