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This Sunday marks the 50th anniversary of a significant milestone in the transformation of British travel.

On 20 January 1958 John Laing was awarded the first contract for construction of the M1 motorway. The section, running 86km from Slip End, west of Luton, to Crick in Northamptonshire, was awarded to Laing at a tender price of £15M with a contract period of just 19 months.

Work began on 1 April after an official inauguration by transport minister Harold Watkinson a week earlier. The section opened on time together with another section known as the St Albans bypass on 2 November 1959.

Designed by consultant Sir Owen Williams, now part of Amey, the three-lane dual carriageway motorway was unprecedented in scale.

Laing was unable to carry out all the work with its own resources and considerable parts of the earthmoving, all the surfacing and some structural work were sub-contracted.

Size also meant a helicopter was used at times to enable senior staff to get an overall view of the site, especially during wet weather. The helicopter was also useful for improving communications, giving a speedy access along the route as well as a link with the plant depot for spares.

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