In pictures: Builder of M1, London mosque and Coventry Cathedral 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 builtImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 builtImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption It took four years to build the three mile (4.8km) span
Women do measurements at bridge siteImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption Workers do measurements at the bridge site

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 CumbriaImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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.

M6Image copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The M6 also passes through the Midlands
A lorry dumps soil for the central reservationImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption A lorry dumps soil for the central reservation

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 M6Image copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption Kik Hong Ong worked on sections C and D of the M6
Crowd at opening of M1Image copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 siteImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 wallsImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption Scaffolding around the new cathedral walls
Group of builders outside cathedralImage copyright Historic Enlgand/John Laing Collection
Image caption A group of builders outside the cathedral
Two views of helicopter lowering spire on to cathedralImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 BarbicanImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The Barbican estate was built in the 1960s
Aerial view of Barbican construction siteImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption An aerial view of the Barbican construction site

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 flatImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption A Barbican show flat
Queen attends Barbican openingImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The Queen visited the Barbican in 1972
Interior of arts centreImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The interior of the arts centre

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 movedImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The cone shaped tower topper being moved

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 factoryImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption Large tube sections being moved in a factory
Men fit metalwork in tunnelImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption Men fit metalwork in a 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 mosqueImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 mosqueImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption A construction crew outside the mosque
Dome being builtImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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 interiorImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption The interior was lined with an intricate geometric tile mosaic
Completed mosqueImage copyright Historic England/John Laing Collection
Image caption 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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